Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sept 3 Kitcher Ch 1 (The Shape of Suffering)

I will take a moment to respond to two controversial decisions presented in this chapter, but then I think a quotation from the last page deserves most of my time. One argument Kitcher seems to make is that genetics technologies should be used to abort fetuses with disorders. He says, “even if doctors cannot yet treat the genetic disorders that affect some of the boys and girls of Children’s Hospital…genetic tests are rapidly becoming available, enabling pregnant women to discover whether the fetus they are carrying is afflicted with any of the growing number of severely incapacitating conditions…Scientific knowledge will not eliminate the tragedies of Children’s Convalescent Hospital, but by reducing their number, it can soften the edges of human suffering.” I apologize for the long quotation, but it illustrates my understanding of Kitcher’s take on the importance of genetics; if we can use genetics to determine certain disorders or other maladies of a fetus, we can reduce the number of those fetuses born into the world to suffer (i.e. abort them). I feel this is taking away the unborn child’s freedom to live and pursue happiness based on hasty decisions formulated from the results of genetic testing. Why is it that Children’s Convalescent Hospital exists in the first place? Most likely it is to care for convalescent children because society decided long ago that killing humans is wrong. I urge that killing a human fetus is just as wrong as killing the newborn infant or the two year old or the five year old or the fifty year old.
The other controversial decision presented in this chapter to which I wish to respond concerns a mother working in a factory who is fired based on genetics knowledge suggesting she is more likely to contract cancer. I understand that the company is arguing it is in her best interest to fire her, but she is aware of the risks and should have the right to choose for herself whether she continues working there. Firefighters, for example, probably have a higher risk of death due to the nature of their work than does this woman. I think that genetics in this case can help inform her decision-making, but the decision is hers to make, not her employer’s (provided of course she will not be a liability to them should she contract cancer).
Finally, Kitcher makes an excellent point on the last page of this chapter stating, “without reflection and exchange of ideas, we shall surely lurch into the future blindly; while forethought does not guarantee that we shall do better, it surely raises the chances that we shall avoid the deepest pits.” This, I feel, is the purpose of our course. Already I have disagreed with two proposals Kitcher presents, and surely others share his views. Even if society does not accept my positions for every issue, the real potential for genetics technologies to force these decisions upon us is at hand; we must consider, discuss, and CHALLENGE such possibilities rather than blindly follow the advance of technology.

Aug 27 Bill Joy "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us"

While I find this piece a bit excessive in its pessimistic view of potential technological advances, I cannot argue without a doubt that we will never reach a time when Joy’s concerns are valid. I think it very unlikely that we will create super-robots capable of replacing ourselves, nor do I think all the contents of our being could be downloaded onto any form of mega-hard drive. I think machines are only as smart as the people operating them (although this leaves much room for negotiation as the levels of human intelligence vary significantly). I would posit that the most important part of this work is Joy’s references to Attali and the Dalai Lama actually; we must look to the best interests of others instead of ourselves to further human society. I am quite pleased actually that this is the conclusion and not something crazier than robots with human thoughts downloaded onto hard drives killing off all the humans and replicating with their grey goo matter. It brings the readers back to reality and to what ought to matter – human interaction instead of human/machine interaction.