The Oxford Martin School Blog
What is Science for?
13 May 2008 14 comment(s)
In the 21st Century School's Distinguished Public Lecture on 12 May [summarised here], Professor John Harris claimed that it serves to bring about ethically desirable consequences, while Professor John Sulston emphasised the fact that it satisfies human curiosity. What purpose do you think science serves?
Part of the appeal of Sulston’s position is that it provides a strong justification for pure (as opposed to applied) science, and for allowing pure scientists to set their own agendas. But it may be possible to justify unimpeded pure science without attaching any value to the satisfaction of curiosity. After all, it is plausible that promoting pure science is also what will have the most ethically desirable consequences in the long term. Must we value curiosity for its own sake in order to justify pure science?
Another set of questions arises from the example that Professor Harris used to illustrate the ethical value of science. Harris claimed that we should use synthetic biology to create beings that are better-than-human. Both Harris and Sulston emphasised that there would be a need to regulate any such project, to ensure that the right sort of beings would be created, and to minimise unfair competitive advantages that might be enjoyed by the enhanced beings. But will we be able to regulate synthetic biology such that its benefits will outweigh its risks? If so, how? And who should decide what would count as a better-than-human being? Finally, what characteristics do you think a better being should have?
This blog provides the opportunity to continue the discussions and debates that arose from this lecture.
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