22 Mar 2009

Siep, Normative Aspects of the Human Body, 1 Introduction

[The following is summary. The full text is available here or here.]

Ludwig Siep

Normative Aspects of the Human Body

I: Introduction

Research in humanity's genetic make-up has advanced recently. Scientists have almost nearly determined all our species' genetic coding (the human genome). These findings suggest we could improve the genome. We might enhance our genes so that we may better resist diseases or live a longer life. So we can make alterations to the fundamental make-up of the human body. But this raises questions regarding the body's moral status:

1) Are we its embodied owner, and is it an instrument of our will?
2) Or does the public have the right to set limits to how we may modify our bodies?
3) Our bodies have traditionally taken a certain shape. Should we maintain that shape by maintaining our cultural traditions and our bio-diversity?
4) Does the body have a value beyond what its owner gives it?

Today medical ethicists debate the morality of bodily enhancement instead of its mere therapy. To take a position in this debate, we will need to answer the above questions. (171)

Siep will frequently refer to the "human body." But he does not presuppose that the mind-body relation is monistic or dualistic. However, we do have customary ways of referring to the relation we bear to our body. They suggest we might take some level of distance from it. So we might say that we can treat our body in one way or another. We might neglect it. Or we might cherish it. We could even rent or sell our bodies. So perhaps there is really a monistic relation between the mind and body. And thus our bodies treat themselves in these ways. And perhaps we are wrong to distance ourselves from the effects of these treatments. Yet, we can still distinguish our body from our job, our honour, or our rental contract. So such a monism would not subtract from the meaning of our question: how should we treat our body? Answering this question will produce criteria for what is the right and wrong way to do so. So it is also important for us to see the ways that our bodies relate to these criteria. (172a)

Siep, Ludwig. 'Normative Aspects of the Human Body.'Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. (2003) 28(2), pp.171-185. Available online at:
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