International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-M460
Individual papers
Genetic Diversity, Social Emotions and Sexual Desire in Evolutionary Context

Genetic diversity among humans: A human rights issue?

Benjamin Gregg (University of Texas at Austin, United States)

To manipulate a human’s DNA sequence genetically is to change the genome of an individual — or an entire species. The attractions of engineering are powerful. Just consider the tremendous social consequences of an individual’s skin color or sex. Many other characteristics may loom large in a person’s life and may be relevant in matters of social justice. In postindustrial populations, for example, height appears to matter for both mate preference and mate choice. With identical educational levels, taller men generally enjoy better careers than short men because, for example, they tend to receive greater supervisory responsibilities. Height is also an important factor in various sports. One might well conclude that most people would prefer to be tall than short. Within ten years research may well be able to identify the causal genes for human stature. Much more consequential, of course, is intelligence. The heredity of intelligence has been confirmed by several large-scale studies. With the completion more than ten years ago of the sequencing of the human genome, several genome-wide association studies have identified six different chromosomal regions and sixteen candidate genes associated with human intelligence as measured by IQ scores. With accelerated technical development in neuroscience, research may identify the causal genes for human intelligence within a matter of decades. Today and in the future, manipulation is motivated not only by an interest in health but also by political, economic, and cultural beliefs and goals. And, I argue, it will lead to less genetic diversity among humans — unless political community constructs a human right of “pre-personal life” (such as a fetus) not to be genetically engineered. I frame my analysis with the question: Might a human embryo be culturally understood as possessing a human right to be free of genetic manipulation, or free at least from genetic enhancement where enhancement can be distinguished from genetic therapy? And exactly what reasons speak for, and which against, political community constructing human life at the pre-personal level as human rights bearing? I answer this question in two steps: (1) I show that human nature and human culture lie on a continuum such that “human nature,” especially as it results from genetic manipulation, is nothing natural but rather a cultural choice because the legal and moral regulation of genetic enhancement finds no guidelines in nature. Genetic modification is always a political act — and the stakes of cultural and political preference and commitment only increase with biotechnological development. (2) To regard human nature as a cultural choice allows equally for opposite conclusions: either (a) pre-personal life is “human nature” or (b) it isn’t. I develop a means by which a political community might determine which of these options is preferable. (a) To grant legal and other forms of recognition to an embryo or fetus would prevent their genetic manipulation — but the consequences would drastically change social and political organization. Some changes might be welcome, such as “remedial enhancement” in which political community classifies parents’ genetic characteristics along some dimensions as “below normal.” Public policy might then champion embryo modification in ways that render that dimension “average” (or above) in the person who developed from that embryo. But other changes would be very unwelcome, including the criminalization of whole areas of life protected, in the United States, as matters of a right to privacy (such as abortion). (b) If pre-personal life is not a human being in the sense of a human rights-bearing life, then of course it enjoys no human right against being genetically manipulated. In that case, genetic engineering will facilitate choices by parents and others that will lead to decreased genetic diversity among humans. Consider, for example, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), introduced only twenty years ago. It screens for genetic disease–free embryos; couples at high risk for offspring with genetically inherited disease are screened prior to implantation. Embryos without detectable genetic defects become candidates for transplantation into the mother’s uterus for gestation. Although PGD is now routinely performed in doctors’ offices, selection for intelligence or physical appearance has yet to be performed. But such an application one day soon could become routine wherever the relevant technology becomes available at locally plausible costs.

Emotions in social contexts in primate societies: An evolutionary approach

Alba Leticia Perez-Ruiz (Centro de Estudios Filosóficos, Políticos y Sociales Vicente Lombardo Toledano, Mexico)

The study of emotions has been addressed from different scientific disciplines. These areas of research have given as result the development of several theories of emotions. This work focuses particularly on scientific studies of emotions in nonhuman primates from an evolutive approach. It is known that emotions, commonly described as human subjective experiences, were considered inaccessible for animal research. Nowadays this position has changed. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions can not be assumed as a human exclusive trait because most of brain structures related with emotions are similar in all primates. Darwin in The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals wrote that humans and animals, at least mammals, express their emotions in similar ways. Moreover, the expression of emotions has been related with survival and individual fitness. Scientific research on emotions related with social relationships in nonhuman primates is complex, mainly, among other variables, because of subjectivity. Nonetheless, important systematic studies have been developed. The approach to the study of emotions is from two levels ontogenetic and phylogenetic. Emotions are modulated by the synergic effect of different factors that can be internal and external. According to this, emotions are multi-determinated and are product of internal states and external context, as well as physiological and behavioral changes. In a primate group, individuals behave different according with the circumstances of social context and they interact in a different way with the distinct members of the group. In well established groups of primates, aggressive episodes between individuals disturb their social relationships. This change in the social relationship is related to changes in emotional responses. Aggressive interactions that damage social bonds and affiliative interactions that restore social relationships are examples of emotional variation in nonhuman primates.

Science and sexual desire

Sharyn Clough (Oregon State University, United States)

Philosophers of science have not had much to say about the sciences of sexual desire. And what little relevant philosophy of science research there is, remains focused on methodological missteps in psychiatry, evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, endocrinology, and neurophysiology—typically as applied to human behavior more generally—with concerns about the science of sexuality used only as examples. Of these examples, most focus on problems with the scientific investigations of male homosexuality. While we are interested in methodological problems with the science of sexual desire—including the pathologizing, heterosexist focus on male homosexuality— we are mostly interested in what would count as methodologically sound, compelling, and insightful scientific investigations of the broad spectrum of sexual desire. Answering this question requires examining some common themes of resistance to the very idea of a science of sexual desire: Why do scientific approaches to sexual desire, even at their methodologically most sound, seem unable adequately to capture the variation of interest, to (many of) us, as desirers? Why do some of us (all of us?) feel threatened when we discover that some of the variation of interest can be explained by scientific approaches? We propose that the answers to these questions are related to our collective and common failures to understand both what it means for human sexual desire to be an appropriate object of scientific investigation, and how scientific investigation is a practice of humans with (sexual) desires. Stated positively, we have a collective need to remind and be reminded that the moral/ intentional realm of sexual desire is fact-laden, i.e. there are patterns to examine, predict, and explain. And on the flip side, the factual domain of the sciences of sex is laden with the moral/intentional all the way down.