Genetics and Evolution
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny

Related Pages

View the Video

Related Topics
Whose View of Life?Review - Whose View of Life?
Embryos, Cloning, and Stem Cells
by Jane Maienschein
Harvard University Press, 2005
Review by Hannah Hardgrave
May 2nd 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 18)

According to David Hume, "The wise man, therefore, proportions his belief according to the evidence."  After reading Jane Maienschein's Whose View of Life: Embryos, Cloning, and Stem Cells  (Harvard University Press, 2003) I want to add, "And so, we see, does the wise woman"

Maienschein, a historian of developmental biology at Arizona State University, holds that a better understanding of developmental biology could help toward resolving policy disputes about research using embryos, cloning, and stem cells in ways consistent with the science and respectful of the opposing sides.  As she sees it, such understanding is to be gained through attention not only to contemporary science, but also to its history She says,

"By viewing current claims of moral truth in historical perspective, we can defuse the efficacy of the argument, if not the passion of the arguer.  ...we can understand the way that the past debates have shaped and constrained our current conditions...." (p.8) 

She frames the central question as having to do with "...when a life begins, or when we have something that we want to define as a life on its way to becoming an individual, independent organism; this is what I mean by 'a life'." (p.9) 

However, her book covers far more than this.  In providing a highly readable and reliable account of the history of attempts to understand the details of animal reproduction, she offers an essential background for all who wish to base their views concerning the controversial issues of cloning, stem cell research and the scientific use of human embryos on evidence rather than on a fear of the unknown.

Her history begins, as so many do, with Aristotle whose view in The Generation of Animals was that reproduction was a gradual process, involving qualitative as well as quantitative changes, a process called epigenesis.  This view was challenged in the seventeenth century by Hartsoeker, and others, who claimed to have observed an already preformed homunculus curled up in spermatozoa.  The development of a new life involves the growth of an already existing entity. This preformationist view has its contemporary descendents in those who maintain that a fertilized ovum has all the parts necessary for the development of the organism.  Those who believe that a more precise, detailed understanding of early development requires recognition of the many distinct steps involved are the heirs to Aristotle's epigenetic view.  Here we see the relevance of the history of science to the present day public policy disputes.

Succeeding chapters summarize the history of cell theory, experimental embryology, and genetics, with fascinating forays into parthenogenesis, the cloning of frogs, and eugenics.  What becomes apparent from this history is not just how much we have come to know about reproduction, but also how much painstaking attention to precise details has been involved, and how important the solution of "mere" technical problems has been in the increased understanding of early human development. It is the details of inquiry, rather than broad philosophical claims about "human nature" that have guided scientific changes in our understanding of human development.  These are general lessons about the nature of scientific inquiry too often ignored in public discussions of science. 

Turning to contemporary developments, Maienschein pays considerable attention to the recombinant DNA disputes, the introduction of in vitro fertilization, the human genome project, and the cloning of Dolly. Even when she expresses disapproval of the way many individuals have responded to these scientific advances, she remains truly fair and balanced in her assessments.  She may not appreciate Watson's flamboyance but she respects his leadership in the human genome project; perhaps Arthur Caplan is too eager to make pithy pronouncements on complex matters, but she admires his spirited defense of therapeutic cloning.  Even Leon Kass, who does not share Hume's or Maienschein's respect for evidence is treated with dignity.  She refers to Kass's assertions about the "wisdom of repugnance" as a form of intuitionism, grouping him with the influential philosopher G.E. Moore rather than, say, calling his claim an appeal to fear based on ignorance. Some of her harshest remarks are directed towards the sensationalism of reports of scientific results, specifically the cloning of the sheep Dolly. Even here, while she is strongly critical of the early reporting by Gina Kolota, she acknowledges that her later stories were more balanced.

Maienschein is attempting to do two things. First, she is trying to provide a detailed account of the science of human development in its historical context.  Here she is valiantly battling the general ignorance of science in general and biology in particular, especially among those who establish and enforce policy.  Secondly, she is using her scientific background to combat those who believe that in establishing public policy, science should be used only to support policies already promoted on other bases.  When people believe that they already know what is right (or more generally what is wrong), their attitude toward science is "Don't bother me with the facts." Reason and evidence are the only weapons we have to combat irrationality and prejudice although to what extent they are effective in present day America remains a question.  Perhaps, by phrasing the central issue in terms of "when a life begins," Maienschein has left open the door for those who would exploit the multiple ambiguities of the term "life" to promote their agenda.  Nevertheless, she has done her part to defend reason and evidence, and for that, she deserves the attention and admiration of citizens concerned with the future of science in the United States.

 

© 2006 Hannah Hardgrave  

 

Hannah Hardgrave, Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Wake Forest University


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7700 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716