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Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution Hardcover – April 17, 2002

3.6 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Maybe we have a future after all: Our Posthuman Future is political historian Francis Fukuyama's reconsideration of his 1989 announcement that history had reached an end. He claims that science, particularly genome studies, offers radical changes, possibly more profound than anything since the development of language, in the way we think about human nature. He makes his case thoroughly and eloquently, rarely dipping into philosophical or critical jargon and consistently maintaining an informal tone.

Fukuyama is deeply concerned about the erosion of the foundations of liberal democracy under pressure from new concepts of humans and human rights, and most readers will find some room for agreement. Ultimately, he argues for strong international regulation of human biotechnology and thoughtfully disposes of the most compelling counterarguments. While readers might not agree that we're at risk of creating Huxley's Brave New World, it's hard to deny that things are changing quickly and that perhaps we ought to consider the changes before they're irrevocable. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man; Trust) is no stranger to controversial theses, and here he advances two: that there are sound nonreligious reasons to put limits on biotechnology, and that such limits can be enforced. Fukuyama argues that "the most significant threat" from biotechnology is "the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a `posthuman' stage of history." The most obvious way that might happen is through the achievement of genetically engineered "designer babies," but he presents other, imminent routes as well: research on the genetic basis of behavior; neuropharmacology, which has already begun to reshape human behavior through drugs like Prozac and Ritalin; and the prolongation of life, to the extent that society might come "to resemble a giant nursing home." Fukuyama then draws on Aristotle and the concept of "natural right" to argue against unfettered development of biotechnology. His claim is that a substantive human nature exists, that basic ethical principles and political rights such as equality are based on judgments about that nature, and therefore that human dignity itself could be lost if human nature is altered. Finally, he argues that state power, possibly in the form of new regulatory institutions, should be used to regulate biotechnology, and that pessimism about the ability of the global community to do this is unwarranted. Throughout, Fukuyama avoids ideological straitjackets and articulates a position that is neither Luddite nor laissez-faire. The result is a well-written, carefully reasoned assessment of the perils and promise of biotechnology, and of the possible safeguards against its misuse. (Apr.) Forecast: As the FSG publicity material notes, Fukuyama famously declared in the wake of communism's collapse that "the major alternatives to liberal democracy" had "exhausted themselves." This less dramatic assessment should still win a hearing, if not among scientists then among a public concerned about science's growing power.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (April 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374236437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374236434
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,915,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Zachary Hale on July 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that I went into this book with great expectations about it from both reviews I had read and the interesting "Our Posthuman Future" title. However, the book was disappointing, and Fukuyama provides no insight that is not readily available in other texts. He attempts with his "Human Nature," "Human Rights," and "Human Dignity" chapters to assert that a system of natural rights is necessary for the future and that such as system concords with reality. However, he fails in his attempt to prove his metaphysic and in the end seems to profess a quasi-religious commitment to a romantic notion of humanity.

He seems to think that the genetic potential is such that we could change our "human nature" and thus threaten our humanness. This is a legitimate fear, but Fukuyama fails to analyze adequately why this is so and what possible implications that might have. He rejects reproductive cloning on the basis that it creates an unnatural family life, but his warrants are not very distinguishable from an adopted child or from a child that looks like their mother or father. His analysis can at times be extremely superficial as if he is just expecting some sort of a confirmation bias since `everyone disagrees with cloning anyway.'

All in all, this is well researched as far as technologies go, but Fukuyama's attempt to establish a philosophical justification for his policy recommendations fails miserably. One of the biggest issues I have with his recommendation is that he calls for "institutions that can discriminate between good and bad use of biotechnology" and for a "regulatory framework to separate legitimate and illegitimate uses." He further elucidates that this means that one must "distinguish between therapy and enhancement.
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By A Customer on April 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a book with many virtues and one fatal flaw. Among the former are a clear, lucid style and an impressive overview of the state of the art in contemporary genetic science and the moral debates that they have provoked. This book is highly recommended to those who are relatively new to these issues and want a superb, layman's introduction.
But the book's central argument is embarrassingly weak. Fukuyama relies on Aristotle to support his central claim that morality ought to be grounded in an essential conception of human nature, the substance of which he sketches in the core chapters of the book. Scientific techniques should be regulated by the state, he argues, so that they do not threaten this nature, and thereby constitute an assault on human dignity.
The flaw here is what 20th Century philosophers have labelled "the naturalistic fallacy": deriving a statement of value from a statement(s) of fact(s). In a word, facts tell us nothing about what is valuable. Fukuyama confronts this objection head-on by denying that the naturalistic fallacy really is a fallacy. (The "naturalistic fallacy fallacy"!) I admire his intellectual gusto in doing so, although he had little choice if he wanted his argument to have some chance of success. But he just isn't a good enough philosopher to pull it off. He doesn't even come remotely close. The fact that many philosophers (eg. Kant, Rawls) who accept that this is a fallacy have made claims about human nature--this is Fukuyama's main counter-argument--may be true, but it simply goes to show that they were inconsistent; it doesn't touch the naturalistic fallacy. That is the (weak) heart of his counter-argument. This isn't a minor problem for Fukuyama. His whole argument pivots on it.
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Format: Hardcover
I was very impressed with the depth and scope of Fukuyama's examination of the call to regulate biotechnology and especially with the fairness of his presentation and tone. His subject is a particularly contentious one, and one of enormous importance for all of us since the effect of biotechnology on human beings includes the possibility of not only changing our very nature, but of an actual step-by-step termination of humans as we are now constituted.
Ultimately this is what Professor Fukuyama is worried about and why he argues so strongly for the regulation of the biotech industry regardless of the effect such regulation might have on scientific progress and even at the risk of creating a biotech gap between the United States and other nations actively pursuing such research.
However, I don't think Fukuyama was completely successful in making his case; indeed I am not worried about "us" becoming something else or losing what he refers to as our "human essence."
"And what is that human essence that we might be in danger of losing?" he asks on page 101. "For a religious person, it might have to do with the divine gift or spark that all human beings are born with. From a secular perspective, it would have to do with human nature: the species-typical characteristics shared by all human beings qua human beings. That is ultimately what is at stake in the biotech revolution."
He doesn't define these "species-typical characteristics." Instead he goes on to say that there is "an intimate connection between human nature and human notions of rights, justice, and morality." He then argues the case for basing human rights on human nature, sometimes called the "naturalistic fallacy," thereby putting himself in the hands of those who would know what human nature is.
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