Bioethics Blogs

Why do we value naturalness? A lively discussion on biotechnologies

Last Thursday I took the train from Paddington to Bristol to speak at an evening discussion event in the city’s harbourside arts cinema, the Watershed. The debate, titled ‘Nature after Nature: the value of being natural in the age of marvellous technologies’ and organised by the multidisciplinary synthetic biology research centre BrisSynBio, was a discussion on how ideas about the value of nature and naturalness fit into debates about emerging biotechnologies.

As Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ recently announced project on naturalness, which is exploring how ideas about what is natural and unnatural affect what people think about bioethics topics across the board, I was (naturally) keen to take part in the event and find out more about what people think about these issues. I travelled over with Anna Wilkinson, the Council’s researcher on this project, whose notes from the evening were helpful in putting together this blog.

The event was a part of Bristol’s ongoing Festival of Ideas and succeeded in drawing a full house on a sunny evening. The debate’s organiser, Dr Darian Meacham, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West of England and researcher in ethics and responsible innovation, had sourced panellists from a diverse range of fields with speakers from the applied sciences, philosophy and science policy bringing distinctive views to bear on the topic.

Nima Yeganefar, Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Poitiers, defended a particular conception of naturalness, connected with views expressed on his blog on pseudo-science, which he suggested undermined the significance of the distinction between natural and unnatural things.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.