Dissertation Abstract




Democratic DNA: Technology, Pragmatism,

and the Politics of the Human Genome


Jeffrey Alan Johnson


Degree:           Ph.D.

Year:             2003

Pages:            00162

Institution:      The University of Wisconsin - Madison; 0262


Advisor:          Supervisor Patrick Riley

Source:           DAI, 64, no. 11A (2003): p. 4191


Human Genomics, the science of understanding the content of human genes, poses a variety of political challenges ranging from equality of access to the transformation of human identity. Democratic theory offers two resources for addressing these challenges in the form of two imperatives for democratic governance: a liberal imperative holds that technology as an object of public choice and a force structuring society ought to be subject to the consent of the governed, and a pragmatic imperative holds that for both political and epistemological reasons better public choices about technology are made through democratic procedures than through undemocratic ones. But there is a great obstacle to democratizing genomic technologies. The standard ethical concept used to understand technology is the neutrality thesis: technologies are value-neutral tools for the achievement of valued ends; thus ethical questions apply only to the uses of technologies and not to the technologies themselves. This thesis is embedded in genomic technologies, and limits them to the realm of technocratic rather than democratic governance. The neutrality thesis is enforced, I show, by the separation of nature and society inherent in the modern understanding of technology. As such, the modern understanding of technology is an obstacle to resolving the challenges of human


The philosophical pragmatism of Charles Peirce proves to be the key to overcoming the tyranny of technological neutrality. Technology, rather than being an artifact, is an action. To understand it requires understanding not its physical nature but the subjective meaning of the action. Peirce's semiotics shows that reality is itself constructed by human understanding from the repertoire of possibilities inherent in the material reality, bridging the gap between modern conceptions of scientific knowledge and democratic social action. Dewey's politics of a community of deliberative democratic inquiry provides a link from this to at least two effective institutional models for this. Large-scale technological issues such as the provision of genetic therapy demand a state-centric model built around international regimes; less extensive issues such as research ethics allow a user-centered model where less formal epistemic communities develop their own paradigms for governance.




Accession No:     AAI3113707

Provider:        OCLC

Database:         Dissertations