We live in an age of unprecedented human power–over birth and death, body and mind, nature and human nature. In every realm of life, science and technology have brought us remarkable advances and improvements: we are healthier, wealthier, and more comfortable than ever before. But our gratitude for the benefits of progress increasingly mixes with concern about the meaning and consequences of our newfound powers. If we can dream about a new age of genetic medicine, we can also shudder at a new age of weapons of mass destruction. As we welcome longer lives, we wonder if we will still value life as we should. Science remakes our everyday experience of being human, but it also fails to answer our deepest longings–for love, for virtue, and for transcendence.
In the Shadow of Progress is a deep and lively reflection on the moral challenges of the technological age. Eric Cohen, a leading voice in America’s bioethics debates, offers a tour of the complex dilemmas at the intersection of science and morality.
Why are the wealthiest people in human history the least likely to want children? What kind of civilization will we become if we seek cures for the sick by destroying human embryos, or if we pick and choose our offspring by genetic profiling? What is lost when we relieve human sadness by altering the chemical balance of the brain, or enhance human performance by altering the biological workings of the body? In this age of scientific wonders, have we forgotten what makes human beings different from everything else in the natural world? Our great challenge, Cohen argues, is to live simultaneously with gratitude and fear, pride and shame, sobriety and hope, in this new age of technology.