In the last post, I introduced Francis Bacon–chiefly via the New Atlantis–and described a very interesting, if ultimately perhaps too strong, feminist reaction. But it’s as though some feminists are Bacon’s only enemies.
Neoconservative bioethicists, for example, see Bacon as the place where it all started to go wrong. Leon Kass, the great granddaddy of this school, and first head of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, took Bacon to task in his 1985 book Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs, a polemic against many new reproductive and biomedical technologies. As Kass puts it:
…the ancients conceived of science as the understanding of nature, pursued for its own sake. We moderns view science as power, as control over nature; the conquest of nature “for the relief of man’s estate” was the charge issued by Francis Bacon, one of the leading architects of the modern scientific project. (Leon Kass, Toward a More Natural Science, New York: Free Press, 1985, p. 27.)
And again, remarking upon our coming ability to alter the nature of human identity through genetic and biotechnological manipulation:
The advent of these new powers is not an accident; they have been pursued since the beginnings of modern science, when its great founders, Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, projected the vision of the mastery of nature. Indeed, such power over nature, including human nature, has been an explicit goal, perhaps the primary goal, of modern natural science for over three centuries, though the vision has materialized largely only in our own century. By all accounts, what we have seen thus far is only the beginning of the biological revolution. (Toward a More Natural Science, p. 2).
It’s no coincidence, then, that a prominent conservative science and bioethics journal is ironically titled The New Atlantis. They wish we had never discovered this friggin’ island.
We did discover it, though–and I’m of the opinion that blaming the founders of modern science for that fact is a bit pointless. We were always going to arrive here; and new technologies generally have both benefits as well as costs. Questioning four centuries of history is probably not the best way for weighing what those are.