by Francis Fukuyama
Review by Neil Levy, Ph.D. on May 13th 2002
In 1989 Francis
Fukuyama published The
End of History and the Last Man, in which he announced that the
collapse of the Soviet bloc signalled nothing less than the end of history.
Undeterred by the failure of history to heed his advice, Fukuyama continues to
write books on the same grand scale. In this book he tackles human nature, its
role in setting constraints upon moral and political systems, and the
implications for that nature of biotechnology.
argues that human beings have a nature that sets ends for us. This is, he says,
a broadly Aristotelian view. Now, the new technologies with which he is
concerned give us for the first time the ability to exercise control over that
shared human nature. We can already alter emotions by intervening
pharmacologically; soon, we may be able to intervene at the level of the human
genome itself. This new ability threatens, Fukuyama claims, to divide humanity
into two, increasingly distinct, groups. The biotechnology haves will gradually
come to have a different nature to
the biotechnology have-nots. Inevitably, this will cut the bonds of sympathy
between the two groups. Inequality will increasingly come to be based upon the
real natures of people, and not a mere artefact of convention and luck.
Biotechnology therefore threatens the natural equality that is the basis of
In a future
posthuman age, then, the very bases of our morality and our democracy will be
undermined. Without the shared ends set by nature, we will no longer have a
reason to reach compromises when our projects conflict with one another. The millennia
long process of the slow expansion of human moral concern will reverse, and a
new war of all against all will loom. To avoid this catastrophe, Fukuyama calls
for biotechnology to be closely regulated, nationally and internationally, so
we can choose which aspects of it we wish to embrace and which reject.
These are dire predictions. Unfortunately,
Fukuyamas arguments for them are weak. His assessment of the philosophical
implications of genetics is marred by the fact that he fails to understand
either philosophy or genetics. The list of errors he makes about philosophers
is long: Rawls is a strict egalitarian; Marx claims man is a species-being
(which Fukuyama takes to mean that people are naturally concerned with everyones
welfare; what Marx said is that man has
a species-being; ie. a nature). Even Fukuyamas claim that he is an
Aristolelian is false. To be sure, Aristotle bases his ethics on facts about
human beings, but he is (as Fukuyama reminds us) concerned with the ends of human beings. Fukuyamas concern
is with the limits human nature places upon the pursuit of whatever ends we
happen to have, not with the ends themselves.
None of this
matters to anything like the same extent as his confusions over genetics. His
arguments about the importance of genes for human traits entirely ignores the
fact that heritability is always heritability within an environment, which is
to say that we cannot begin to talk about the extent to which a trait is
genetic unless we can compare its expression across a range of environments.
unpropitious starting points, that Fukuyamas conclusions are confused is
unsurprising. Here I examine just his central errors. What, he asks, is human
nature? Could it be (as Kant thought) the ability to make moral choices?
Fukuyama rejects the suggestion, on the grounds that it clashes, as he thinks,
with the findings of science. In fact, he claims, it is a mistake to identify
human nature with just one, or some small number, of characteristics of human
beings. Instead, he suggests that human nature is an emergent property, which
supervenes upon all of our abilities,
especially our ability to make moral choices, reasons, and experience emotions.
Now, quite apart from the fact that moral choice has mysteriously found itself
rehabilitated after having been rejected as unscientific, to say that human
nature is that distinctive essence that we all possess in virtue of having all
the human capabilities is entirely vacuous. It amounts to the claim that human
beings are human in virtue of being human, which substitutes tautology for
analysis. If Fukuyama wants to base natural rights on human nature, as he
claims, he has to identify just what aspects of it support what rights, and
how. Until he embarks on this project, he has told us nothing.
of our newfound and projected ability to remake human beings, physically,
mentally and psychologically, deserve philosophical scrutiny. Fukuyama asks
many of the right questions. Unfortunately, he lacks the tools to pose them
properly, let alone to answer them. Let us hope that his book has the effect of
inspiring someone who has a more sophisticated understanding of both science
and philosophy to explore these questions.
2002 Neil Levy
Levy is a fellow of the Centre
for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles
Sturt University, Australia. He is the author of two mongraphs and over a
dozen articles and book chapters on Continental philosophy, ethics and
political philosophy. He is currently writing a book on moral relativism.