Lebewesen oder modulare Systeme «Das Prinzip Leben» als Blickrichtung auf Konzepte der Synthetischen Biologie

Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 102, 2015, P. 14-39 | DOI: 10.18756/edn.102.14


Synthetic Biology aims to make life amenable as a renewable resource by applying knowledge and techniques of molecular biology according to engineering principles. Presupposing organic phenomena to be reducible to the causal agents of interacting properties of matter, some scientists pursue the vision of creating life from scratch. The history of this vision and of the materialistic ontology was subjected to an epistemological analysis by the philosopher Hans Jonas, which is briefly outlined. Jonas demarcates life from inanimate matter as a distinctly different ontological category characterised by the amalgamation of spirit and matter. His assessment of a human ethical position is contrasted with the Swiss ethics committee’s evaluation of SynBio microorganism products.

Maintaining identity by constantly changing its material substance organisms cannot be dealt with according to deterministic laws of matter from Jonas’ perspective. This account – pronounced during the 1970s – is mirrored by statements of biologists after forty more years of empirical research and further sheds light on practical problems in Synthetic Biology. Jonas’ philosophical position is controversial and exposed to fierce criticisms because it challenges basic assummptions of the widely propagated materialistic ontology. I comment on this debate with reference to the current discussion of history of science.

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