Biomedical enhancement and the pursuit of mastery and perfection: a critique of the views of Michael Sandel

  • Anton A van Niekerk


This article is a comprehensive critical analysis of the objections of Michael Sandel to the possibilities of human enhancement as foreseen by recent developments in new (particularly genetic) biotechnologies. It is shown that enhancement has always been a feature of human development. The nature and possibilities of these new technologies are briefly discussed, followed by an explanation of Sandel’s views. In critical response to Sandel, the author raises three arguments that are discussed in detail, followed by a conclusion that contains wrap-up arguments. The three main arguments relate, first, to Sandel’s rejection of enhancement tout court, second to the (in)consistency of his argument about the ‘gifted’ nature of reality, and third to the problems raised by his idea that the striving for mastery is the main problem with enhancement. On the basis of an extensive analysis, the author finds Sandel’s position untenable. It is shown that Sandel espouses the ‘simple conservative argument’ (Buchanan). The author concludes that science and technology are not value free, and that the critical evaluation of enhancements cannot lead to an overall judgment, but has to progress in a piecemeal manner. The author also concludes that the notion of ‘human nature’ cannot be regarded as a moral desideratum.

South African Journal of Philosophy 2014, 33(2): 155–165

Author Biography

Anton A van Niekerk
Centre for Applied Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0258-0136