The Moral Imagination of De-extinction.


We live amidst the sixth great extinction of life on Earth, and we live under the sign of molecular biology and biotechnology. An ethical maxim that is well-nigh universally acknowledged holds that with great power comes great moral responsibility. For those who accept the science and embrace the responsibility, there are two rather different kinds of moral vision and moral imagination at work. Detractors of biotechnology say that we should see ourselves as creaturely good citizens of the biotic community, accepting and accommodating what evolutionary natural selection has bequeathed to us, warts and all. Boosters of biotechnology say that we should see ourselves as its sovereigns, fashioning better forms of synthetic life and genetically driving evolution in better ways through anthropogenic selection. Faced with biodiversity loss, technology boosters, or eco-modernists, tend to respond by upping the ante on technology in hopes of increasing the benefits and lessening the impact of human relations with nature. The detractors, or eco-communitarians, respond by seeking to restructure the relationship between humans and nature by lowering the profile of human power so as to hear the voice of nonhuman being and better attune ourselves to it. Undergirding both of these moral visions is atonement. As a way of providing atonement, however, de-extinction fails.