Hans Jonas's ethic of responsibility applied to anti-aging technologies and the indefinite extension of the human life span

Jeffrey P Goins, Marquette University


Some scientists now consider technology that would end the biological process of aging as a near-future possibility. Successfully halting senescence would not result in immortality, but could lead to indefinite human life spans with no biologically set terminus. Such radical "antiaging" technology would surely find a market, but the developments are setting scientific researchers and medical physicians at odds with the goal itself of ending aging. Some bioethicists, such as Gerald McKenny, argue that our dominant bioethical approaches are inadequate for dealing with technological goals since they assume an uncritical stance toward technological advance, deeming it either inevitable or necessarily progressive. That stance makes impossible genuine inquiry about the value of new technologies, including antiaging technology. Hans Jonas asserts that we need a new ethical model for technological issues because technology has undone crucial assumptions upon which our traditional ethical models are based. Contrary to prevailing philosophic views, Jonas asserts that a metaphysical grounding is needed for this new ethic so we can establish an objective basis for our obligations. Accordingly, Jonas offers us an ethic based on the concept of "responsibility" that culminates in an imperative: "act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life." Jonas argues that antiaging technology and indefinite life spans would result in a loss of personal identity for individuals and a stalling of the creative advance of society. I further develop Jonas's reasoning about personal identity and cultural advance, and relate those points to his central ethical imperative. I also relate these points to his concept of "responsibility" and to the preservation of our ability always to "rethink responsibility." Personal identity and creative advance are necessary conditions for responsibility, while responsibility is essential to genuine human existence. Since it would put "responsibility" at risk, the technological goal to end aging is not compatible with the permanence of genuine human existence and is, therefore, impermissible.

Recommended Citation

Goins, Jeffrey P, "Hans Jonas's ethic of responsibility applied to anti-aging technologies and the indefinite extension of the human life span" (2006). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3244563.