Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 353–367 | Cite as

From species ethics to social concerns: Habermas’s critique of “liberal eugenics” evaluated

  • Vilhjálmur Árnason


Three arguments of Habermas against “liberal eugenics”—the arguments from consent, responsibility, and instrumentalization—are critically evaluated and explicated in the light of his discourse ethics and social theory. It is argued that these arguments move partly at a too deep level and are in part too individualistic and psychological to sufficiently counter the liberal position that he sets out to criticize. This is also due to limitations that prevent discourse ethics from connecting effectively to the moral and political domains, e.g., through a discussion of justice. In spite of these weaknesses, Habermas’s thesis is of major relevance and brings up neglected issues in the discussion about eugenic reproductive practices. This relevance has not been duly recognized in bioethics, largely because of the depth of his speculations of philosophical anthropology. It is argued that Habermas’s notion of the colonization of the lifeworld could provide the analytical tool needed to build that bridge to the moral and political domain.


Habermas Liberal eugenics Discourse ethics Colonization of lifeworld Consent Reproduction Rationality 



An earlier draft of this paper entitled “Genetic Fairness: Political, not Anthropological” was read at an international bioethics workshop, Habermasian bioethics: A new paradigm? At the University of The West of Scotland, Paisley Campus, in May 2011. A draft of this paper was read at a department seminar of the Institute of Philosophy, University of Bergen, in November 2013. I thank the Institute for research facilities while the paper was written and the University of Iceland for funding my sabbatical. I also thank Páll Skúlason and Jørgen Pedersen for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Centre for Ethics, School of HumanitiesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland

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