The impact of new life sciences innovation on political theories of justice

Open Access


New life sciences innovation offers the possibility of new conceptions of human nature with significant impact on liberal theories of justice. So far, nature as such has been thought to be something given and beyond human control. Thus, to define something as natural has meant the same thing as to relegate it to the realm of fortune or misfortune, rather than justice or injustice. However, the successful decoding of the human genome and subsequent advances in genomics-based technologies begins to change this conception to a new one: nature can be something dynamic and within human control. Therefore, genomics-based technologies can make possible the just distribution of natural goods (rationality, intelligence, etc). Can liberal political theories successfully deal with this new possibility of justice? This paper addresses the question by briefly assessing Rawls' egalitarianism, Nozick's libertarianism and Sen's capability theory of justice. It is argued that these theories fail to address the new possibility of justice made feasible by life sciences innovation. On the one hand, libertarianism is insensitive to natural inequalities. On the other hand, egalitarianism and the capability theory of justice are limited to compensating for natural inequalities and avoid ensuring just distribution of natural goods. Contemporary liberal theories are not dynamic enough to deal with distributive justice in the 21st century.


Human Nature Distributive Justice Primary Good ESRC Genomic Network Natural Good 
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Copyright information

© ESRC Genomics Network 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ESRC Innogen Centre and Development Policy and PracticeThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

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