My post last week tried to highlight a tension between human existence and biological life, using Henrietta Lacks as an example. She was a unique human being, existing in a human world; but the HeLa cells obtained from her cancer tumor function in laboratories all over the world as “bio-objects” representing biological life more generally.

This tension between a human world and a laboratory world, between human existence and biological life, could be questioned (as in a comment to the Swedish version of the post): There is no tension, for humans owe their “existence” to the biological processes of life. If cells didn’t organize human brains, there simply would be no “human existence.”

Biological life is fundamental: human existence should bow and scrape to its biological origins.

The tension could be questioned also from a humanistic perspective, however. On this view, the biological perspective is formed by humans. Human existence is the unnoticed condition for the biological notion of life. Once again there is no tension, for the biological notions of “cells” and “brains” owe whatever meaning and function they have to human existence.

Human existence is fundamental: the biological perspective should bow and scrape to its human origins.

Both attempts to reject the tension by determining who should bow humbly backfire. The tension is rejected by each party, but in opposed ways, making the tension surface instead as total intellectual war.

So let’s face the tension instead, and perhaps that’s what the article mentioned last week tried to do.

Pär Segerdahl

The Ethics Blog - Thinking about thinking