Genetic Enhancement in the Dark

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The emergence of genetic transfer technology has resulted in growing interest among philosophers of sport in the ethical issues raised by the potential application of such technology to the enhancement of sporting performance. 1 This has been a central component of the emergence of sports medicine ethics. Advocates of these potential technological developments in sport often advance arguments drawn from transhumanism (9; 17; 18; 19; 23; 24; 25 and 27), and those opposed to the introduction of genetic transfer technology to sport (8; 10; 11; 14; 15; 21 and 22) unsurprisingly, criticize those arguments and advance positive theses about the undesirability of the proposed developments. In that regard, the debate over genetic transfer technology in sport is worryingly similar to the debate over performance-enhancing drugs in sport, insofar as it tends to be conducted on an argument for argument basis, which rarely addresses some of the fundamental assumptions found in the work on both sides of the debate. This article will not advance theses, arguments and conclusions either in favor of, or in opposition to, the application of genetic transfer technology (or any other forms of biotechnology) to performance-enhancement in sport. Instead, it will outline a range of types of objection that someone might raise to the attempt to employ genetic transfer technology to enhance sporting performance. In doing so it will provide an overview of a conception of historical action (which necessarily entails acting in ignorance of the consequences of that action), which seems to have been inadequately considered both in transhumanist literature in general, and in the literature on genetic transfer technology and sport in particular. As a consequence of the approach taken here, the article will advance no positive theses. Rather, in sketching an overview of some of the relevant terrain in the debate over genetic transfer technology and sport, it will suggest reasons to reject what I take to be bad arguments in favor of the transhumanist project in sport, although not necessarily in all other areas in which it is proposed, and, for that matter, reasons to reject some bad arguments opposing the transhumanist project. The article has two main sections. The first section considers a range of different types of objections that might be raised to genetic technology in sports medicine, and the second section focuses on one of those types of objection, that we cannot know the consequences of the use of genetic technology in sports medicine. Throughout the article the main focus is on germ-line modification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-151
JournalJournal of the Philosophy of Sport
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


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