Synthetic Biology and Morality

From Basic Bioethics

Synthetic Biology and Morality

Artificial Life and the Bounds of Nature

Edited by Gregory E. Kaebnick and Thomas H. Murray

A range of views on the morality of synthetic biology and its place in public policy and political discourse.





A range of views on the morality of synthetic biology and its place in public policy and political discourse.

Synthetic biology, which aims to design and build organisms that serve human needs, has potential applications that range from producing biofuels to programming human behavior. The emergence of this new form of biotechnology, however, raises a variety of ethical questions—first and foremost, whether synthetic biology is intrinsically troubling in moral terms. Is it an egregious example of scientists “playing God”? Synthetic Biology and Morality takes on this threshold ethical question, as well as others that follow, offering a range of philosophical and political perspectives on the power of synthetic biology.

The contributors consider the basic question of the ethics of making new organisms, with essays that lay out the conceptual terrain and offer opposing views of the intrinsic moral concerns; discuss the possibility that synthetic organisms are inherently valuable; and address whether, and how, moral objections to synthetic biology could be relevant to policy making and political discourse. Variations of these questions have been raised before, in debates over other biotechnologies, but, as this book shows, they take on novel and illuminating form when considered in the context of synthetic biology.

ContributorsJohn Basl, Mark A. Bedau, Joachim Boldt, John H. Evans, Bruce Jennings, Gregory E. Kaebnick, Ben Larson, Andrew Lustig, Jon Mandle, Thomas H. Murray, Christopher J. Preston, Ronald Sandler


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262019392 222 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 table


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262519595 222 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 table


Gregory E. Kaebnick

Gregory E. Kaebnick is a Research Scholar at the Hastings Center, editor of the Hastings Center Report, and editor of the book The Ideal of Nature: Debates about Biotechnology and the Environment.

Thomas H. Murray

Thomas H. Murray is President Emeritus and Senior Research Scholar at the Hastings Center and author of The Worth of a Child.


  • Synthetic biology demands a creative response from bioethics. The editors have assembled a highly qualified group of authors who have met the challenge. This anthology is as innovative as synthetic biology itself.

    Jonathan D. Moreno

    David and Lyn Silfen University Professor, University of Pennsylvania

  • Synthetic biology is a hot topic and deserves ethical scrutiny, and this is one of the first volumes that attempts it. This is a useful contribution to bioethics and related fields.

    Dale Jamieson

    Director of Environmental Studies, New York University; author of Ethics and the Environment

  • Across the board, the clarity and directness of the writing make this collection a fine introduction to the range of views on synthetic biology from the bioethics community.

    Paul B. Thompson

    W. K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics, Michigan State University