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Abstract 摘要

On May 20, 2010, the Craig Venter Institute, a U.S. private research institution, announced that they had successfully synthesized bacterial deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and implanted it in another bacterium. After several attempts, the implanted artificial DNA regained life and began to reproduce in a lab dish. This “artificial life” was named “Synthia” (meaning “man-made children”). The result of this research has attracted broad attention. Even U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern, and has asked the White House Council on Bioethics to provide a detailed report on synthetic biology within six months, to determine the appropriate ethical boundaries and minimize the potential harm. Indeed, this latest research in synthetic biology requires careful philosophical, ethical and cultural considerations on the essence of life.

This essay attempts to analyze the biological status of Synthia and explores the essence of life from the perspective of Confucian philosophy. In particular, it attempts to draw on the Confucian idea of Heaven (tian) or God (shangdi) to disclose unique Confucian insights into new technology in general and artificial life in particular. Indeed, as advanced and pioneering science and technology have brought about more and more ethical difficulties and dilemmas, the Chinese people need to draw on the wisdom of Confucius to work out suitable solutions and guide their actions. Researchers at the Craig Venter Institute recently announced that they could take advantage of man-made DNA to create the first artificial human life. How should Confucians reflect on such actions in terms of their view of the essence and meaning of life?

This essay assumes that following the Mandate of Heaven (tianming) is central to Confucian teaching on the essence of life. The Mandate of Heaven is reflected in the natural development and transformation of the myriad things in the universe. However, things like Synthia are outside of this natural process of development and transformation, and cannot be taken as being consistent with the Mandate of Heaven. Just as Confucianism cannot support the creation of human cloning, it cannot support artificial human life such as Synthia, because both violate a fundamental understanding of the essence of life in the Confucian faith. Confucian scholars cannot hold a utilitarian view of maximizing human interests, no matter what those interests are taken to be. Instead, Confucianism must insist that human interests be consistent with the Mandate of Heaven to promote the virtuous essence of human life.

面對科學技術給我們帶來的越來越多的倫理學難題的時候,我們不妨從孔子的教導中尋找答案。美國科學家克雷格.文特爾目前宣佈,他們利用了一段人工合成的DNA 創造了人類有史以來的第一個人造生命,並取名其為“辛西婭”。這也使得人們開始重新思考生命的定義,生命的本質等本源問題。本文將從儒家的哲學視角分析辛西婭的生物學地位,並從儒家的“天命觀”的角度分析合成生物技術。希望能對新技術得出儒家獨到的見解。

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