Bryan Caplan  

Ignorance, Incentives, and Meaning

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In "Making Babies - the New Biology and the 'Old' Morality," Leon Kass writes:
[T]he cloned individual's belief in the openness of his own future may be undermined, and with it, his freedom to be himself. Ignorance of what lies ahead is a source of hope to the miserable, a spur to the talented, a necessary support for a tolerable---let alone worthy--life for all. 
Critique using basic information economics and/or empirical psychology.

I'll highlight the best responses in a follow-up post.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Kevin writes:

Can't everything said about clones be said about identical twins? Are identical twins' identity threatened by a genetic double?

Some might claim they grow up together, and so they end up different, but what about twins separated at birth? And if someone replies that they don't know about each other, what about clones who didn't?

The point is just this: for any scenario you can concoct where a clone's sense of identity and freedom is threatened by being a clone, it seems like you can construct a relevantly similar scenario for identical twins.

Zdeno writes:

Whether you are a clone or not is irrelevant to the extent to which genetic determinism is binding. If my clone is not able to break free from his genetic predestination, then I never was either. The only argument you can make is that the clone is aware of the specifics of his predestiny, and maybe that interferes with his subjective enjoyment of his (still predetermined) life.

Internet fame, here I come....

Philo writes:

Kass imagines that a cloned individual would get a lot of information about the person from whom he was cloned, and that this would give him a richer-than-normal fund of knowledge about his own nature. But it is silly to think that this information would be so rich as to foreclose the cloned individual's *metaphysical freedom*, which, Kass supposes, depends on ignorance of one's future. (And why is metaphysical freedom, as opposed to physical freedom and political freedom, supposed to be *valuable*?)

We normally think that self-knowledge is a good thing; Socrates was fond of repeating the Delphic saying, "Know thyself." People are keenly interested in finding out about their own strengths and deficiencies (e.g., they take aptitude tests, they try various activities to learn what they like and what they are good at); the reasons are obvious. This partly explains the eagerness of many adoptees to get information about their biological parents; apparently Kass would deprecate this. Indeed, he must regret that most people know so much about their parents and other family members--especially the older ones, who have more of a history: he must think this limits their "freedom to be themselves." Kass simply ignores the value of self-knowledge.

But the amount of extra information about himself that would be available to a clone seems more modest than Kass imagines. He practically embraces the straw man of genetic determinism, ignoring the importance of environment in molding us. The original's career and that of the clone would probably be quite different.

Mick Rolland writes:

Just a comment: How we value certainty/uncertainty of the future depends on our risk preferences. E.g. Risk averse people value more certainty in the future (and buy insurance or choose posts such as public sector jobs).

agnostic writes:

Behavior genetics shows that almost no interesting trait is either 0% heritable or 100% heritable. So, some of the differences between people are due to environmental differences. In particular, they are almost never due to the way people differ in the "shared environment" -- things that two people raised together would share, like parenting style.

Instead, the substantial environmental component consists of things like differences due to chance, due to gene x environment interaction, etc. (Think of how different two people with belligerent genes would be if one lived in an environment that rewarded belligerence, and the other where it was punished summarily by death.)

So, a clone does indeed have ignorance of what lies ahead. If we're talking genetic clones, it's no different than monozygotic twins, who don't turn out identical in traits (just much more similar than strangers). If we're talking phenotypic clones -- cloning the final result, not just genetic input -- again their environment won't be the same as that of their pattern. Chance is never under their control, and it plays a big role in development.

So what we have is another bioethicist who doesn't know jack squat about the bio he's talking about.

Badger writes:

This question reminds me of a different one in Twilight Zone's "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville": You're given the chance to start again young, but you keep all your memories of your previous life trajectory. Luck and systemic complexity turns what looked like an advantage into a curse.

Troy Camplin writes:

He's a biological determinist, and biological determinism is nonsense. Besides, we already have clones of people out in the world -- they're known as identical twins. And not even they are completely identical, even when raised in the same environment.

Steve Reilly writes:

I don’t think Kass is arguing that genetic determinism is correct; he’s arguing that the clone might believe in genetic determinism, and therefore might lose all hope. Which would be a good point if, say, adopted children were known to be more hopeful than other kids, but really it’s just a silly argument against a technology he finds kinda icky.

Other than people who have the gene for diseases like Huntington’s, we don’t find ourselves hopeful or miserable purely because of our genetic endowment.

Philo writes:

Have any of these comments so far used "basic information economics and/or empirical psychology"? Maybe Bryan will tell us what he had in mind.

Skeptikos writes:

With more information available to him, the clone may make different decisions than the original individual.

Specifically, if the clone is unhappy with the life of his predecessor, he will probably make an effort to avoid the same fate, and this effort will be aided by his extra self-knowledge. (Or maybe he likes how his predecessor turned out, and does what he can to promote a similar life for himself.)

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