Can Science Make Sense of Life?
Can Science Make Sense of Life?

Nearly seventy years after the discovery of the structure of DNA, and the birth of the genetic age, a powerful new vocabulary has emerged to express science’s growing command over the matter of life. Armed with knowledge of the code that governs all living things, biology and biotechnology are poised to edit, even rewrite, the texts of life to correct nature’s mistakes.

Yet, how far should the capacity to manipulate what life is at the molecular level authorize science to define what life is for? This book looks at flash points in law, politics, ethics, and culture – assisted reproduction, stem cell research, agricultural GMOs, gene drives, creation of synthetic organoids – to argue that science’s promises of perfectibility have gone too far. Science may have editorial control over the material elements of life, but it does not supersede the languages of sense-making that have helped define human values through millennia of history: the meanings of autonomy, integrity, and privacy; the bonds of kinship, family, and society; and the place of humans in nature.

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  • November 2018 (pb)
    November 2018 (hb)
  • 200 pages
  • 138 x 216 mm / 5 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $59.95
  • 9781509522705
  • Paperback $19.95
  • 9781509522712
  • Open eBook $19.95
  • 9781509522743
Table of Contents


Chapter 1. A New Lens on Life

Chapter 2. Book of Revelations

Chapter 3. Life and Law: Constitutional Turns

Chapter 4. Life in the Gray Zone

Chapter 5. Language Games

Chapter 6. A New Biopower

Chapter 7. Life’s Purposes

About the Author
Sheila Jasanoff is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School
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"From gene drives to synthetic organoids, every rapid advance in the life sciences opens up a hot-button issue. This incisive study by sociologist of science Sheila Jasanoff examines ethics at that cutting edge."
Barbara Kiser, Nature

"Can Science Make Sense of Life? highlights critical perversions in our present governance of biotechnology: confusions between decoding genetic structures and engineering happiness; conflations of privately profitable patent interests and overall human betterment; and elisions between raw data and techno-optimism’s myth-making capacity. Founder of Harvard’s Science, Technology and Society program, Sheila Jasanoff makes an urgent and eloquent case for restoring broadly democratic humanistic complexity to the governing bodies that govern our bodies.”
Patricia Williams, Columbia Law School

“For those of us concerned with equitable distribution of technology, biodiversity, and the long-term health of the Earth, here is a thoughtful and up-to-date resource from an experienced scholar very close to the exponentially shifting events of risk and hope.”
George Church, Wyss Institute, Harvard University

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