The outlines of the conception exposed in this book emerged from the two main occupations of my philosophical life. One is the search for principles and methods fruitful for modern ethics and political philosophy in the conceptions of the so-called German Idealism, especially Hegel. While I still think that a comprehensive framework for practical philosophy is necessary, I became increasingly skeptical regarding the premises of a philosophy of the absolute – “idea” or “spirit.” This skepticism is not only directed against transcendent but also against immanent ideas of perfection and necessity in modern civilizations.
The other long-standing interest is the search for criteria which ethics needs for assessing directions of modern technology. As a philosopher in different committees of biomedicine, such as stem-cell research and nano-technology in medicine, I was looking for some Rawlsian “reflective equilibrium” between principles, as universal as possible, and solutions for very specific questions. My involvement in these advisory tasks had partly accidental reasons of personal and academic biography: My family (marital) relation to the life-sciences on the one hand and on the other the founding of ethics committees on regional, national and European levels at the end of the last century. Of course, influential were also the experiences I share with all contemporaries regarding climate change and the radical loss of biodiversity. They confirmed the conviction that man’s relation to nature and technology needs fundamental philosophical reflection. I recall an encounter with a scientist working in the field of synthetic biology at a hearing of the European Group of Ethics Experts (which I did not belong to) claiming that “nature is a machine to be improved.” But I also remember discussions in a research group at Münster university with members from the law and from medicine on questions of enhancement and perfection of the human being. As a passionate (amateur) observer of nature I felt that nature’s treatment as a machine would not only risk to abuse natural life but also to bury an irreplaceable source of values and “partners” for humanity. However, without technology and biotechnical medicine we could neither cope with natural catastrophes nor defend ourselves against pandemics – leaving the technical means of communication and mobility aside. If philosophical ethics has to say anything approaching “objectivity” in these value debates, it needs another fundament than most positions in traditional and modern ethics provide. In some respect it has to renew the pre-modern thinking about the goodness or badness of the cosmos.1 However, in an age of natural and cultural evolution, heavily influenced by human technical civilization, no perfectly ordered cosmos or creation can be assumed. A good condition of “our” world is only one to be aimed at in the ongoing dynamic processes. But we cannot estimate gains and losses regarding the “improvement” of nature and humanity without criteria for good or bad directions of these processes.
I thank Markus Rüther and Charles Rathkopf for their comments and advice. The latter helped me enormously to produce a (hopefully) readable English text. Elizabeth Huckschlag was very helpful in obtaining the relevant literature, Pia Jauch and Kevin Zernickel provided important technical assistance.
Münster, spring 2022
In the following, I use italics for the eternal cosmos of the metaphysical tradition, not for the contemporary common parlance (German “Weltall”).