Playing God: Symbolic Arguments Against Technology

M. Simons*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In ethical reflections on new technologies, a specific type of argument often pops up, which criticizes scientists for "playing God" with these new technological possibilities. The first part of this article is an examination of how these arguments have been interpreted in the literature. Subsequently, this article aims to reinterpret these arguments as symbolic arguments: they are grounded not so much in a set of ontological or empirical claims, but concern symbolic classificatory schemes that ground our value judgments in the first place. Invoking symbolic arguments thus refers to how certain new technologies risk undermining our fundamental symbolic distinctions by which we organize and evaluate our interactions with the world and in society. Such symbolic distinctions, moreover, tend to be resilient against logical argumentation, mainly because they themselves form the basis on which we argue in the cultural and ethical sphere in the first place. Therefore, effective strategies to evaluate and counter these arguments require another approach, showing that these technologies either do not challenge these classifications or, if they do, how they can be accompanied by the proper actions to integrate these technologies into our society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-165
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2022


  • Playing God
  • Synthetic biology
  • Climate engineering
  • Symbolic distinctions


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