The machine analogy in bioethics
The chapter discusses the use of machine analogies in biology from an ethical point of view. The chapter identifies a number of “antimachine” views – views that are critical of the use of machine analogies on ethical grounds. Such views typically object to machine analogies either because such analogies understand organisms in mechanistic terms or because they recommend viewing organisms as artifacts. According to antimachine views, understanding organisms mechanistically, or creating biological artifacts, leads to several problems: (1) because mechanistic understandings of organisms are descriptively inadequate, their use is hubristic or dangerous; (2) mechanistic or artifactual understandings imply a denial that organisms have moral standing; (3) biological artifacts lack an intrinsic value that natural organisms have; and (4) creating biological artifacts expresses objectionable attitudes of mastery and domination of nature. The chapter analyzes objections, pointing to each of these problems, and argues that they all suffer from a common problem: they extend the scope of the analogy beyond what is necessary or intended by those using it. Antimachine views are thus best seen as warnings not to overextend analogies between organisms and machines.