Leon Kass, The Wisdom of Repugnance (1997)



2.      How reproductive cloning works

3.      Natural twins: identical & fraternal

4.      Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) (e.g., in vitro fertilization “test tube babies”)

         a.      Over 1% of all infants born in the United States every year are conceived using ARTs (over 50,000)

5.      Question: If cloning is opposed, must we oppose these other ART too?



7.      Kass ties objections to cloning to a host of traditional, conservative, so-called “family values

         a.      Shift away from traditional, conservative “family values” makes it harder to explain why cloning is wrong

         b.      Culture has changed so no longer a common and “respectful” understanding of

                   i.       Sexuality, procreation, new life, family, mother/fatherhood

8.      Changes that go against these “family values” include

         a.      Legality and widespread use of abortion

         b.      Sexual revolution brought on by birth control

         c.      Single parent families

         d.      Reproductive rights of single women, homosexual men and lesbians

9.      Question: If you accept cloning, does that mean you must accept these other things as well?



11.    One: Monogamous marriage threatened by new reproductive tech

         a.      Is monogamous marriage a good thing? (Kass: yes)

         b.      “Defenders of stable monogamous marriage give offence to those living in new family forms and to those children who (even w/o assist repro) have 3 or 4 parents or none at all”

         c.      If accept divorce and out of wedlock birth, then stable monogamous marriage as ideal home for procreation is no longer agreed upon cultural norm

         d.      Clone is the ultimate “single parent child”

         e.      ARTs “undermine the justification and support that biological parenthood gives to monogamous marriage”

         f.       Questions:

                   i.       If having children were possible only in monogamous marriage, would this not encourage such marriage?

                   ii.      If you support monogamous marriage, should you oppose cloning (and other ARTs)?

                   iii.     One might think children better raised in such a traditional family and still think children can be raised well with other arrangements

12.    Two: Cloning helps divorce sexuality and procreation (and traditionalists think it important these be kept together)

         a.      “If sex has no intrinsic connection to generating babies (birth control, sex for enjoyment), babies need have no necessary connection to sex” (ARTs, including cloning)

13.    Three: Babies w/o sex confuse normal kin relations

         a.      Who is the mother? Where is the father?

                   i.       Egg donor, surrogate who carries and delivers, one who rears

                            (1)    Isn’t there a good case for saying it is the last?

         b.      Applies to cloning but also other ART

         c.      What about adoption? Same questions? Same objections? Does Kass oppose adoption?

14.    Four: Cloning undermines heterosexuality

         a.      Kass objects to seeing “natural heterosexual difference” as a matter of “cultural construction”

         b.      If male/female not complementary (normatively–in terms of values) or generatively significant, babies need not come from male-female complementarity



16.    Nucleus (DNA) banking (like sperm banks)

         a.      Famous athletes and other celebrities market their DNA as they now do autographs and about everything else

17.    Cloning to “upgrade” the gene pool and replicate superior types (eugenics)

18.    Mass production of human beings

         a.      Clone look-alikes

         b.      Compromised in their individuality

         c.      Are identical twins “compromised” in this way?

                   i.       Perhaps if they were mass produced

19.    Mother-daughter, father-son twins

         a.      Why is this repulsive if sibling twins are not?

         b.      Does it depend on idea that earlier twin did cloning?

                   i.       With identical twins you don’t have one twin creating the other

20.    Kass quotes suggesting problems with cloning

         a.      “Bizarre prospect of woman giving birth to and rearing a genetic copy of herself, or her deceased father/mother”

         b.      “Grotesqueness of conceiving child as exact replacement for another who died”

                   i.       A possible motive for cloning

         c.      “Creating embryonic genetic duplicates of onself to be used for tissue and organ transplantation”

                   i.       Is this gross or a good idea? See Ayalas case: Parents conceived a child in hopes of getting source of bone marrow for daughter with Leukemia

         d.      “Narcissism (self-love) of those who clone themselves”

         e.      “Arrogance of those who think they know who deserves to be cloned, which genotype a child-to-be would be thrilled to receive”

                   i.       Is it arrogant to think that some human traits are better than others?

         f.       “Frankenstein hubris of creating and controlling destiny of a human life; man playing God”

                   i.       Overstatement of power of this technology? How does the cloner control the destiny of the clone’s life?



22.    Cloning is (to many people):

         a.      Offensive, grotesque, revolting, repugnant, repulsive

23.    These are not arguments/reasons, but emotional reactions

24.    Sometimes repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason’s ability to articulate it

25.    No argument can fully explains the horror of:

         a.      Father-daughter incest (even with consent and contraception)

         b.      Sex with animals

         c.      Mutilating a corpse

         d.      Eating human flesh

         e.      Raping/murdering another human

                   i.       This seems like it is easy to explain the horror?

26.    A person’s inability to give a full rational justification for why these are revolting does not make that revulsion ethically suspect;

         a.      We know they are wrong even if we can’t say why

         b.      Is it true we can’t explain why these are wrong?

27.    Repugnance toward human cloning in this category: (Wise but undefendable repugnance?)

         a.      We intuit and feel, immediately and w/o argument, violation of things we rightfully hold dear, a transgression of something unspeakably profound

28.    Wisdom of repugnance: “Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder”

         a.      Repugnance only voice left that speaks up to defend central core of humanity in an age in which everything is thought to be permissible as long as it is freely done and our given human nature no longer commands respect.

29.    Worries:

         a.      Shouldn’t strong negative emotions that are not backed by reasons be seen as questionable?

         b.      Strong emotional reactions might not be “unspeakably profound” but deeply prejudicial and especially when they can’t be defended

                   i.       Eg: Some still find kissing someone of another race repugnant

                   ii.      E.g., Women or Blacks in charge of white men

         c.      And things we have found repugnant in past are often calmly accepted today (though this is not always good)

                   i.       Kass: “Man gets used to everything–the beast!”



31.    Sexual reproduction (genesis of new life from two complementary elements, one male, one female via coitus) is “established” not by human decision, culture or tradition, but by nature

         a.      Natural way for mammalian reproduction

                   i.       Though not for reproduction of many, many other types of organisms

                   ii.      It is the way nature has given us to reproduce; other organisms been given different strategies

32.    Precise genetic constitution of offspring determined by combination of nature and chance, not by human design

                   i.       There is human design in sense of choosing a partner

33.    Natural in this argument means

         a.      (Relative) absence of human design (not absence of human involvement)

         b.      Achieving results in the way nature has (non-intentionally) designed us to achieve them

34.    Worries:

         a.      But even if cloning is clearly unnatural in these senses, that doesn’t by itself show it is wrong

         b.      Things might be unnatural and right

         c.      Other ARTs are not “established by nature” and involve more human design, but not clear they are wrong

         d.      Need further argument to show things are wrong because unnatural in these ways



36.    One: Threatens confusion of identity and individuality

         a.      Even small scale cloning does this

         b.      Our genetic individuality is not humanly trivial

                   i.       It gives us our distinctive appearance by which all recognize us

                   ii.      It foreshadows the unique never to be repeated character of each human life.

         c.      What about natural identical twins? Though they are genetically identical, they have a unique never to be repeated character

37.    Two: Cloning represents a giant step (though not first one) toward transforming procreation into manufacture

         a.      Toward increasing depersonalization of process of generation

         b.      Toward production of human children as artifacts--products of human will and design

                   i.       Problem of “commodification” of new life

38.    Assumption here is that procreation should be significantly natural (=significantly undesigned by humans)

         a.      That this is an area of human life that should not come under the (complete? too much? ) province of human engineering, design, technology

         b.      Analogy valuing wild nature and wild human nature

                   i.       Like those who intrinsically value wild nature and believe the natural world should not be manufactured and turned into an artifact by humans

                   ii.      So too human beings should not be turned into human artifacts; we should let natural processes--uncontrolled by humans--have a good deal of free play in creating human life

         c.      Of course cloning a person is not to design him/her from scratch (as would be genetically engineering each of their genes and then totally controlling their environment)

                   i.       But it does give us tremendous control over genes of our offspring, control we’ve never had before

39.    Three: Cloning misunderstands nature of parenting (which involves giving up significant control)

                   i.       Cloning tries to keep this control (hence is despotism)

         b.      Cloning involves a profound misunderstanding of meaning of having children and the parent-child relation

         c.      Couples who choose to procreate, say yes to emergence of new life in its novelty,

         d.      Parents say yes not only to having a child, but to having whatever child this child turns out to be

         e.      Worries:

                   i.       Some truth to this, but aren’t there limits here?

                   ii.      Suggests that abortion of severely deformed fetuses–e.g., without brains--is not acceptable

                   iii.     What if your child turns out to be a drug addict and murderer?

40.    Four: Cloning is despotism

         a.      Embracing the future by procreating means (or should mean) we are relinquishing our grip

                   i.       Thus we confess the limits of our control

         b.      Our children are not our possessions/property

         c.      Children are not supposed to live our lives for us, or anyone’s else’s lives but their own

                   i.       Much harm done by parents who try to live vicariously through their children

                   ii.      Children compelled to fulfil broken dreams of unhappy parents

         d.      Cloning parents will be overbearing parents

         e.      Cloning parents will have expectations for their children (not just the hopes ordinary parents do)

                   i.       Child given a genotype that has already lived

                   ii.      Expectation that this past blueprint ought to control life that is to come

         f.       Thus, cloning is inherently despotic

                   i.       Seeks to make children after ones own image or after an image of one’s choosing

         g.      Worries:

                   i.       But all parents try to make their children have the traits parents think are good ones

                   ii.      Doesn’t this conceive of the cloner as having more power than she really does?

41.    Cloning is a step on the road to eugenics (improving the breed)

         a.      Choosing the perfect baby

         b.      Instead of cloning your child you could choose a donor nucleus

         c.      Not a child of your own, but of your own choosing

         d.      Look through catalog of cloning donors: pictures, health records and accomplishments of those whose tissues are in deep freeze

         e.      Eugenics

                   i.       Human conception will be

                            (1)    “Brought into the bright light of the lab: fertilized nourished, pruned, weeded, watched, inspected, prodded, pinched cajoled, injected, tested, rated, graded, approved, stamped, wrapped, sealed, and delivered”

                   ii.      To get the perfect baby

                   iii.     This does sound like manufacture, but cloning involves much less control than this



43.    Tech imperative: If it can be done it must be done

         a.      Kass rejects

44.    Technological fix mentality

         a.      Confidence in our ability to fix unwelcome outcomes of tech advance, usually by means of still newer and better techs

         b.      Kass questions how successful we can continue to be in such after-the-fact repairing

         c.      Kass opposes technological fix mentality for technologies that deeply affect humans

45.    With technology used on human body and mind

         a.      That will effect fundamental and irreversible changes in human nature, relationships and meaning of being human

         b.      We should not be wiling to risk everything in naive hope that if things go wrong we can later set them right

46.    Our choice

         a.      Will we be slaves of unregulated progress and ultimately its artifacts

         b.      Or remain free humans who guide our techniques to enhance human dignity

Study Questions, Kass, The Wisdom of Repugnance

1.         Explain how (reproductive) cloning works. Are twins clones? What other sorts of assisted reproductive technologies are used today?

2.         What are some of the conservative “family values” that Kass believes are threatened by cloning? Does cloning threaten them? Are these values worth supporting? Why or why not?

3.         What is the connection between monogamous marriage and cloning that Kass sees?

4.         Should sexuality and procreating be tied? Does cloning threaten this tie?

5.         Should people be able to market their DNA?

6.         If there where a large number of genetic clones of oneself, would that be problematic? Why or why not?

7.         What is wrong (if anything) with mother-daughter, father-son twins?

8.         Evaluate: Parents cloning a child who died at an early age.

9.         What does Kass mean by the “Wisdom of Repugnance?” Do you accept his idea here? Explain why or why not. Do strong emotional responses that can’t be backed up by reasons deserve to be taken as ethically sound?

10.       In what sense is cloning unnatural and sexual reproduction natural? Does being unnatural in this sense show that cloning is wrong?

11.       Kass argues that cloning turns procreation into “manufacture” and turns offspring into “artifacts” and that this is morally problematic. Assess this claim and relate it to the idea that wild nature should also not be manufactured and turned into an artifact.

12.       Why does Kass think cloning misunderstands nature of parenting and involves “despotism?” Is he right?

13.       What is eugenics? Is it morally problematic? Why?

14.       What is the “technological imperative?” What is the “technological fix” mentality? Does Kass support these?