Žižek: philosophy as the creation of new problems – the biogenetics example

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

Žižek (2009:60-63) offers an interesting example, as well as some interesting comments thereon, of a “real philosophical question” (2009:61), a real philosophical problem. He raises the question – which I will soon quote – in response to the issue of biogenetics. Biogenetics, explains Žižek, is presented by “Spain’s official state philosopher” (2009:59), Habermas, in the following ‘neo-Kantian’ (2009:60) manner: in the sciences

you can do whatever you want; remember, however, that we are dealing only with the narrow field of cognitive phenomena. The human as autonomously acting moral subject is something else, and this field must be defended from every threat.

Accordingly, says Žižek, pseudo-problems (Ibid) emerge: “how far are we allowed to go into biogenetics? Does biogenetics threaten our freedom and autonomy?” Žižek identifies these as being false philosophical questions. Instead, he identifies the following as the “only real philosophical question” with regard to biogenetics: “is there something in the results of biogenetics that would force us to redefine what we understand by human nature, by the human way of being?” In criticism of Habermas, Žižek (2009:61) states that Habermas’s entire “intervention betrays the fear that something could fundamentally change, that a new dimension of the ‘human’ could emerge and the old idea of human dignity and autonomy would not be safely conserved”. This links perfectly to what Žižek (2009:60) says about the dubiousness of ‘state philosophy’:

What is the chief function of state philosophy in the contemporary dynamic capitalist society? It should endorse the development, indispensible for capitalism, of new sciences, of technology and business, while at the same time, however, it should obstruct their radical ethical and social consequences.[1]

From these statements, it is clear that the questions, “how far are we allowed to go into biogenetics? Does biogenetics threaten our freedom and autonomy?” – questions Žižek identified as pseudo-problems – are not the questions/problems pertaining to the real radical ethical and social consequences, in this case regarding biogenetics. The real questions according to Žižek, as already seen, pertain to the ‘redefinition of human nature’, to the emergence of a ‘new dimension of the human’, and also to the process whereby ‘something fundamentally changes’. The latter process can be expressed differently: the universal process whereby the present contingent particularities of the human sphere change – which leads me to Badiou and Žižek’s interest in philosophy’s ‘universal focus’. I will now begin to address this focus, and then refer back to the example of biogenetics for further clarification.

[1] I must point out here that Science, Technology and ‘business’ are three of the four dominant shapers of discourse focused on in Chapter 3 of this study, which is to say that they are the historically dominant ideologies that underlie the ecological crisis, as shown in Chapter 3.