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The Legitimacy of the Contemporary

The initial mapping of the human genome during the course of the 1990s was an event; in its wake almost everyone seems to agree that we are on the verge of something momentous and extravagant. In English, "verge" means the boundary beyond which something happens or changes. The map is only one in a broader series of recent bravura, techno-scientific accomplishments, which individually and in an accumulative fashion raise a host of other unsettling and unsettled issues ranging from the scientific, to the ontological, to the ethical, to the political. Today, there is ferocious contestation over whether these scientific achievements are: (a) transgressing a boundary whose integrity we must respect; or (b) crossing over a threshold leading to unforeseen encounters and challenges; or (c) simply moving from one farmer’s field to the next (the original meaning of verge) and thereby basically issues of private property and the commons. But how is one to decide where one is? And where one is going? To put the question another way: how is one to decide, what difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday? The article explores these issues through a critical dialogue which engages the work of Michel Foucault, Hans Blumenberg and Jürgen Habermas with contemporary developments in genomics and bioethics.