A rational freedom means the ability to act upon our conscious decisions, on the basis of reasoned assessments of the options, and thereby to become answerable to others for the things that we do. All rational beings have this ability, since that is what rationality means. We no more remove this freedom from our children by genetic manipulation than we remove it by choosing our sexual partners on the basis of beauty, strength, or intelligence–and thereby increasing the likelihood that those attributes will be passed on to our children. Whatever Jack does to engineer Jill, she will have the freedom to thwart his purposes and to use her powers against him. By being accountable to him, she will force him to be accountable to her. The worst thing Jack could do to Jill is what Frankenstein did to his monster–look on her as in some way outside the sphere of human freedom.
The sphere of freedom is not one of untrammeled freedom. It is a sphere of responsibility, in which people pay for their freedoms by accounting for their use. Freedom comes into being through the exercise of rational choice, in the conditions of society, and Jack makes himself answerable for Jill’s future in the very fact of freely choosing to influence it. If this is so, then the kind of genetic engineering that frightens Kass might be less of a challenge than he believes. It will not alter what is fixed in human nature, for little in our nature is fixed apart from this attribute that distinguishes us and that makes it impossible for others to control what we do. And Jill, when she emerges from whatever dish she was grown in, will have not only the “I” attitude that comes with freedom but also the “we” attitude that causes her to look around herself and wonder what kind she belongs to, and what environment belongs to her. She might go the way of Frankenstein’s monster, offering love and never receiving it. But the chances are that she will be as well adapted to her world as we are to ours, and as repelled by the processes that created her as we might be. And when it is her turn to have children, she will leave their genetic makeup to her gods.
Roger Scruton is research professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, VA, and the author of more than 30 books, including Modern Philosophy. He farms in Wiltshire, England, and in Rappahannock County, VA.