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Competition, cooperation and human flourishing: commentary on Koch
  1. Hazem Zohny
  1. Correspondence to Hazem Zohny, Bioethics Centre, The University of Otago, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand; Hazem.zohny{at}

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Mainstream bioethics takes after a competitive, individualistic understanding of biology and is ultimately rooted in libertarian 19th-century values. These in turn drive much of the enthusiasm for transhumanism and explain why disability in bioethics is often characterised as a lamentable deficiency.

That, at least, is the concern raised by Tom Koch in his paper Disabling disability amid competing ideologies.1 He contrasts this paradigm with a cooperative, communal understanding of biology, and in turn, of bioethics—one which entails generally prioritising a socially cooperative and accommodating response to the fact that different humans have different capacities.

It is tempting to defensively nit-pick Koch’s criticisms; to conservatively argue that bioethics is fine as it is, thank you very much. That would be the wrong response, I think. His paper raises a crucial and often neglected issue, which is how the notion of human flourishing is implicitly characterised in these discussions. Nevertheless, I think there is a false dichotomy at the heart of this paper—one between the individualistic/competitive and the communal/cooperative—which overestimates the level of disagreement in bioethics.

Koch argues that at least some of the elements of a Darwinian competition have been smuggled into bioethics as unquestioned suppositions that inform much of the domain’s …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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