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Research Lines

Nature, Life and Human Intervention

Research line leaders: Ibo van de Poel, Marcel Verweij

Research line coordinator: Vincent Blok

Research line participants: Julia Rijssenbeek (PhD candidate), Benjamin Hofbauer (PhD candidate), Alessio Gerola (PhD candidate), Karen Moesker (PhD candidate), Wolmet Barendregt, Neelke Doorn, Udo Pesch, Zoƫ Robaey, Benham Taebi


Some of the greatest challenges for humankind concern our relationship with nature and the environment. These include climate change, food insecurity, emerging diseases, and threats towards biodiversity and natural resources. Technological innovation will be essential to respond to and mitigate these problems. Such innovation sometimes must be disruptive in order to successfully change existing lifestyles, consumption, and economy to foster a sustainable society and circular economy. Yet, disruptive innovations give rise to many fundamental ethical questions. Moreover, these technological innovations challenge conceptual distinctions, such as between natural, unnatural, and man-made, and between technological and natural risk, which in turn raises fundamental questions in ethics.

In this research line we aim to go beyond traditional discussions about the normative status of nature, e.g., whether there is something intrinsically good or desirable in nature and something objectionable in changing nature. The technologies we study disrupt such understandings and force us to rethink the human-nature relationship and to develop new perspectives.

We work on the following clusters of questions:

  • How do new developments in biological engineering and environmental and sustainable technologies challenge basic moral concepts and beliefs? Which disruptions are required to address global challenges like climate change and to foster a circular economy and how can they be morally evaluated?
  • How do these disruptions affect our relationship with nature and how do they challenge fundamental notions, such as the distinctions between natural/man-made; living/not-living; nature/culture; natural environment/societal environment? Do ethical frameworks, theories, and concepts in ethics of technology, bioethics, and environmental philosophy have to be adjusted given these disruptions? Do we have moral reasons to avoid some of those disruptions?
  • How can ethical and philosophical reflection contribute to a new model of the human-nature relationship and to new paradigms of control over nature? Under what conditions can natural processes and phenomena have normative implications? Which ethical frameworks and procedural approaches can guide technological design, responsible innovation, and governance of SDTs?