Saturday, April 7, 2012

Is there an obligation to resurrect extinct groups?

I'm raising this question as it pertained to group rights. Some groups have been systematically exterminated such as the Aboriginal Tasmanians through the genocidal policies of the Australians. If groups have rights and one of them is not to be exterminated as many human rights advocates claim, do they also have a right to be resurrected, say, through cloning or some other means? One may obtain enough genetic material from dead people to clone them. I'd imagine that once the technology is made reliable and cost effective, maybe the Australian government and other governments that have engaged in successful genocide of an entire group of people may be obligated to resurrect from extinction some members of the whole group. Groups, unlike individual people, can be resurrected from the dead and perpetrators, institutional or individual of their extinction, (or their ancestors) may be obligated to do so at least prima facie. But there might be significant ethical problems with this. If so what are these problems? One obvious concern is how many individuals must be resurrected? One? A few or the antegenocide population?


  1. I'm not convinced you would have "the same" group even after you clone the former members of the group. It would be like moving all the water from the Colorado River to another dry riverbed somewhere. You would technically have the same stuff in both cases, but you'd lose the important thing for identity, which is causal continuity.

    And that's leaving aside issues like, who is going to impart the culture of the Aborigines onto the clones now that there are no Tasmanian Aborigines?

  2. It's ambiguous as to what a group of people through time is. Since the group is constantly being replaced by individuals from natural death and birth, the group does not have an identity apart from maybe an abstract identity. This identity of course is instantiated by actual members even though the members keep changing. So even though if you were to resurrect members of past extinct groups, the sense that it is now a new group may not be that different from the sense that a new group comes into existence every time some members of an existing group is replaced by other members.

    There are other problems with identity though. What determines a group? Do subgroups of major ethnic groups count? In many tribes, there are smaller tribes with similar but distinct identities. Is there a duty for genocide perps to resurrect those smaller groups too? If so what ought to be the cut off if there are any criteria to determine between worthy groups and too small or too arbitrary groups?

  3. I think "identity" is a less than helpful term because it implies the full set of Leibnizean laws of identity, which clearly doesn't apply to groups—or almost any temporally extended entity that we care about. For pretty much anything like that, you need to give up on identity and talk about "sameness" (or some other word) as a function of causal connection. America today, for example, is the "same" country as it was in 1789 not because we have the same people (obviously false) or the same constitution (we don't; it's been amended many times) or the same territory (we've expanded) or any other "sine qua non" identity-making property. We're the same country because the country today was caused by the country then, and the form of causation involved counts as sameness for conventional purposes. (There may be some situations in which there's a stricter sense of "sameness" that we might want to use under which America is not the same country as it was.)

    A similar argument can be made about human bodies (we constantly lose cells) and many other temporally extended entities. Causation is the only way to make sense of these sorts of entities.

  4. I did not mean to use "identity" in such a strict way. I was actually using it to what many critical race theorists have in mind when they use it or something similar and more general.

    As for group identities, there may have to be some kind of weighted attribute conception of what the group is. I would imagine that the population origin's history is a big part of that weighted attribute in considering identity.