Sune Holm – University of Copenhagen

Sune Holm

Associate Professor

Sune Holm
Philosophy Section
Department of Media, Cognition and Communication
Faculty of Humanities

Sune Holm in 'Ingeniøren' on bioethics 
IN THE MEDIA: As an emerging technology that uses DNA-modifying techniques, Synthetic Biology raises bioethical questions that must be adressed and asessed continuously. In Ingeniøren, Sune Holm considers some of the ethical implications of using synthetic biology. Click here to read more

Philosopher Sune Holm devotes his time to address the ethical issues within synthetic biology. Being a novel techno-science, synthetic biology produces new perspectives with respect to the relationship between humans and nature and between scientific and societal values. Ethics research is therefore a cornerstone at the Center for Synthetic Biology.

I collaborate closely with the scientific researchers at the Center for Synthetic Biology in order to establish which ethical dilemmas may arise from synthetic biology as a novel field in general as well as from the research projects taking place at the Center more specifically. In this context my work focuses on unveiling the values that form the base of the research in synthetic biology and the factors and values that drive public discourse on science and its implementation into society. This feeds into more fundamental philosophical questions, such as the ethical perspectives attached to the notion of engineering biology, and the meanings we assign to words like “natural” and “artificial”. These are some of the central issues when discussing the ethics of constructing new biological systems to meet society’s needs.

Among my research interests are:

  • The ethical significance of our distinction between naturally evolved organisms and engineered machines
  • How organisms, artifacts, and ecosystems can be regarded as having moral status, and how this relates to the potential products of synthetic biology and the moral responsibilities of researchers
  • The connection between the ethics of synthetic biology and the way in which we understand the purposiveness and functions of living systems


Furthermore, in August 2011 I initiated the project: ”The Teleological Nature of Designed Synthetic Life” funded by the Danish Research Council (FKK).  The project has two overall aims:

(1) To investigate important philosophical questions that arise in connection with the latest research in the intersection between biology, engineering, and computer science in order to develop a better understanding of the nature and functions of man-made objects, organisms and designed organisms

(2) To contribute to the development of a set of concepts that can be used to clarify fundamental issues arising within the ethical and societal debate on synthetic biology, in part by initiating a close dialogue between contemporary humanities research and the vital and visionary scientific research field of synthetic biology.

 Selected Scientific Publications

  • Holm, S. Is synthetic biology mechanical biology? History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 81, doi: 10.1007/s40656-015-0081-y (2015)
  • Holm, SH & Powell, R (eds.) 2013, Organism and Machine: The Conceptual and Normative Challenges of Synthetic Biology, Special Issue of Studies in the History and Philosoophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
  • Holm, S. H. Disease, Dysfunction, and Synthetic Biology. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 39, 329-345, doi:10.1093/jmp/jhu025 (2014).
  • Holm, SH, (forthcoming), ‘The Interests and Moral Status of Artifactual Organisms,’ in Ethical Issues in Engineering Biological and Ecological Systems, Lexington Books (eds. Ronald Sandler and John Basl)
  • Holm, SH (2012), ' Synthetic Biology and Biological Interests’, Philosophy and Technology.
  • Holm, SH (2012), 'The Scientific Aspirations of Synthetic Biology and the Need for Analytic Ethics,’ Ethics, Policy & Environment .


  • Ethics and Risk - 23rd September 2015
    Risk and uncertainty are pervasive features of decision-making and plays a key role in debates about emerging biotechnology. Politicians and regulators will in many cases have to make decisions despite being uncertain about their effects on future events. In order to shed light on issues of public interest in relation to social decisions on potentially groundbreaking technologies this workshop brings together leading scholars on the ethics of risk to investigate and discuss questions concerning when risky activities are morally permissible, how major moral theories assess risk-imposing actions, and the role of emotions in evaluations of risk.