Benjamin G Gregg
Job Title
Research Interests

Keywords: bioethics, artificial intelligence, political theory, social theory, philosophy, evolution, human genetic engineering, human rights.

Benjamin Gregg teaches social and political theory, as well as bioethics, informed by philosophy and sociology, at the University of Texas at Austin but also in Germany (Frankfurt/O), Austria (Linz and Innsbruck), Sweden (Lund), Japan (Tokyo and Hokkaido), China (Beijing), and Brazil (Goiãnia). The College of Liberal Arts Committees on Research and Teaching awarded him the Silver Spurs Fellowship in recognition of outstanding scholarship and teaching. He has conducted graduate master classes at the Universidade Federal de Goiás in Brazil, at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, at the University of Hokkaido in Japan, and at the University of Glasgow in the UK. He studied with Michael Walzer in Princeton, Axel Honneth in Berlin, and Seyla Benhabib at Yale. In addition to more than fifty sole-authored articles, he is the author of The Human Rights State (Pennsylvania, 2016); Human Rights as Social Construction (Cambridge, 2012); Thick Moralities, Thin Politics (Duke, 2003); and Coping in Politics with Indeterminate Norms (SUNY, 2003). Cambridge University Press published his newest book, Constructing Human Nature: The Political Challenges of Genetic Engineering, in October 2022. He has presented aspects of this project at invited lectures in Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States. His work has been translated into German, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese.

His current research agenda proceeds along several (at points, intersecting) tracks: (1) political bioethics (which addresses questions that can only be answered in terms of the particular value-commitments of the deciders, where answers ideally would be generated through critical discussions not only among experts but among members of the general public); (2) human rights as social science (rather than theology or metaphysics); (3) the specifically political dangers for liberal democratic communities of artificial intelligence, defending four theses: (a) the social need for complexity reduction makes political community vulnerable to AI, (b) human intelligence is a social phenomenon where consciousness is in exchange with its environments, (c) unlike AI, human intelligence possesses a political capacity for mutual attribution of responsibility, and (d) algorithms cannot meet the political challenges of liberal democracy.

Gregg is a consulting member of a team (Jeanne Stachowiak, Biomedical Engineering, and Brian Belardi, Chemical Engineering, both UT Austin) whose proposal (“Synthetic Adhesome Cells: Engineering Interfaces Between Synthetic and Live Cells for Controlled Delivery”) recently won a National Science Foundation three-year grant for $1,052,000 for research on the development of synthetic cells, i.e., cells built from purified components with a designed purpose, with a two-fold goal: with the Synthetic Adhesome Cell platform, (a) to create systems with user-defined control over intracellular delivery and (b) to shed light on the biophysical mechanisms underlying junction formation and communication at cell-cell interfaces. The grant includes development of a team-taught course titled "Building a Cell from Scratch: Design and Ethics” (cross-listed in the Cockrell School of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts), which in part considers ethical issues of the new technology and how these issues might be addressed through new design features. His responsibility: the ethical implications of the research aims of the project as well developing the syllabus. He has been working for several years now on developing a new field in political theory called “political bioethics”:



College of Liberal Arts, UT-Austin

Description: Grant to develop syllabus for I will offer a new Plan II Honors Social Science seminar on “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: Major Controversies” to better prepare students to participate in respectful and constructive disagreement on important and complex topics, and to engage in civil discourse in the classroom; and to expose students to a range of perspectives gathered on one short trip to Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines) and on a second short trip to North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia) via filmed interviews canvassing a range of perspectives on Darwin’s theory not otherwise thematized in our North America and Europe-centered seminar

Project Title: “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: Major Controversies in Reception Beyond the Christian West: Southeast Asia and North Africa”

Amount: $10,000

Deliverable: New seminar that addresses the social and political challenges faced by developments in natural science in general, and by Darwin’s theory of evolution in particular, as well as research and publication on the theory’s troubled reception beyond the Christian West, specifically in parts of Southeast Asia and North Africa


Office of Texas Global, UT-Austin

Description: Faculty Travel Planning Grant to travel to Indonesia to establish a university-to-university-level collaboration with Gadjah Mada University and in preparation for application for a follow-up Texas Global funding opportunity

Project Title: “The Bioethical Principle of Individual Autonomy in Illiberal States: Challenges for Cross-National Gene-Editing Guidelines”

Amount: $2500

Deliverable: university-to-university-level collaboration with the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia 


National Science Foundation (Principle Investigators: Professor Brian Belardi, Department of Chemical Engineering, and Professor Jeanne Stachowiak, Department of Biomedical Engineering, both UT)

Project Title: Synthetic Adhesome Cells: Engineering Interfaces Between Synthetic and Live Cells for Controlled Delivery

Amount: $1,051,796 over three years

One Deliverable (others are expected): Development of a new team-taught undergraduate course titled "Building a Cell from Scratch: Design and Ethics” (cross-listed in the Cockrell School of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts), which in part considers ethical issues of the new technology and how these issues might be addressed through new design features

My Role: bioethics consultant on ethical implications of the research aims of the NSF project as well as developing the syllabus


2021-2022 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Public International Law at Lund University, Sweden. Joint appointment with Law School and Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Project title: The Human Rights Regulation of Human Genetic Engineering

Amount: 560,000 SEK


(a) forthcoming 2023. “Genetic Engineering Revolutions.” Handbook of the Anthropocene, C. Wulf and N. Wallenhorst, eds. London, Berlin, New York: Springer-Nature

(b) 2022. “The Person-Affecting/Identity-Affecting Distinction Between Forms of Human Germline Genome Editing Is Useless in Practical Ethics.” American Journal of Bioethics 22 (9):49-51

(c) 2022. “Political Bioethics.” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy.… [hardcopy forthcoming]


Office of the Vice President for Research & Creative Grants, UT-Austin

Description: Visiting Researcher, Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore

Project Title: “Evaluating Bioethical Regulation in a Non-Democratic State: Singapore”

Amount: $10,000 (due to Covid pandemic, not accessed until summer 2022)

Deliverable: “Might the Bioethical Principle of Individual Decisional Autonomy Have a Politically Liberalizing Effect on Soft Authoritarian Communities?” under Revise and Resubmit at Politics and Life Sciences


Center for European Studies, UT-Austin

Description: Research at the Danish Institute for Human Rights (Copenhagen), at the invitation of the research group “Human Rights and Business” to research practical strategies for going beyond the current corporate standard (due diligence) with respect to human rights observance

Amount: $2000

Deliverable: 2020. “Beyond Due Diligence: The Human Rights Corporation.” Human Rights Review. 22:65-89.


Humanities Research Award, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, UT

Project Title: Human Nature as Cultural Design: The Political Challenges of Genetic Enhancement

Amount: $5000 for each of three years, 2014-2017; I was able to use a portion in 2018 to help make possible a visiting fellowship at Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and at the Ethox Centre (Nuffield Department of Population Health), both University of Oxford

Deliverable: 2022. Creating Human Nature: The Political Challenges of Genetic Engineering. New York: Cambridge University Press


Center for European Studies, UT-Austin

Description: One week visit to the Centre for Sami Studies at the University of Tromsø, Norway, to consult with scholars of Norway’s Saami community with a focus on the operationalization of indigenous rights

Amount: $2000


(a) 2020. “The Indigenous Rights State.” Ratio Juris 33(1):98-116

(b) 2019. “Indigeneity as Social Construct and Political Tool.” Human Rights Quarterly 41(4):823–848


Planet Texas 2050 Bridging Barriers, Research Group “Resources, stress, and population dynamics in premodern urban environments”

Amount: $6348 (for 2018/2019)


(a) 2022. Chapter 10, “Genetic Engineering as a Technology of the Anthropocene,” in Gregg. Creating Human Nature: The Political Challenges of Genetic Engineering. New York: Cambridge University Press

(b) 2018. Human Genetic Engineering: Biotic Justice in the Anthropocene? In D. DellaSala and M. Goldstein, eds. Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene, vol. 4:351-359. Oxford, UK: Elsevier

Student Programs and Populations
Typical student contributions to my research
Literature review of scholarly articles on topics provided by instructor; instructor provides guidance throughout the term through weekly feedback
Affiliated Departments