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From Humanism to Meta-, Post- and Transhumanism?

by Irina Deretić (Volume editor) Stefan Lorenz Sorgner (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 379 Pages

Summary

The relationship between humanism, metahumanism, posthumanism and transhumanism is one of the most pressing topics concerning many current cultural, social, political, ethical and individual challenges. There have been a great number of uses of the various terms in history. Meta-, post- and transhumanism have in common that they reject the categorically dualist understanding of human beings inherent in humanism.
The essays in this volume consider the relevant historical discourses, important contemporary philosophical reflections and artistic perspectives on this subject-matter. The goal is to obtain a multifaceted survey of the concepts, the relationship of the various concepts and their advantages as well as their disadvantages. Leading scholars of many different traditions, countries and disciplines have contributed to this collection.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Editorial
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Irina Deretić & Stefan Lorenz Sorgner - Introduction
  • Irina Deretić, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade - On the Origin and Genesis of Humans and Other Mortals in Plato’s Protagoras
  • Rafael Ferber, University of Luzern - Plato’s “Side Suns”: Beauty, Symmetry and Truth. Comments Concerning Semantic Monism and Pluralism of the “Good” in the Philebus (65a1–5)
  • Christos Y. Panayides, University of Nicosia - Aristotle and Darwin on Living Things and Teleology
  • Pauliina Remes, University of Uppsala - ‘For Itself and from Nothing’: Plotinus’ One as an Extreme Ideal for Selfhood
  • Hans Otto Seitschek, LMU Munich - Christian Humanism: An Alternative Concept of Humanism
  • Ivan Vuković, University of Belgrade - Kant’s Two Conceptions of Humanity
  • Drago Đurić, University of Belgrade - Darwin’s Naturalization of Ethics
  • Una Popović, University of Novi Sad - Heidegger’s Transformation of Traditional Concept of the Human Being
  • Nenad Cekić, University of Belgrade - Humanism, State and Freedom: Nozick’s Minimal Humanism?
  • Evanghelos Moutsopoulos, Academy of Athens - Is a Renewal of Humanism Possible Today?
  • Boris Bratina, University of Priština, Kosovska Mitrovica, Serbia - Other or The Other?
  • Mikhail Epstein, Emory University, Atlanta - Creative Disappearance of the Human Being: Introduction to Humanology
  • Regine Kather, University of Freiburg - Humans and Nature: Modern Society between Cultural Relativism and the Ontological Foundation of Values
  • Marija Bogdanović, University of Belgrade - Times of Hope and Risk: Market Based Genetics
  • Karen Gloy, Universität of Luzern - Post-Humanistic Thinking and Its Ethical Evaluation
  • Evangelos D. Protopapadakis, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens - Earth as a Life-raft and Ethics as the Raft’s Axe
  • J. Hendrik Heinrichs, University of Erfurt - Trans-human-ism: Technophile Ethos or Ethics in a Technological Age?
  • Mirjana Pavlović, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade - The “Literature of Humanity”: The Case of Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman
  • Biljana Dojčinović, University of Belgrade - Modernist Narrative Techniques and Challenges of Humanity: John Updike in European Perspective
  • Marina Milivojević-Mađarev, Yugoslav Drama Theater, Belgrade - The Idea of Humanism in the Work of Sarah Kane
  • Evi D. Sampanikou, University of the Aegean - Posthumanism in Contemporary Greek Art: Marios Spiliopoulos, Traces of Human Beings
  • Predrag Milidrag, University of Belgrade - Post-humanism of The Matrix Trilogy
  • Yvonne Förster, Leuphana University Lüneburg - The Body as Medium: Fashion as Art
  • Goran Gocić, Belgrade - One Genealogy of De-centring
  • Jaime del Val, Institute Reverso - Metahuman: Post-anatomical Bodies, Metasex, and Capitalism of Affect in Post-posthumanism
  • Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, John Cabot University, Rome - Nietzsche’s Virtue Ethics and Sandels’ Rejection of Enhancement Technologies: Truthful, Virtuous Parents may enhance their Children Genetically

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Acknowledgments

We wish to express our deep gratitude to the Austrian company Kapsch TrafficCom AG and to the Italian businessman Carmelo Marcuccio, who financially supported the publication of this book.

We also appreciate the help from PhD candidate Aleksandar Kandić, and the following students: Vladimir Zotov, Sara Dragišić, Katarina Maksimović, Igor Stefanović, Stefan Mičić, Ana Obradović, Klara Pelhe, Stefan Radovanović. All of them have provided important technical support for realizing this project.

Irina Deretić and Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, October 2015

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Irina Deretić & Stefan Lorenz Sorgner

Introduction

The relationship between humanism, metahumanism, posthumanism and transhumanism is one of the most pressing ones concerning many current cultural, social, political, ethical and individual challenges. There have been a great amount of uses of the various terms in past and contemporary philosophical exchanges. The goal of the present volume is to provide a multifaceted survey of the concepts, the relationship of the various concepts and their advantages and disadvantages. There is an Ancient, a Renaissance, Enlightenment, a secular humanism and many other types of humanism. When dealing with the various movements which claim to go beyond humanism, the concept “humanism” implies the affirmation of categorical ontological dualities, e.g. the immaterial and the material. Consequently, a secular humanism which holds a secular, naturalist or this-worldly ontology also rejects a humanism which affirms such dualities and could be classified as lying beyond humanism. Similar challenges need to be considered when talking about meta-, trans- or posthumanism. However, the following meanings of the various movements represent possible initial definitions which are helpful when investigating in more detail the various contemporary approaches.

Posthumanism represents the attempt to avoid affirming categorical ontological dualities in theoretical and practical circumstances. The term was coined first by Ihab Hassan in the article “Prometheus as Performer: Toward a Posthumanist Culture?” from 1977. Hence, it reveals its origin in the tradition of literary theory, cultural studies and continental philosophy. To move beyond humanism does not imply that humanism ever was the correct description of the world. To move beyond humanism means that during a certain period of time, e.g. in between Plato and Nietzsche (Sorgner), Stoa and the Third Reich (Sloterdijk) or in between the beginning of the enlightenment and 20th Century (Hassan), a dualistic understanding of anthropos was the dominant one. However, this insight no longer applies, and attempts are being made to move beyond such a culture, as it is widely shared today that non-dualist ways of thinking and acting are taken as plausible. Plausibility is central as a notion concerning posthumanism, as the movement is based upon a Nietzschean version of perspectivism, which also reveals the genealogy of posthumanism. It starts with Nietzsche’s perspectivism, and then moves via postmodern theories of interpretation towards today’s discourses. In contrast to postmodernism, there is also a strong affirmation of a non-dualist ontology to be ← 13 | 14 → found in posthumanism. Some postmodern philosophers like Deleuze and Foucault are fairly close to posthumanist thinking, while others like Levinas or Derrida are not. Still, postmoderns stress perspectivism more strongly, whereas, the main focus of posthumanists lies on a non-dualist ontology. So far, posthumanism has been particularly strong among philosophically minded literary critics and cultural theorists, like Donna Haraway who wrote “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” (1985, updated version 1991) and Katherine Hayles who wrote “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics” (1999). There can be some traces of posthumanism in literary minded philosopher like Peter Sloterdijk, too, e.g. in his essay “Rules for the Human Zoo” from 1999. Some scientifically minded philosophers such as Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Humberto Maturana can be seen as related to the posthumanist project, even though, it can be doubted whether this judgment corresponds to their self-understanding. Many ontological traces of what posthumanism stands for can be found in their book “The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience” from 1991, or Varela’s and Maturana’s “Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living” from 1980. Even some biologists, like the geneticist Eva Jablonka, can be seen as associated to posthumanism from a scientific perspective, e.g. in her book “Evolution in Four Dimensions” co-authored together with Marion Lamb from 2005.

Transhumanism in contrast to posthumanism can be seen as a more unified movement. It is intimately related to the English world of naturalism, utilitarianism, and evolutionary theory. The term “transhumanism” was coined by Julian Huxley. Darwin supporter Thomas Henry Huxley was his paternal grandfather. His brother Aldous Huxley was the author of the novel “Brave New World”. Andrew Huxley, a noble-prize winner in biology, was his lesser known half-brother. Julian Huxley was the first general director of the UNESCO, and long-time president and member of the British Eugenics Society. “Transhumanism” as terminus technicus was coined in his monograph “New Bottles for New Wine” from 1957. There, he stressed the need of human beings to transcend themselves by means of the usage of science and technology. Contemporary concepts of transhumanism are more closely related to the ideas of the Iranian futurist Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, better known as FM-2030, and Max More. Both changed their names in order to stress an insight important for them and to stress the contingency of naming. FM-2030 wrote the “Upwingers Manifesto” (1973) and the book “Are You a Transhuman?: Monitoring and Stimulating Your Personal Rate of Growth in a Rapidly Changing World” (1989). Max More, on the other hand, was responsible for the essay “Transhumanism: Toward a Futurist Philosophy” from 1990. Both thinkers have ← 14 | 15 → been particularly influential in forming the currently dominant understanding of the term. The main goal which characterizes transhumanism is the affirmation of the use of technologies to increase the likelihood of human beings to develop further, so that eventually trans- and posthumans come into existence whereby the meanings of the various concepts differs significantly among transhumanists. “Transhumans” are regularly seen as members of the human species who are on the way of becoming posthuman. The variety of possible meanings of the concept “posthumans”, however, is immense whereby the following three options are probably the most widely held ones: 1. A carbonate-based entity still belonging to the human species but having at least one capacity which goes beyond the capacities current human beings possess: 2. A carbonate-based entity no longer belonging to the human species; 3. A silicon based entity.

Besides the core features just mentioned, there are many differences between various specific understandings of transhumanism. Even though, transhumanism is based upon an affirmation of liberalism, there are transhumanists with libertarian sympathies, like Max More, and others who are associated more closely with a social-democratic understanding of transhumanism, e.g. James Hughes in his monograph “Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future”. Concerning ethical ideals, there are transhumanists and thinkers closely associated with transhumanism which uphold a perfectionist ideal (Bostrom), a common sense concept of the good (Savulescu) and a radically pluralist understanding of the good (Sorgner). The capacities which ought to get promoted by means of technologies and other means depend on the concept of the good which is being upheld. Intelligence, health, memory, the capacity to concentrate, and the prolongation of the human health span, which is different from the human life span, because it stresses the relevance of the period of time in which one lives healthily, are capacities affirmed in some way or other by many transhumanists.

In 2010, the Spanish artist Jaime del Val and the German philosopher Stefan Lorenz Sorgner suggested an alternative to post- and transhumanism. They recognize the need to bridge the gap between posthumanist and transhumanist discourses and to present a philosophical alternative to these approaches. Thereby, a philosophical and artistic attitude was developed which moves beyond a traditional dualist version of humanism, but which also lies in between trans- and posthumanism. This approach was named metahumanism, because “meta” means both “beyond” as well as “in between”. Sorgner is more closely related to the English language philosophical tradition and del Val more closely to the French philosophical and artistic world. Both share a high estimation of Nietzsche and ← 15 | 16 → his perspectivism, a disrespect of paternalistic structures and a high evaluation of radical plurality. These common attitudes were responsible for forming some guiding principles which both of their works have in common.

In any case, all of the various movements beyond humanism have one judgment in common which is closely connected to insights developed by Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud: They all reject a categorically dualist understanding of human beings. This collection of essays is dedicated to the pressing philosophical, cultural, social, ethical and political challenges related to the relationships between humanism, metahumanism, transhumanism and posthumanism. Leading scholars of many different traditions, countries and disciplines have contributed to this exciting Collection of Essays which hopefully will provide an immense intellectual stimulus for a long period of time.

Map

This collection is divided into three sections: historical discourses, contemporary philosophical reflections, and contemporary artistic perspectives. In the first section, some of the most significant concepts of human being and of humanist ideals have been discussed and critically evaluated. The book begins with Irina Deretić’s article “On the Origin and Genesis of Humans and Other Mortals in Plato’s Protagoras” in which she explains the origin, development and nature of human beings as it is described in Plato’s Protagoras myth. Her main claim is that, according to this story, the human is a multi-dimensional being with various aspects and dispositions, which - after the creation of mortal beings - were developed further and got differentiated through time. Martin Ferber’s piece “Plato’s “Side Suns”: Beauty, Symmetry and Truth. Comments Concerning Semantic Monism and Pluralism of the “Good” in the Philebus (65a1–5)” discusses beauty, symmetry and truth in Plato’s philosophy which will become classic humanist ideals. His thesis is that these three concepts are the qualities of the single reference, which is “The Good”. Christos Panayides presents an account of Aristotle’s conception of final causality in the realm of living things, including the humans, and subsequently. In his article “Aristotle and Darwin on Living Things and Teleology” he critically compares and contrasts Aristotle’s and Darwin’s theological explanations. The piece ‘For Itself and from Nothing’: Plotinus’ One as an Extreme Ideal for Selfhood” by Pauliina Remes reveals the implications of Plotinus’ One not merely as an efficient cause, but also as a final cause of human existence. She argues that the significance of the One as a telos of human selfhood lies in it being a foundation by means of which it gives finite beings a being of their own right. Hans Otto Seitschek’s contributes the article “Christian Humanism: An Alternative Concept of Humanism”. Herein, ← 16 | 17 → he deals with important aspects of Christian humanism and its understanding of the human being. He argues that Christian humanism is a middle-way between pure materialistic humanism, based on a monistic worldview (only one material substance exists), and a mystical humanism without any rational foundation. Ivan Vuković discusses Kant’s beliefs expressed in his later writings on history, law and politics, according to which the rational souls are destined to cover the planet Earth with a system of republican institutions. Hie article is entitled “Kant’s Two Conceptions of Humanity”.

The second section of this collection is mostly dedicated to contemporary debates on the conceptions of humanism, meta-, post-, and transhumanism and their ethical evaluations, including philosophical ideas and views from the past which move beyond traditional humanisms. It begins with Drago Đurić’s contribution “Darwin’s Naturalization of Ethics”, in which the author envisages the radical novelty of Darwin’s understanding of the human and his account of ethics. The author argues that given an evolutionary scientific approach to ethics, there is no room for an unbridgeable gap between facts and values. On the basis of a theory of evolution as a conceptual framework, there can be only descriptive ethics, but not prescriptive or normative approaches, apart from predictions that some moral beliefs and behaviors can be evolutionarily successful. Una Popović’s article “Heidegger’s Transformation of Traditional Concept of the Human Being” envisages Heidegger’s fundamental transformation of a concept of the human being to Dasein by interpreting his analysis of modern philosophy in general, and Descartes’ concept of ego cogito in particular. Nenad Cekić discusses the idea of minimal humanism which is based on Kantian concepts of “man as an end in himself” and freedom in the article “Humanism, State and Freedom: Nozick’s Minimal Humanism?”. Nozick’s understanding of minimal humanism is closely related to his concept of a minimal state as a protective association (agency), i.e., a libertarian state, which maintains its stability by restricting individuals to their “moral space” and cannot play a redistributive role in economy. Evangelos Moutsopoulos piece “Is a Renewal of Humanism Possible Today?” questions the idea of a new morality for tomorrow’s world, based on Greek humanism as a potential for intercultural dialogue, and a means of confronting the problems of humankind today. In the article “Other or The Other?”, Boris Bratina examines the ideas of opposing, ceaseless struggle, and total conflict, extending through the whole of philosophical tradition by means of reducing The Other to that being mere other. This has happened continually (if one excludes religious teachings) until the advent of late modernity; specifically, in the works of Buber and Levinas. Going beyond Nietzsche’s own perspective, Mikhail Epstein’s piece “Creative Disappearance of the Human Being: Introduction to Humanology” extends the ← 17 | 18 → field of humanism to seriously consider the technohuman of transhumanism or posthumanism. Through the integrated synthesis of humankind and technology, the future outcome of evolution will be the creation of an artificial being with superior intelligence that transcends our own species.

Beginning with the questions whether the survival of humans and their physical, psychic and social well-being is a goal, or even an intrinsic value, Regina Kather claims that human life does not depend on the interpretation of nature, on mental acts, but on the interaction with nature. Her piece “Humans and Nature: Modern Society between Cultural Relativism and the Ontological Foundation of Values” explains why the dynamic and complex order of nature is an ontological basis for human life. Though values cannot be derived directly from being, they do not only depend on consensus, cultural tradition, and interests. In Kather’s view, they have an ontological foundation which transcends cultural interpretations and which all humans can share with one another. In the article “Times of Hope and Risk: Market Based Genetics”, Marija Bogdanović examines the development and shaping of bioethics as a science which connects the life sciences and humanities in researching moral dilemmas that arise in the application of technological advancements in the field of medicine. She argues that for complex ethical problems, both in current clinical practice as well as in genetic manipulation, one needs appropriate methods of moral reasoning, from a “principle-based method to various case-based methods”, or some combination of the two. Using the example of Bruce Sterling’s science fiction novel Schismatrix - in which mankind continues to live unmodified on Earth, while on other planets there are two competing trans-human or post-human groups - Karen Gloy critically discusses gene manipulation and technology both on a theoretical-scientific and an ethical level. Her article “Post-Humanistic Thinking and Its Ethical Evaluation” explores the validity and merits of two ethical viewpoints: a fundamental-substantialist view which does not allow any modification, and a liberal subjectivist view which allows for and postulates them. Evangelos Protopapadakis contributed his piece “Earth as a Life-raft and Ethics as the Raft’s Axe” in which he discusses Kaarlo Pentti Linkola’s claim that our species represents a major threat for the ecosphere, as well as his suggestions on how this threat could be best dealt with. He puts forward arguments against Karlo Pentti Linkola’s ethical views, which, according to the author, are ineffectual and incompatible with any kind of ethics as well as highly detrimental for environmental ethics in general. By analyzing the concept of transhumanism and its constituent ‘trans’, and ‘human’ or ‘humanism’, Jan Hendrik Heinrichs’ piece “Trans-human-ism: Technophile Ethos or Ethics in a Technological Age?” distinguishes different such versions, and discusses the scope of the claims of their protagonists. ← 18 | 19 →

The nature and paradoxes in the debate concerning both humanism and posthumanism are manifested and articulated in the most striking manner in the various kinds of art. The third section of the collection begins with the three contributions of receptions of humanism in literature. Mirjana Pavlović’s article “The “Literature of Humanity”: The Case of Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman” demonstrates how the criticisms of both civilizational values and the dark side of humans are interwoven in Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman, which can be interpreted as a philosophical discussion on human nature where the author accentuates the bestial side of a man. The complex and ironic message of the story is that the savage nature of a man can be changed only through teaching and civilizational progress. By interpreting the scene from John Updike’s novel The Witches of Eastwick, Biljana Dojčinović’s piece “Modernist Narrative Techniques and Challenges of Humanity: John Updike in European Perspective” deals with issues of ethical norms and responsibilities of a reader, which are key issues of modern(ist) ways of writing. She particularly focuses on the opposition between the heritage of modernism and the elements of Hawthornean romance, which, according to Dojčinović, may be extrapolated to the contemporary human state in general. Marina Milivojević-Mađarev’s article “The Idea of Humanism in the Work of Sarah Kane” explains the idea of human being and humanism in the works of Sarah Kane, who attempted to discover the essence of human being by analyzing the human body and soul.

Biographical notes

Irina Deretić (Volume editor) Stefan Lorenz Sorgner (Volume editor)

Irina Deretić is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. She is head of the project «History of Serbian Philosophy», supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner is Associate Professor of Philosophy at John Cabot University in Rome, director and co-founder of the Beyond Humanism Network and Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).

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