Posts Tagged ‘humanism’

Hannah Arendt “The Human Condition”

April 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Arendt, Hannah 1998 [1958]. The Human Condition. Chicago and London:  The University of Chicago Press.

  1. The Human Condition

Imbedded in a cosmos where everything was immortal, mortality became the hallmark of human existence. Men are “the mortals”, the only mortal things in existence, because unlike animals they do not exist only as members of a species whose immortal life is guaranteed through procreation. The mortality of men lies in the fact that individual life, with a recognizable life-story from birth to death, rises out of biological life. This individual life is distinguished from all other things by the rectilinear course of its movement, which, so to speak, cuts through the circular movement of biological life. This is mortality: to move along a rectilinear line in a universe where everything, if it moves at all, moves in a cyclical order. (18-19)


The task and potential greatness of mortals lie in their ability to produce things – works and deeds and words – which would deserve to be and, at least to a degree, are at home in everlastingness, so that through them mortals could find their place in a cosmos where everything is immortal except themselves. By their capacity for the immortal deed, by their ability to leave non-perishable traces behind, men, their individual mortality notwithstanding, attain an immortality of their own and prove themselves to be of a “divine” nature. The distinction between man and animal runs right through the human species itself: only the best (aristoi), who constantly prove themselves to be the best (aristeueuin, a verb for which there is no equivalent in any other language) and who “prefer immortal frame to mortal things”, are really human; the others, content with whatever pleasures nature will yield them, live and die like animals. This was still the opinion of Heraclitus, and opinion whose equivalent one will find in hardly any philosopher after Socrates. (19)


  1. The Public and the Private Realm

To be political, to live in a polis, meant that everything was decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence. In Greek self-understanding, to force people by violence, to command rather than persuade, were prepolitical ways to deal with people characteristic of life outside the polis, of home and family life, where the household head ruled with uncontested, despotic powers, or of life in the barbarian empires of Asia, whose despotism was frequently likened to the organization of the household. (26-27)


[…] according to ancient thought on these matters, the very term “political economy” would have been a contradiction in terms: whatever was “economic”, related to the life of the individual and the survival of the species, was a non-political, household affair by definition. (29)


Natural community in the household […] was born of necessity, and necessity ruled over all activities performed in it. The realm of the polis, on the contrary, was the sphere of freedom, and if there was a relationship between these two spheres, it was a matter of course that the mastering of the necessities of life in the household was the condition for freedom of the polis. Under no circumstances could politics be only a means to protect society – a society of the faithful, as in the Middle Ages, or a society of property-owners, as in Locke, or a society of a process of acquisition, as in Hobbes, or a society of producers, as in Marx, or a society of jobholders, as in our own society, or a society of laborers, as in socialist and communist countries. In all these cases, it is the freedom (and in some instance so-called freedom) of society which requires and justifies the restraint of political authority. Freedom is located in the realm of the social, and force or violence becomes the monopoly of government. (30-31)


[…] the rise of the “household” (oikia) or of economic activities to the public realm, housekeeping and all matters pertaining formerly to the private sphere of the family have become a “collective” concern. In the modern world, the two realms indeed constantly flow into each other like waves in the never-resting stream of the life process itself. (33)


The “good life”, as Aristotle called the life of the citizen, therefore was not merely better, more carefree or nobler than ordinary life, but of an altogether different quality. It was “good” to the extent that by having mastered the necessities of sheer life, by being freed from labor and work, and by overcoming the innate urge of all living creatures for their own survival, it was no longer bound to the biological life process. (36-37)


In ancient feeling the privative trait of privacy, indicated in the word itself, was all-important; it meant literally a state of being deprived of something, and even of the highest and most human of man’s capacities. A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the barbarian had chosen not to establish such a realm, was not fully human. We no longer think primarily of deprivation when we use the word “privacy”, and this is partly due to the enormous enrichment of the private sphere through modern individualism. (38)


[…] modern privacy in its most relevant function, to shelter the intimate, was discovered as the opposite not of the political sphere but of the social, to which it is therefore more closely and authentically related. (38)


It is decisive that society, on all its levels, excludes the possibility of action, which formerly was excluded from the household. Instead, society expects from each of its members a certain kind of behavior, imposing innumerable and various rules, all of which tend to “normalize” its members, to make them behave, to exclude spontaneous action or outstanding achievement. (40)


To gauge the extent of society’s victory in the modern age, its early substitution of behavior for action and its eventual substitution of bureaucracy, the rule of nobody, for personal rulership, it may be well to recall that its initial science of economics, which substitutes patterns of behavior only in this rather limited field of human activity, was finally followed by the all-comprehensive pretension of the social sciences which, as “behavioral sciences”, aim to reduce man as a whole, in all its activities, to the level of a conditioned and behaving animal. If economics is the science of society in its early stages, when it could impose its rules of behavior only on sections of the population and on parts of their activities, the rise of the “behavioral sciences” indicates clearly the final stage of this development, when mass society has devoured all strata of the nation and “social behavior” has become the standard for all regions of life. (45)


One of the characteristics of privacy, prior to the discovery of the intimate, was that man existed in this sphere not as a truly human being but only as a specimen of the animal species man-kind. […] The emergence of society has changed the estimate of this whole sphere but has hardly transformed its nature. The monolithic character of every type of society, its conformism which allows for only one interest and one opinion, is ultimately rooted in the one-ness of man-kind. It is because this one-ness of man-kind is not fantasy and not even merely a scientific hypothesis, as in the “communistic fiction” of classical economics, that mass society, where man as a social animal rules supreme and where apparently the survival of the species could be guaranteed on a world-wide scale, can at the same time threaten humanity with extinction. (46)


Society is the form in which the fact of mutual dependence for the sake of life and nothing else assumes public significance and where the activities connected with sheer survival are permitted to appear in public. (46)


Under the conditions of a common world, reality is not guaranteed primarily by the “common nature” of all men who constitute it, but rather by the fact that, differences of position and the resulting variety of perspectives notwithstanding, everybody is always concerned with the same object. If the sameness of the object can no longer be discerned, no common nature of men, least of all the unnatural conformism of a mass society, can prevent the destruction of the common world, which is usually preceded by the destruction of the many aspects in which it presents itself to human plurality. This can happen under the conditions of radical isolation, where nobody can any longer agree with anybody else, as is usually the case in tyrannies. But it may also happen under conditions of mass society or mass hysteria, where we see all people suddenly behave as though they were members of one family, each multiplying and prolonging the perspective of his neighbor. In both instances, men have become entirely private, that is, they have been deprived of seeing and hearing others, of being seen and being heard by them. They are all imprisoned in the subjectivity of their own singular experience, which does not cease to be singular if the same experience is multiplied innumerable times. The end of the common world has come when it is seen only under one aspect and is permitted to present itself in only one perspective. (57-58)


To live an entirely private life means above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life: to be deprived of the reality that comes from being seen and heard by others, to be deprived of an “objective” relationship with them that comes from being related to and separated from them through the intermediary of a common world of things, to be deprived of the possibility of achieving something more permanent than life itself. The privation of privacy lies in the absence of others; as far as they are concerned, private man does not appear, and therefore it is as though he did not exist. Whatever he does remains without significance and consequence to others, and what matters to him is without interest to other people. (58)


The obvious contradiction in this modern concept of government, where the only thing people have in common is their private interests, need no longer bother us as it still bothered Marx, since we know that the contradiction between private and public, typical of the initial stages of modern age, has been a temporary phenomenon which introduced the utter extinction of the very difference between the private and the public realms, the submersion of both in the sphere of the social. (69)


Seen from this point of view, the modern discovery of intimacy seems a flight from the whole outer world into the inner subjectivity of the individual, which formerly had been sheltered and protected by the private realm. The dissolution of this realm into the social may most conveniently be watched in the progressing transformation of immobile into mobile property until eventually the distinction between property and wealth […] loses all significance because every tangible, “fungible” thing has become an object of “consumption”; it lost its private use value which was determined by its location and acquired an exclusively social value determined through its ever-changing exchangeability whose fluctuation could itself be fixed only temporarily by relating it to the common denominator of money. (69)


Closely connected with this social evaporation of the tangible was the most revolutionary modern contribution to the concept of property, according to which property was not a fixed and firmly located part of the world acquired by its owner in one way or another but, on the contrary, had its source in man himself, in his possession of a body and his indisputable ownership of the strength of this body, which Marx called “labor-power”. Thus modern property lost its worldly character and was located in the person himself, that is, in what an individual could lose only along with his life. (70)


Necessity and life are so intimately related and connected that life itself is threatened where necessity is altogether eliminated. For the elimination of necessity, far from resulting automatically in the establishment of freedom, only blurs the distinguishing line between freedom and necessity. (71)


  1. The Vita Activa and the Modern Age

One of the most persistent trends in modern philosophy since Descartes and perhaps its most original contribution to philosophy has been an exclusive concern with the self, as distinguished from the soul or person or man in general, an attempt to reduce all experiences, with the world as well as with other human beings, to experiences between man and himself. (254)


The rise of society brought about the simultaneous decline of the public as well as the private realm. But the eclipse of a common public world, so crucial to the formation of the lonely mass man and so dangerous in the formation of the worldless mentality of modern ideological mass movements, began with the much more tangible loss of a privately owned share in the world. (257)


[…] what most drastically distinguished the new world view not only from that of antiquity or the Middle Ages, but from the great thirst for direct experience in the Renaissance as well, was the assumption that the same kind of exterior force should be manifest in the fall of terrestrial and the movements of heavenly bodies. (258)


The modern astrophysical world view, which began with Galileo, and its challenge to the adequacy of the senses to reveal reality, have left us a universe of whose qualities we know no more than the way they affect our measuring instruments, and – in the words of Eddingtion – “the former have as much resemblance to the latter as a telephone number has to a subscriber”. Instead of objective qualities, in other words, we find instruments, and instead of nature or the universe – in the words of Heisenberg – man encounters only himself. (261)


In the experiment man realized his newly won freedom from the shackles of earth-bound experience; instead of observing natural phenomena as they were given to him, he placed nature under the conditions of his own mind, that is, under conditions won from a universal, astrophysical viewpoint, a cosmic standpoint outside nature itself. (265)


With the rise of modernity, mathematics does not simply enlarge its content or reach out into the infinite to become applicable to the immensity of an infinite and infinitely growing, expanding universe, but ceases to be concerned with appearances at all. It is no longer the beginning of philosophy, of the “science” of Being in its true appearance, but becomes instead the science of the structure of the human mind. (266)


Introspection, as a matter of fact, not the reflection of man’s mind on the state of his soul or body but the sheer cognitive concern of consciousness with its own content (and this is the essence of the Cartesian cogitatio, where cogito always means cogito me cogitare) must yield certainty, because here nothing is involved except what the mind has produced itself; nobody is interfering but the producer of the product, man is confronted with nothing and nobody but himself. Long before the natural and physical sciences began to wonder if man is capable of encountering, knowing, and comprehending anything except himself, modern philosophy had made sure in introspection that man concerns himself only with himself. (280)


This sense now was called common merely because it happened to be common to all. What men now have in common is not the world but the structure of their minds, and this they cannot have in common, strictly speaking; their faculty of reasoning can only happen to be the same in everybody. (283)


Theoria, in fact, is only another word for thaumazein; the contemplation of truth at which the philosopher ultimately arrives is the philosophically purified speechless wonder with which he began. There is, however, another side to this matter, which shows itself most articulately in Plato’s doctrine of ideas, in its content as well as in its terminology and exemplifications. These reside in the experiences of the craftsman, who sees before his inner eye the shape of the model according to which he fabricates his object. To Plato, this model, which craftsmanship can only imitate but nor create, is no product of the human mind but given to it. As such it possesses a degree of permanence and excellence which is not actualized but on the contrary spoiled in its materialization through the work of human hands. Work makes perishable and spoils the excellence of what remained eternal so long as it was the object of mere contemplation. Therefore, the proper attitude toward the models which guide work and fabrication, that is, toward Platonic ideas, is to leave them as they are and appear to the inner eye of the mind. If man only renounces his capacity for work and does not do anything, he can behold them and thus participate in their eternity. Contemplation, in this respect, is quite unlike the enraptured state of wonder with which man responds to the miracle of Being as a whole. It is and remains part and parcel of a fabrication process even though it has divorced itself from all work and all doing; in it, the beholding of the model, which now no longer is to guide any doing, is prolonged and enjoyed for its own sake. (302-303)


It is not wonder that overcomes and throws man into motionlessness, but it is through the conscious cessation of activity, the activity of making, that the contemplative state is reached. (303)


The victory of the animal laborans would never have been complete had not the process of secularization, the modern loss of faith inevitably arising from Cartesian doubt, deprived individual life of its immortality, or at least of the certainty of immortality. Individual life again became mortal, as mortal as it had been in antiquity, and the world was even less stable, less permanent, and hence less to be relied upon than it had been during the Christian era. Modern man, when he lost the certainty of a world to come, was thrown back upon himself and not upon this world; far from believing that the world might be potentially immortal, he was not even sure that it was real. And in so far as he was to assume that it was real in the uncritical and apparently unbothered optimism of a steadily progressing science, he had removed himself from the earth to a much more distant point than any Christian otherworldliness had ever removed him. Whatever the word “secular” is meant to signify in current usage, historically it cannot possibly be equated with worldliness; modern man at any rate did not gain this world when he lost  the other world, and he did not gain life, strictly speaking, either; he was thrust back upon it, thrown into the closed inwardness of introspection, where the highest he could experience were the empty processes of reckoning of the mind, its play with itself. The only contents left were appetites and desires, the senseless urges of his body which he mistook for passion and which he deemed to be “unreasonable” because he found he could not “reason”, that is, not reckon with them. The only thing that could now be potentially immortal, as immortal as the body politic in antiquity and as individual life during the Middle Ages, was life itself, that is, the possibly everlasting life process of the species mankind. (320-321)


Béatrice Han-Pile “The “Death of Man”: Foucault and Anti-Humanism”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Han-Pile, Béatrice 2010. The “Death of Man”: Foucault and Anti-Humanism. – O’Leary, Timothy; Falzon, Christopher (eds). Foucault and Philosophy. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 118-142.

[…] for the early Foucault humanism has a very specific, narrow referent. This is indicated by his rather surprising historical reconstruction of its birth, which is referred to the Enlightenment and not, as is more traditional, to the revival and reinterpretation of the Ciceronian notion of humanitates during the Renaissance: thus the first humanists on Foucault’s list are not Rabelais, Montaigne, or Pico Della Mirandola, but Kant, Hegel, and Marx. (121-122)

Without entering into unnecessary details (Han 2003; Han 2005), his view is that during that period representation was both the ground and the privileged medium of knowledge: to be known was to be represented adequately (Foucault 1994e: 304). Conversely, beings were, at least in principle, fully representable, and the general aim of knowledge consisted in perfecting the best method to differentiate and arrange representations so that they would reflect the real order of things in the world (hence Descartes’ emphasis on the establishment of systematic differences between representations and the classical age’s obsession with the table as a synoptic form of knowledge). By contrast, the birth of “man” is due to the Copernican turn, whereby the focus shifted from representations to the representing subject. (123)

As a transcendental subject, “man” is the foundation of empirical knowledge: to be know is still to be represented, but in order to count as candidates for true knowledge, representations must conform to the epistemic conditions laid out in the transcendental aesthetic and the transcendental analytic (Allison 1983: 10-13). Yet at the same time, “man” is also a possible object of representation within the field opened up by such epistemic conditions: thus we represent ourselves in space (we see our own bodies) and in time (we can be conscious of our internal states). (124)

Note, however, that at this point the two aspects of the double are neatly dissociated – thus in the Critique  there is no overlap between the empirical “I” of our self-apprehension in the form of the internal sense, on the one hand, and the transcendental “I” of the “I think” of transcendental apperception, on the other. Yet the analytic of finitude threatens this neat separation between the two halves of the double and gives the Copernican turn its further, anthropological twist. (124)

[…] during the classical age, the notion of the infinite was both central and primary; thus, for Descartes, one can prove the existence of God by the presence of the idea of the infinite in the finite. The underlying assumption is that the infinite has ontological pre-eminence over the finite. (124)

By contrast, for Foucault the hallmark of the anthropological turn is that human finitude, instead of being subordinated to God’s infinity, becomes self-foundational. (124)

Note, crucially, that transcendental finitude differs from its empirical counterpart in that the limitation it entails can be analytically deduced from the very concept of the transcendental as a standpoint (which implies a specific perspective and thus limiting conditions, by opposition to a God’s eye view which would not be limited in such a way). By contrast, empirical finitude can only be understood synthetically, from empirical observations about the nature of human beings as living or speaking entities. (126)

The problem, however, is that the ambiguity of “man,” which both separates and unites the empirical and the transcendental, causes the two forms of finitude to overlap by means of an implicit shift which makes epistemic determination ultimately dependent on its empirical, causal counterpart: the relation between transcendental and empirical finitude becomes a vicious circle. (126)

[…] the analytic of finitude is characterized by a paradox of retrospection whereby transcendental finitude is disclosed as pre-existing itself in the form of empirical finitude (Han 2002). Such pre-existence (which Derrida calls “primitivity” in the case of Husserl’s phenomenology) invalidates “man’s” ability to provide a universal and necessary foundation for knowledge. The empirical contents that were previously deemed causally determinant but epistemically determined acquire a “quasi-transcendental” function (Foucault 1994a: 244) in that they are now viewed as chronologically primary and causally determinant for epistemic conditions themselves. (127)

In other words, transcendental finitude and empirical finitude are superposed in such a way that the former, rather than being the analytic correlate of the notion of a transcendental standpoint, is now cashed out in terms of the synthetic, empirical limitations (life, language, labor) that bear causally on man. (127)

Martin Heidegger “The Question Concerning Technology”

December 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Heidegger, Martin 1977. The Question Concerning Technology. – Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. New York; London: Garland Publishing, 3-35.

For centuries philosophy has taught that there are four causes : (1) the causa materialis, the material, the matter out of which, for example, a silver chalice is made ; (2) the causa formalis, the form, the shape into which the material enters ; (3) the causa finalis, the end, for example, the sacrificial rite in relation to which the chalice required is determined as to its form and matter; (4) the causa efficiens, which brings about the effect that is the finished, actual chalice, in this instance, the silversmith. What technology is, when represented as a means, discloses itself when we trace instrumentality back to fourfold causality. (6)

What we call cause [Ursache] and the Romans call causa is called aition by the Greeks, that to which something else is indebted [das, was ein anderes verschuldet]. The four causes are the ways, all belonging at once to each other, of being responsible for something else. (7)

It is of utmost importance that we think bringing-forth in its full scope and at the same time in the sense in which the Greeks thought it. Not only handcraft manufacture, not only artistic and poetical bringing into appearance and concrete imagery, is a bringing-forth, poiesis. Physis also, the arising of something from out of itself, is a bringing-forth, poiesis. Physis is indeed poiesis in the highest sense. For what presences by means of physis has the bursting open belonging to bringing-forth, e.g., the bursting of a blossom into bloom, in itself (en heautoi). In contrast, what is brought forth by the artisan or the artist, e.g., the silver chalice, has the bursting open belonging to bringing forth not in itself, but in another (en alloi), in the craftsman or artist. (10-11)

We are questioning concerning technology, and we have arrived now at aletheia, at revealing. What has the essence of technology to do with revealing? The answer : everything. For every bringing-forth is grounded in revealing. Bringing-forth, indeed, gathers within itself the four modes of occasioning-causality-and rules them throughout. Within its domain belong end and means, belongs instrumentality.l1 Instrumentality is considered to be the fundamental characteristic of technology. If we inquire, step by step, into what technology, represented as means, actually is, then we shall arrive at revealing. The possibility of all productive manufacturing lies in revealing. Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing. If we give heed to this, then another whole realm for the essence of technology will open itself up to us. It is the realm of revealing, i.e., of truth. (12)

[…] what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the aforementioned revealing. It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing-forth. (13)

Technology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence [West] in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens. (13)

What kind o f unconcealment i s it, then, that i s peculiar to that which comes to stand forth through this setting-upon that challenges? Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. Whatever is ordered about in this way has its own standing. We call it the standing-reserve [Bestand] . The word expresses here something more, and something more essential, than mere “stock.” The name “standingreserve” assumes the rank of an inclusive rubric. It designates nothing less than the way in which everything presences that is wrought upon by the challenging revealing. Whatever stands by in the sense of standing-reserve no longer stands over against us as object.  (17)

[…] because man is challenged more originally than are the energies of nature, i.e., into the process of ordering, he never is transformed into mere standing-reserve. Since man drives technology forward, he takes part in ordering as a way of revealing. But the unconcealment itself, within which ordering unfolds, is never a human handiwork, any more than is the realm through which man is already passing every time he as a subject relates to an object. (18)

That which primordially unfolds the mountains into mountain ranges and courses through them in their folded togetherness is the gathering that we call Gebirg [mountain chain] . That original gathering from which unfold the ways in which we have feelings of one kind or another we name Gemüt [disposition]. We now name that challenging claim which gathers man thither to order the self-revealing as standing-reserve : Ge-stell [Enframing] . (19)

In Enframing, that unconcealment comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as standing-reserve. This work is therefore neither only a human activity nor a mere means within such activity. The merely instrumental, merely anthropological defnition of technology is therefore in principle untenable. And it cannot be rounded out by being referred back to some metaphysical or religious explanation that undergirds it. (21)

Where do we find ourselves brought to, if now we think one step further regarding what Enframing itself actually is? It is nothing technological, nothing on the order of a machine. It is the way in which the real reveals itself as standing-reserve. (23)

[When] man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. in this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct. This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: it seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself. (27)

In truth, however, precisely nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself, i.e., his essence. Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging-forth of Enframing that he does not apprehend Enframing as a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists, from out of his essence, in the realm of an exhortation or address, and thus can never encounter only himself. (27)

The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already affected man in his essence. The rule of Enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth. (28)

Thus Enframing, as a destining of revealing, is indeed the essence of technology, but never in the sense of genus and
essentia. If we pay heed to this, something astounding strikes us: It is technology itself that makes the demand on us to think in another way what is usually understood by “essence.” But in what way? (30)

As the essencing of technology, Enframing is that which endures. Does Enframing hold sway at all in the sense of granting? No doubt the question seems a horrendous blunder. For according to everything that has been said, Enframing is, rather, a destining that gathers together into the revealing that challenges forth. Challenging is anything but a granting. It seems, so long as we do not notice that the challenging-forth into the ordering of the real as standing-reserve still remains a destining that starts man upon a way of revealing. As this destining, the coming to
presence of technology gives man entry into That which, of himself, he can neither invent nor in any way make. For there is no such thing as a man who, solely of himself, is only man. (31)

Once there was a time when the bringing-forth of the true into the beautiful was called techne. And the poiesis of the fine arts also was called techne. In Greece, at the outset of the destining of the West, the arts soared to the supreme height of the revealing granted them. They brought the presence [Gegenwart] of the gods, brought the dialogue of divine and human destinings, to radiance. And art was simply called techne. It was single, manifold revealing. It was pious, promos, i.e., yielding to the holding sway and the safekeeping of truth. (34)

The poetical brings the true into the splendor of what Plato in the Phaedrus calls to ekphanestaton, that which shines forth most purely. The poetical thoroughly pervades every art, every revealing of coming to presence into the beautiful. (34)

Because the essence of technology is nothing technological, essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it. Such a realm is art. but certainly only if reflection on art, for its part, does not shut its eyes to the constellation of truth after which we are questioning. (35)

Tim Ingold “A Naturalist Abroad in the Museum of Ontology: Philippe Descola’s Beyond Nature and Culture”

August 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Ingold, Tim 2016. A Naturalist Abroad in the Museum of Ontology: Philippe Descola’s Beyond Nature and Culture. Anthropological Forum 0(0). DOI:10.1080/00664677.2015.1136591


Descola’s‘ontologies’ serve to bridge the otherwise yawning gap between a universally given world and its particular representations, rather than treating both what is given and what is known as the derivative offshoots of the being of a world. For the new ontologists, worlds simplyare, before any possibility of division between the given and the known can arise. But for Descola, this division is an a priori condition that creates the space of possibility for ontologies to mediate between them. (2)


So let me make my position plain. I am not a new ontologist, and I do not share their obsession with the multiplication of worlds. On the contrary, thatwe all inhabit one world is, for me, a core principle of the discipline of anthropology. All too often, it seems to me, this principle has been neglected, along with the challenges and responsibilities it entails, in favour of a facile appeal to plurality. Never one world; always many worlds. Once, these were the many worlds of symbolic culture; now, in the hands of the new ontologists, we have the many worlds of elemental being. (3)


Descola’s error, if we may call it that, is to posit, at the origin of human perception and action, ontological settlements that are never actually reached. […] If we must have a‘turn’, let it not be ontological but ontogenetic! Ontological multiplicity gives us many worlds, all but closed to one another. Ontogenetic multiplicity, by contrast, traces open-ended pathways of becoming within one world of nevertheless continuous variation. (3)


Cuvier had a legendary knack of being able to reconstruct the forms of extinct organisms, in their entirety, from mere fragments of their fossilised remains. This knack rested on his conviction that the organism, as a thing of parts, can be assembled into a functioning whole in only a limited number of ways. From one part, the palaeontologist can therefore hazard a reliable guess as to the others. Cuvier called this the principle of the ‘correlation of parts’. According to this principle, every species represents one of a finite set of possible combinations or permutations of organic components. Forms intermediate between combinations could not exist, for with their component parts out of joint, the wholes composed of them would not be viable. Thus there could be no variability among the individuals of a species, nor could any gradual change lead from one species form to another: there could be no evolution, in this sense. It follows that every species must have arisen abruptly and persisted unchanged until, equally abruptly, it went extinct. For Cuvier, each successive moment of extinction and genesis amounted to a ‘revolution’ that punctuated the long history of life on earth. (4)


And now, yet another century further on, we have Descola, veritably the Cuvier of social and cultural anthropology, arguing – just like Durkheim before him – that human beings can organise their relations with one another and with the world they inhabit, and render this world intelligible, in ways that, while remarkable in their diversity, are nevertheless limited by requirements of logical compatibility and operational consistency. (5)


For Cuvier, all living organisms were of four kinds: radiata, mollusca, articulata and vertebrata. For Descola, all schemes of human thought and practice–all ontologies, as he calls them–are of four kinds: animism, totemism, analogism and naturalism. (5)


Just as Cuvier’s project for a comparative palaeontology rested on a vertebrate paradigm of what it means to be an organism–to be self-supporting and capable of autonomous movement directed from a central nervous system–so Descola’s comparative anthropology is framed by a naturalistic paradigm of what an ontology is. It is, in his account, an implicit cognitive schema that enables an interior consciousness, divided from its exterior conditions of existence, to know and to practise in a world of others. (6)


As Lévi-Strauss famously put it,‘“social structure”has nothing to do with empirical reality but with models that are built up after it’ (1968, 279). The structure is a model, and as such, a summary description or formalisation, in our own minds (or, more likely, in the papers we write), of what we have observed. Yet no sooner does Lévi-Strauss admit to this than he turns the logic around. Observable social relations, he contends,‘render manifest the social structure itself’. The structure, it turns out, stands before empirical reality, not after it; it exists proactively in the minds of the people, not retroactively in ours, and orchestrates their activity from behind the scenes yet without their conscious knowledge. (8)


But the logic by which Descola produces the‘tacit’ is no less circular than that adduced by his predecessors. It, too, rests on the trick of inversion, of implanting into the minds of the people models that have, in truth, been built up after the fact through empirical observation and rational analysis. The products of this procedure are the varieties of animism, totemism and analogism. Naturalism, in short, is not so much a variety of tacit knowledge as a machine for producing it, for naturalising the ontological regimes of the Other – regimes that might otherwise challenge the monopoly of its own way of working. That is why, when Descola turns his sights on the regime of naturalism, its underlying principles turn out to bear such an uncanny resemblance to those that underwrite his own comparative inquiry. And it is also why, in a move strikingly at variance with his treatment of animism, totemism and analogism, he goes so far as to appeal to studies in the natural sciences, of biology and psychology, to verify these principles. There need be no shame–Descola seems to be saying–in framing his entire work in terms of naturalism, because at the end of the day, naturalism has got it right! By some miracle, it hasfinally arrived at a mode of apprehending things that corresponds to the way things really and trulyare. And how do we know how things really are? Because we have the sciences of the natural to tell us! (8)


In European languages it is common to use words such as ‘soul’ or‘mind’ (or their non-Anglophone equivalents) for thefirst, and ‘body’ for the second. But far from accusing those who would detect similar dualisms in other regions of the world of the ethnocentric projection of western values, we should realise–according to Descola–that the body/mind dichotomy is no more than a regional variant of a division that is to be found, in one form or another, among all the peoples of the world. What, then, is distinctive about this western variant? The answer we receive from Descola’s text (184) is surprising: it is unique, he avers, in attributing those powers of interiority we call‘mind’ exclusively to humans. Just why this answer is so surprising is a matter to which I shall return; suffice it to note that by this circumlocution, Descola contrives to hide the naturalism that frames his comparative project by narrowing the term to a specific claim to human exceptionality. It no longer appears naturalist to assert a distinction of some sort between physical processes and mental states: everyone does that, Descola assures us, for no other reason than that it is a matter of obvious common sense. Not everyone, however, reserves interiority for individuals of the speciesHomo sapiens, and here, the people whom Descola calls‘Moderns’ are alleged to be the exception (185). This, we are now told, is the defining feature of naturalism, and not the universal theme of interiority/physicality dualism on which it is a particular variation. (10)


However,‘physicality alone’ and‘interiority alone’ are not the only alternatives to dualism. Could we not work our way upstream, to a world in which interiority and physicality have yet to be prised apart? (10)


Selves are not; they become. This project is moreover carried on, not in isolation, but in the company of others and with their material assistance. It is, of course, a process of social life. We might say that in this process, social relations are enfolded in the structures of consciousness, and contrarily, that consciousness unfolds in social relations (Ingold 1986, 248). The boundaries of the self, such as they are, would then be emergentwithinthe process rather than constituted a priori. This‘within’, however, suggests another sense of interiority, and points indeed to a critical ambiguity in the meaning of the term. Interior is on the inside, but inside what? Do we mean inside the process of our social self-fashioning? Or do we mean inside the bounds of the selves so fashioned? (11)


We should not assume, however, that these descriptions are necessarily correct, and I, for one, would dispute them. My understanding is that among people credited by the literature with an ontology of animism, beings of every kind are seen to be ever-forming as concentrations of vital materials and energies that are, and must remain, perpetually in circulation. There is continuity here, in that everything that is–or rather that occurs–is immersed in the flow. There is interiority here as well, but this is the interiority of a consciousness that is immanent in the world itself, that participates directly in its relations and processes, and that knows by way of an enfoldment of these relations and processes into its own constitution. Let us call this the interiority of immanence. Quite contrary to the interiority of containment, which is consistently opposed to the physicality of the exterior world, the interiority or immanence runs seamlessly into physicality, like the singular surface of a Möbius strip, without any breach of continuity. Such interiority, indeed, can no more be distinguished from physicality than can the form of an eddy in the stream be set apart from its substance. It is the logic of naturalism, operating from behind the scenes in the production of anthropological accounts, that has contrived to wrap every being up in itself, thus converting the generative currents of its emergence into a vital agent, or‘soul’, that inhabits an interior divided off from the exterior world of its interactions with others. (11)


Naturalism, it seems, could be defined just as well by the combination of physical discontinuity and interior continuity as by its opposite. For in the same breath that it imagines human cultural diversity to be written on the tablet of universal nature, it also pictures biodiversity as reflected in the mirror of universal humanity. And if that is so for naturalism, then how can it any longer be distinguished from animism? (12)


The differences of animism, we could say, are like the growing shoots of a rhizome; those of naturalism have broken off from the current of life and lie strewn upon that plane of indifference we commonly recognise as‘nature’. The former are emergent and interstitial; the latter resultant and superficial. Whereas animism, then, gives us a world of becoming, naturalism gives a world of being. One is in the making, the other readymade. And what Descola presents to us, under the rubric of animism, is a world in which every becoming is always already being, every making ready-made. (13)

Muhammad Ali Nasir “Biopolitics, Thanatopolitics and the Right to Life”

August 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Nasir, Muhammad Ali 2016. Biopolitics, Thanatopolitics and the Right to Life. Theory, Culture & Society 0(0): 1-21. DOI: 10.1177/0263276416657881


  1. Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.
  2. Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this Article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
  3. in defense of any person from unlawful violence;
  4. in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
  5. in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection. (Article 2: Right to Life) (3)


[…] 1) Article 2 orients governmental techniques to lives in order to ensure that both deprivation and protection of lives is lawful; 2) A proper application of Article 2 grounds itself on a proper discrimination of lives. This causes Article 2 to be applied universally but not uniformly to all juridical subjects. (3)


In order to impose positive and negative obligations on the state authorities, Article 2 cannot be but governmental. It is by drawing on a diversity of strategies (arms and aims, rescue operations, planning and control), personnel (soldiers, special squads, doctors) and institutions (crisis cells, health committees, hospitals) that the right to life shapes the way they have to operate. Thus, legal rules have to insert themselves into these governmental practices, even if they maintain a certain distinctiveness. It is because of this functionality that the right to life both requires such investments of power to become concrete and goes on to constrict their operation as they come under its purview. It is on the basis of this twofold force that it can be legally determined whether Article 2 has been complied with or not. It also means that the legal decision bases itself on certain truth mechanisms involving knowledge (medical discourse, statistics, psychology), techniques (autopsy, cross-examinations, documentations, photos and videos, testimonies), and expertise (expert reports, fact finding missions, investigations bodies). These are then measured in view of the objectives (minimum human loss, effective action, upholding law and territorial integrity). It is correct to say that the right to life connects life to law both for its protection and exceptions. It would nevertheless be hasty to say that the deprivation, or even protection, of a life is solely a legal question. This is because legal regulation of lives remains connected with specific processes of knowledge and governmental techniques, and the role of legal rules is to ensure a proper management of lives through its force of legitimate violence. (7)


This section argues that: 1) The jurisprudence of Article 2 is theoretically appreciable only in a ‘politics of life’, as this legal right orients governmental techniques to lives. 2) The focus of such a politics is not simply protection and deprivation but more importantly optimization. (10)


The applicant argued that her circumstances and the possible difficulties she would have to face in future necessitated that she approach the question of her life autonomously (Pretty, para. 8). Further, in the calculus of pain where her ‘life expectancy was poor’ vis-a`-vis the ‘undignified’ final stages of disease, a question of Article 3 prohibiting inhuman and degrading suffering also arose (Pretty, para. 8, para. 44–46). Reading the text of Article 2, she also argued that it protects the right to life and not ‘life’ per se, which meant that Article 2 did not protect a life from the threats that may come from that life itself (Pretty, para. 35). (11)


In those countries where euthanasia is permitted, the governmental problematic is to supervise closely the medical and hospital practices, determine the form of legally acceptable consents to terminate lives, identify the possible stakeholders that are to be engaged with in the end-of-life decisions, redraw criminal codes, preempt and account for potential negligence and malpractice, identify in what manner clinicians are to give larger doses to the patients, ensuring slower and painless transition towards death, and draw out the list of diseases where euthanasia is  permissible, among others. In those countries where euthanasia is not permitted, the governmental problematic is to provide psychological care and therapy to incurable patients, determine the way their expenses are to be allotted to hospitals, prevent criminal ‘private’ practices to the contrary, arrange for the methods falling in line with honourable deaths, and insert the prolonged sustenance of lives and their traumatic ends as categories into the health insurance framework, among others. In both cases, Article 2 regulates the situations in such a way that its legal dictates are not violated. (12)


Then, the room to wage lawful violence is not only reserved for specific historically established nation-states that are politically recognized, but for those political bodies that bear certain administrative structures, the focus of which is on both protection and optimization of life. And it is only because of this capacity in which those states can be held accountable both for inaction (positive obligations) and action (negative obligations) that they are given a margin of discretion in the implementation of human rights, and may be offered a margin of error in certain cases where they legitimately lag lest they be overburdened (Osman, para. 116). (13)


Logically, it is not the meaning of lives that is legal per se (Esposito, 2008: 28); it is their regulation, tied as it is to legal concepts and rules. It means that the governmental practices surrounding different lives operate differently depending on their specific subject positions, such as, for example, incarcerated convict or soldier, war prisoner or on-the-ground combatant, the mentally unstable or terminally ill. Similarly, once legal rules constrain regulatory frameworks in line with their standards, those regulatory frameworks are backed with a threat of legitimate violence. (14)


Importantly, it entails that subjects are neither simply constituted by law (since power is not simply localized as law) nor solely governed by it (since power is diffused). This fact – that law is connected with differential governmental practices which articulate it – makes any ontological interpretation as to the nature of law untenable. (15)


[…] human rights function by requiring from a politico-legal guarantor that it protect humans by putting in place appropriate regulatory frameworks. The concept of biopolitical governmentality thus focuses on the way normative claims of rights function, that is, the way they remain sensitive to the differential meanings accorded to lives and the construction of practices around those lives that consequently makes rights effective. (17)

Stephen Lilley “Transhumanism and Society”

Lilley, Stephen 2013. Transhumanism and Society. The Social Debate over Human Enhancement. Dordrecht; Heidelberg; New York; London: Springer.


  1. Introduction to the Transhumanity Debate

I will be using the label, ‘‘transhumanists,’’ as a catchall for a variety of notable figures, many of whom accept this descriptor and all of whom advocate human enhancement. ‘‘Conservationists’’ is the term that I have chosen for their opponents because of their stand to conserve human nature and institutions. (2)


Transhumanists and their critics also understand these technologies to have the capacity to intervene or to interfere (depending on one’s perspective) in life at the most fundamental level. Most of us are familiar with this idea as it pertains to biotechnology. DNA and related genetic structures are regarded as the code of life, ‘‘cracked’’ by scientists and now open to manipulation through engineering techniques. Stem cells, basic in their pluripotency, have been coaxed from

embryos, placentas, and skin and are being primed to promote regeneration. (5)


In the Foreword to Brave New World, Aldous Huxley asserts that ‘‘It is only by means of the sciences of life that the quality of life can be radically changed…This really revolutionary revolution is to be achieved, not in the external world, but in the souls and flesh of human beings’’ [(1932) 1969]. (7)


The conservationists contend that if liberal democracies go down the transhumanist path and allow free choice for enhancement technologies, consumers knowingly or unknowingly will suffer modifications that diminish free will. Governments would exploit them. According to the transhumanists, if liberal democracies take up the conservationists’ cause, the state would become more involved in the regulation and control of reproduction, the body, and parenting through banning enhancement technologies, and monitoring and policing illicit use. This would entail an increase in state power and loss of personal autonomy. (10)


At least in terms of political-economic leanings, transhumanism is not a radical ideology, not even a reform ideology. We need to keep in mind that all ideologies, including transhumanism, are designed to serve movement interests. Transhumanists keep their eyes on the prize. If there is every expectation that biotechnology, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, and computer technology will continue to flourish under the political economy of Western societies and the global system, it makes perfect sense to back these. (11-12)


  1. Transcend or transgress?

Whether or not scientists and engineers favor engineered transcendence is debatable, but we know for sure that the transhumanists explicitly propose it. They are the visionaries. This is evident right from the start with Julian Huxley’s coining of the term transhumanism: “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature” (1957:17). (14)


Cosmic Transcendence

In Kurzweil’s model, as humans pass through the technological singularity an accelerating evolutionary process working on intelligence will yield new beings. He makes it clear that there will be as little in common between posthumans with evolved intelligence and standard humans as there is between bacteria and Homo sapiens. He predicts that these super beings will harness stars and eventually operate on the scale of the universe or universes. Generations of humans that forego this evolution, in comparison, will be hopelessly primitive. (15)


Personal Transcendence

For More, transcendence is primarily a personal experience, a process of selftransformation. This is best expressed in his Principles of Extropy (2003) which he crafted while serving as chairman of the Extropy Institute. In defiance of entropy is experienced by individuals as disease and decline, he recommends the bold application of enhancement technologies for extropy: ‘‘seeking more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness, an open-ended lifespan.’’ (2003) Essential to transcendence is one’s will to advance and one’s intolerance for passivity. One must embrace rational thinking over faith that constrains and one should challenge traditional notions of human limitations. Believing in perpetual progress and being proactive and optimistic vis-à-vis science and technology leads one ‘‘creatively and courageously to transcend ‘‘natural’’ but harmful, confining qualities derived from our biological heritage, culture, and environment.’’ (2003) He values an open society through which individuals may self-direct and voluntarily cooperate to secure advantages. (16)


Civitas Transcendence

James Hughes, a former secretary of the World Transhumanist Association, offers a vision of transhumanity in his book, Citizen Cyborg (2004), which is meant to be consistent with secular humanism and the Enlightenment project of using science and technology for the collective good. His training as a sociologist shows through with his attention to social and political systems. He advocates improvements to minimize social injustice, promote social solidarity, and safeguard human populations. Like Max More, he finds cosmic transcendence so abstract and future distant to be a distraction for immediate concerns, but he also finds fault with the libertarian streak of the extropians. Hughes distrusts the free market, opposes unchecked individualism, and believes that a safe passage to a transhuman civilization requires ethical standards, public oversight, and some regulation. (16)


I use the Latin term, civitas, which denotes citizenship and also planned settlement, to describe Hughes’ vision of transcendence. He foresees the progression to a more just, equitable, prosperous, and peaceful world through democracies that encourage citizens to utilize safe and effective enhancements. Because they are augmented by biotech, nanotech, and neurotech, cyborg citizens will be more capable and energetic citizens and be able to contribute more to community and society. A virtuous spiral develops such that as enhanced citizens become more socially productive, societal goods increase, as more individuals share in this bounty, their quality of life increases and, in turn, they contribute more to the common good. (17)


Whereas Kurzweil values science and technologies for the lift that they might provide for superior intelligences, and More values these as resources for the overman, I see Hughes following Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte and embracing science and technology for the purpose of social engineering. (17)


[…] conservationists warn of transgression, or a point of no return from which humanity will suffer a most grievous, irretrievable loss. (18)


Critics operating from faith traditions charge that Kurzweil’s model of cosmic transcendence lacks an accounting of God’s involvement with individuals and humankind. They take exception to the elevation of science and technology as the agents of history. Michael DeLashmutt (2006) writes: ‘‘Though a posthuman eschatology wrestles with similar themes present within Christian eschatology, a Christian eschatology is ever aware that the fulfillment of its hope lies in the hands of the God who is in control of history, in contrast to a posthuman eschatology that places the onus of control upon human technologies.’’ (19)


Elaine Graham (2003) warns of ‘‘hyper-humanism’’: “Such talk of humanity as in some degree self-constituting via its own technologies, of being capable of influencing the course of its own development is to fall prey to what we might term ‘hyper-humanism‘: a distortion of modernity‘s faith in the benevolence of human reason, producing the hubristic belief that humanity alone is in control of history” (2006). (19)


Whereas these critics see problems with transhumanism being insufficiently attuned to divine grace and God’s plan, secular critics find fault with it for being too influenced by Christian eschatology. David Noble, in particular, has advanced the thesis that Western science and technology were inspired by Christian millennialism and these institutions remain essentially religious endeavors directed today by men motivated by a quest for transcendence. (20)


Mark Hanson (1999) writes that ‘‘[w]ithin a Protestant understanding of our nature, the disvalue occasioned by enhancements might consist…in the loss of recognition of the providence of God working through the contingencies and weaknesses of our human form.’’ (21)


Although the following is a very simplified formula, excellence of character or proper living is said to be achieved through practicing virtue (which is self-effacing) and avoiding vice (selfishness). Is personal transcendence consistent with this formula? ‘‘No,’’ assert the critics of transhumanity. It is egotistical, too grasping, and may result in new forms of injustice. Living a good life accepting of human mortality, on the other hand, has intrinsic value and it helps promote the greater good. Worried about overpopulation that may occur with elongated life spans and increased demands placed on natural systems, Bill McKibben sees finite living as the choice consistent with conservationism. (22)


Transhumanists treat death and decline as major impediments to overcome. Simon Young (2006) bluntly states, ‘‘Death is, to me, an obscenity’’ (15) and he refers to illness, disability, and senescence as ‘‘biological slavery’’ (41) One’s existence, in his view, takes place only within life’s frame. There is no afterlife. Conquering death is a way to extend life’s frame. In terms of the overman, moreover, the will is strengthened through death’s conquest. (22)


Can a child have true autonomy if parents genetically design his or her capacities and proclivities? Maureen Junker-Kenney believes the answer is no: “Genetic enhancement exemplifies a total reversal of the preconditions for autonomy: The offer of pre-implantation enhancement and selection constitutes the victory of parents’ projections over the otherness of the child. In co-creating the specificities of its reality—sex, bodily features, character predispositions—it is being denied the singularity that is based on an unmanipulated originality” (2005:12). (23)


  1. Transformation of Body and Mind

They pose a bold, rhetorical question: If the very constitution of the human body is what makes us and our loved ones susceptible to disease, decline, and death, why not transform it? In the past there was no reason to expect that such a thing could be done. Now there is. (25)


Transhumanists disassociate their movement from religions and cults. They make it clear that they do not appeal to supernatural forces (or aliens). In some ways this makes building a case for their audacious idea that much harder. Transhumanists associate their movement with science and engineering and therefore must abide by scientific-secular norms of persuasion. (26)


Individuals who wish for restoration of mobility can find hope in Miguel Nicolelis’ statement that ‘‘The body does not have a monopoly for enacting the desires of the brain.’’ (Blakeslee 2008) Many transhumanists also take heart in new possibilities emerging from the confluence of neuroscience, computing, and robotics. They readily conceptualize the human body as one substrate for the mind, dispensable once better replacements are engineered. Prosthetic limbs, artificial hips and knees, cochlear implants, and pace makers are standard medical devices. Artificial bone, tendon, muscle, skin, blood, etc., are commercially available or are being developed. Each component may be seen as just one exception to an otherwise natural form, however taken together one is left with the impression that the organic body is replaceable. At the very least, it makes you wonder, ‘‘What is so special about human biology?’’ (27)


Andy Clark, a cognitive scientist, asserts that humans have always been cyborgs, in the sense of incorporating our best creations as a way to extend our reach. He identifies ‘‘cognitive hybridization’’ as the quintessential feature of our humanity: “[I]t is our special character, as human beings, to be forever driven to create, co-opt, annex, and exploit nonbiological props and scaffoldings. We have been designed, by Mother Nature, to exploit deep neural plasticity in order to become one with our best and most reliable tools. Minds like ours were made for mergers. Tools R-Us, and always have been” (2003:7). (28)


Warwick welcomes the therapeutic applications but he also imagines posthuman capabilities: “At present our method of communication, speech, is very slow, serial and error prone. The potential to communicate by means of thought signals alone is a very exciting one. We will probably have to learn how to communicate well in this way though, in particular how to send ideas to one another. It is not clear if I think about an ice cream are my thoughts roughly the same as yours – we will have to learn about each other’s thoughts. Maybe it will be easier than we think, maybe not. Certainly speech is an old fashioned, out dated means of communication – it’s on its way out!” (2008) (29)


Simon Young (2006) pronounces Homo cyberneticus to be the next stage in human evolution. He traces cyberneticus to the Greek, kubernetes, or steersman of a ship. He understands the mind to be the steersman and the body to be an unworthy vessel. He asserts, ‘‘The body may want to self-destruct—but does the mind? No. Yet our genes insist upon it, against our will.’’ (371) Freed from ‘‘genetic slavery,’’ minds will evolve, thereby setting the stage for these cognitivist triumphs: 1) the evolution of a cybermind emerging from the network of interdependent minds (318), 2) ‘‘the mind of evolution become conscious of itself’’ (39), and coming to know the ‘‘Mind of God.’’(367) (29)


Human intelligence is an evolutionary milestone that Kurzweil readily admits has a biological basis, nevertheless as its pattern is made known through neuroscience, informatics, etc., ways will be found to replicate it or reformat it to allow symbiosis or mergers with newly created forms of computation and artificial intelligence. The pattern that is intelligence will continue to evolve. Like Young, he foresees nothing, including the organic brain, getting in the way: ‘‘[I]ntelligence is the most powerful ‘‘force’’ in the universe. Intelligence, if sufficiently advanced, is, well, smart enough to anticipate and overcome any obstacles that stand in its path.’’ (2005:206). (30)


[Barbara] Becker asserts that the transhumanist vision of radical transformation is similarly seductive, promising many more degrees of freedom to play and self-experiment. She dismisses this for being ‘‘a reconstruction of old fantasies which are returning in new technological clothes and making a great deal of noise.’ (33)


One such ‘‘old fantasy,’’ according to John Sullins (2000), comes from Descartes’ philosophy. Rene Descartes treated the mind and body as being distinct. The body, but not the mind, is of the physical world, influenced by natural laws and operating in a similar fashion as machines. Through the body’s sensory receptors, information is presented for the mind’s perusal. In his famous thought experiment Descartes imagines a demon manipulating the senses. He also offers ordinary examples of sensory error. The lesson to be drawn is that the body is not to be trusted as a source for certainty regarding one’s existence. Only the action of the mind, or the ‘‘I’’ that is thinking, is certain. The primacy of the mind is clear in his epistemology that favors rational thought and deduction. (33)


Configurations that provide identity will emerge from a more extensive network of advanced processes just as surely as they have emerged from a more limited ‘‘ensemble of tools.’’ Kurzweil believes that we are sufficiently pliable to retain continuity of identity as we change. Hayles, however, does not preclude negative outcomes. She takes seriously a concern raised by Norbert Wiener, a principle architect of cybernetics, that the subject may be subsumed. Estrangement is very possible. Exploitation and manipulation need to be considered as well: ‘‘The ultimate horror for the individual is to remain trapped ‘‘inside’’ a world constructed by another being for the other’s own profit.’’ (162). (34)


Stock and others present moderate transformation as the means to bountiful longevity, but so-called ‘‘life cycle traditionalists,’’ such as Leon Kass, assert that there will be costs. He believes that the normal human lifespan promotes a more focused approach to life projects. He warns of ennui at the personal level and generational conflict over finite resources at the societal level. (36)


Andy Clark explains that not only has the species changed over time through biological evolution, it is unusually dynamic in other ways: “It is our natural proclivity for tool-based extension, and profound and repeated selftransformation, that explains how we humans can be so very special while at the same time being not so very different, biologically speaking, from the other animals with whom we share both the planet and most of our genes. What makes us distinctively human is our capacity to continually restructure and rebuild our own mental circuitry, courtesy of an empowering web of culture, education, technology, and artifacts” (2003:10). (38)


In his article, ‘‘In Defense of Posthuman Dignity,’’ Nick Bostrom (2005) questions whether human dignity is fostered through conservation by challenging an underlying premise that human nature is set or pinned down by the human genome. He insists, instead, that ours is a species that extends and transcends biology through social and technological constructions, and as these change, we change, generation after generation. There is no stable state to preserve: “What we are is not a function solely of our DNA but also of our technological and social context. Human nature in this broader sense is dynamic, partially human-made, and improvable. Our current extended phenotypes (and the lives that we lead) are markedly different from those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors… Yet these radical extensions of human capabilities– some of them biological, others external – have not divested us of moral status or dehumanized us in the sense of making us generally unworthy and base. Similarly, should we or our descendants one day succeed in becoming what relative to current standards we may refer to as posthuman, this need not entail a loss dignity either” (213). (38)


  1. Rhetoric of Risk

Following Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellu, Leon Kass (2002:35) defines technology as ‘‘the disposition to rational mastery.’’ He asserts that commercial interests drive research and development and ‘‘soft dehumanization’’ will occur ‘‘unless we redeem ourselves by nontechnological ideas and practices, today both increasingly beleaguered.’’ (22). (45)


FINRRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering) extends the critique to gene technologies: “The central technique aimed at achieving biological ‘‘quality control’’ today is genetic engineering, a method of analyzing and manipulating the hereditary substance of all life forms. Gene technology is inherently eugenic, because it treats all living beings – microorganisms, plants, animals and human – as inefficient or outright defective and in need of technical ‘‘optimization’’ to fit the interests of profit and power. Genetic engineering is already being applied to many different areas of our lives – in medicine, agriculture, the industrial production of food, chemicals and other products, by the police and the military. Women will increasingly be faced with the adverse effects, not only with regard to reproduction, but also as producers and consumers, in the areas of food, health care etc. Last but not least, we will all bear the brunt of future ecological disruption, while the profits of the ‘‘new genetic revolution’’ will flow to a few multinationals.” (46)


Critics of transhumanity are skeptical of reason (instrumental rationality devalues life), progress (a myth used to justify exploitation), and science (effectively under corporate control). Transhumanists, on the other hand, uphold reason, progress, and the virtue of science. Elaine Graham (2003:38) calls transhumanism the ‘‘high-tech heir to Enlightenment humanism’’ and I believe that is a fair characterization in that transhumanists cherish these Enlightenment values. They firmly believe in the Enlightenment project of using reason to improve the human condition. Progress is unabashedly proclaimed and, as Simon Young states, the ‘‘new technologies are joyously celebrated as the wonders of the modern world.’’ (2006:20) Gregory Stock evokes Benjamin Franklin’s enthusiasm for industry, innovation, and science. (46)


Urlich Beck (1992:19) asserts that advanced modernity is characterized by ‘‘the social production of risks’’ in at least two ways: 1) the economic production of hazards such as pollutants and toxins, and 2) sociopolitical enterprise built around the promise of security and ‘‘discovering, administering, acknowledging, avoiding or concealing’’ risks (20). Beck criticizes this oversight system for being too reactive and permissive of the production factors that generate hazards. Most importantly, burden of proof is placed on consumers or advocacy groups to precisely identify hazards, establish cause and effect, and calculate future risks—a task that Beck (1995) asserts is made nearly impossible by the complexities of global production. (49)


Transhumanists utilize a systems approach when they describe the risks associated with new technologies as a necessary condition of progress. Max More (2005) asserts that the advancement of civilization could not have happened without taking risk: “If the precautionary principle had been widely applied in the past, technological and cultural progress would have ground to a halt. Human suffering would have persisted without relief, and life would have remained poor, nasty, brutish, and short: No chlorination and no pathogen-free water; no electricity generation or transmission; no X-rays; no travel beyond the range of walking.” (52)


Transhumanists could charge that their adversaries exaggerate, however this might appear inconsistent with their own claims in the power of these technologies. Instead they utilize an interesting counter strategy of embracing the risk object. They assert that GNR research is taking place around the globe and that there is no way to return to a period of innocence. Even if nations agreed to relinquishment, clandestine operations would continue. Gregory Stock (2002) warns that rogue regimes or terrorists would develop weapons against which peaceful nations would be helpless to defend. The risk of mass destruction would increase, rather than decrease. The safest policy for democracies is to always stay ahead in the advancement of technologies in order to provide effective countermeasures. (55)


Always thinking one step ahead, they imagine that new drugs or other neurotechnologies will not only target pathologies but extend the upper range of emotional and cognitive functioning. For instance, David Pearce (1998) foresees a time when nanotechnology and genetic technology will be used to promote a higher state of well being: “Over the next thousand years or so, the biological substrates of suffering will be eradicated completely. ‘‘Physical’’ and ‘‘mental’’ pain alike are destined to disappear into evolutionary history. The biochemistry of everyday discontents will be genetically phased out too. Malaise will be replaced by the biochemistry of bliss…. This feeling of absolute well-being will surpass anything contemporary human neurochemistry can imagine, let alone sustain. The story gets better. Post-human states of magical joy will be biologically refined, multiplied and intensified indefinitely. Notions of what now passes for tolerably good mental health are likely to be superseded. They will be written off as mood-congruent pathologies of the primordial Darwinian psyche. (58)


  1. Inevitability

Whereas the conservationists often take the offensive in the rhetoric of risk, the transhumanists clearly are the aggressors in this contest. First, the transhumanists convey a sense of inevitability through their sweeping account of technological innovation. This is most effective when describing human history in terms of successive waves of beneficial technologies used to alter, control, or bypass nature, for example, fire-building, agriculture, vitamins, and vaccines. According to proponents, transtechnologies represent the next step in progress. (63)


Gould’s take on human evolution is not shared by the general public. The common understanding is that humans are the most evolved species with regard to thinking, language, and sociality. For many it is a source of pride to think that nature selects for these capacities and our species has come out on top. Transhumanists tend to utilize this flattering interpretation but add the caveat that the selection process continues and that humans will not be the pinnacle of evolution. Kurzweil (2005) argues that intelligence provides a competitive advantage because ‘‘[i]ntelligence, if sufficiently advanced, is, well, smart enough to anticipate and overcome any obstacles that stand in its path.’’ (206) Modifications that increase computation power tend to be retained, and in the long run the trajectory is ever upward. Humans are on the high end of the continuum of smart species but we will evolve in synergy with our most advanced technology to become higher-order computation beings. (64)


The transhumanists, in contrast, do not anticipate that humanity will remain idle. Young’s (2006) model of ‘‘harmonious complexification’’ (366) portrays life as moving toward increasing order, complexity, and self-organization and he sees humans as both producer and product of this process. Our species will initiate and ride the transhuman and posthuman wave. Kurzweil emphasizes the inevitability of this progression: “[W]e are a product of evolution, indeed its cutting edge. But extending our intelligence by reverse engineering it, modeling it, simulating it, reinstantiating it on more capable substrates, and modifying and extending it is the next step in evolution. It was the fate of bacteria to evolve into a technology-creating species. And it’s our destiny now to evolve into the vast intelligence of the Singularity” (298). (64-65)


Evolution may be harsh and unforgiving but, according to the transhumanists, evolution has produced one species, homo sapiens, that is equipped and prepared to direct it. We are ‘‘steersmen,’’ Homo cyberneticus, proclaims Simon Young. This is a bold declaration meant to inspire confidence and forward-thinking. Clark (2003) explains thatweare the creative project. In other words, because we are essentially dynamic and self-constructing and have the ability to expand with our technologies, we will continue to be the most innovative species. “Our self-image as a species should not be that of ancient biological minds in colorful young technological clothes. Instead, ours are chameleon minds, factory-primed to merge with what they find and with what they themselves create (141). Our cognitive machinery is now intrinsically geared to self-transformation, artifactbased expansion, and a snowballing/bootstrapping process of computational and representational growth…Plasticity and multiplicity are our true constants” (8). (65)


According to Kurzweil’s (2001) ‘‘law of accelerating returns,’’ the rate of technological change is greater than commonly understood because “technological change is exponential. In exponential growth, we find that a key measurement such as computational power is multiplied by a constant factor for each unit of time (e.g., doubling every year) rather than just being added to incrementally. Exponential growth is a feature of any evolutionary process, of which technology is a primary example. One can examine the data in different ways, on different time scales, and for a wide variety of technologies ranging from electronic to biological, and the acceleration of progress and growth applies. Indeed, we find not just simple exponential growth, but ‘‘double’’ exponential growth, meaning that the rate of exponential growth is itself growing exponentially. These observations do not rely merely on an assumption of the continuation of Moore’s law (i.e., the exponential shrinking of transistor sizes on an integrated circuit), but is based on a rich model of diverse technological processes.” (66)


In his seminal work, Risk Society (1992), Beck points out that modernization represents in the minds of its recipients a tradeoff between comfort and risks. For example, to have air conditioning, suburban enclaves, and economic growth we consume more energy and in the process run the risk of global warming. Mass transportation and international travel increase the risk of terrorist attacks and viral epidemics. Mass production of food entails the passage of pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics into our diet. Civilization has come to be associated with a level of endangerment. Many people accept that progress has a price, and it is worth paying. If enhancement technologies are understood in terms of progress, and not in terms of weapons of mass destruction, the case for relinquishment will be a hard sell. (71)

Jacques Derrida “The Ends of Man”

Derrida, Jacques 1969. The Ends of Man. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 30(1): 31-57.


Not only is existentialism a humanism, but the ground and horizon of what Sartre then called his “phenomenological ontology” […] remains the unity of human-reality. In so far as it describes the structures of human-reality, phenomenological ontology is a philosophical anthropology. (35)


Whatever decisive breaks from classical anthropologies may be indicated by this Hegelian-Husserlian-Heideggerian anthropology, there is no interruption in a metaphysical familiarity which so naturally relates the we of the philosopher to “we-men”, to the we of the total horizon of humanity. (35)


[…] under the auspices of the founding concepts of meta-physics, which Husserl revives and restores, assigning them if  necessary  an index  or phenomenological quotation marks, criticism of  empirical anthropologism is but the affirmation of a transcendental humanism. And among these metaphysical concepts which form the essential resources of Husserl’s discourse, that of end, or telos, plays a decisive role. It could be shown that, at every stage of phenomenology, and notably every time that recourse to “the Idea in the Kantian sense” is necessary, the infinity of telos, the infinity of end, regulates the power of phenomenology. The end of man (as factual anthropological limit) is announced to thought with the end of  man. Man is that which is relative to his end, in the fundamentally equivocal sense of the word. This has always been so. The transcendental end can appear to itself and unfold before itself only in the condition of mortality, of relation to finitude as the origin of ideality. The name of man has always been inscribed in metaphysics between these two ends. It has meaning only in this eschato-teleological situation. (44)


Let me recall that the formal structure of the question, of any question according to Heidegger, should include three necessary elements: the Gefragte, that which is asked, here the sense of Being; the Erfragte, which is the asked inasmuch as it is properly aimed at by a question; the sense of Being as questioned; and finally, the Befragte, the interrogated, the being which will be interrogated, to which the question of the sense of Being will be posed. It is thus a matter of choosing or of recognizing the paradigm being which is interrogated with a view to the sense of Being: “Into what being should the sense of Being be read (abgelesen) from what being will the opening of Being take its departure? Is this point of  departure arbitrary, or has some being privilege (Vorrang) in  the  elaboration of  the  question of Being? What is this exemplary being and in what sense has it a privilege?” (46)


The proximity to himself of the questioner authorizes the identity of the questioner and of the interrogator. We, who are near to ourselves, interrogate ourselves concerning the sense of Being. (47)


[…] just  as the Dasein -the being which we are ourselves -serves as the exemplary text, as the good “lesson” for the explicitation of the sense of Being, so the name of man remains the link or the leading thread which joins the analytics of Dasein with the totality of  the traditional discourse of  metaphysics. (48)


We see, then, that Dasein, if it is not man, is not, however, other than man. It is, as we shall see, a repetition of the essence of man permitting to go back beyond metaphysical concepts of humanitas. (48)


Humanist interpretations of man as rational animal, as ‘person,’  as spiritual-being-endowed-with-a-soul-and-a-body, are not held as false by this essential determination of man, nor are they rejected by it. The sole purpose is rather that the highest humanist determinations of the essence of man do not yet experience the dignity characteristic of man (die eigentliche Wurde des Menschen). In this sense, the thought expressed in Sein und Zeit is against humanism. But this oppositioa does not mean that such thought is directed in opposition to man, that  it pleads for the inhuman, defends barbarism and lowers man’s dignity. If we think against humanism it is because humanism does not value highly enough the humanitas of man. . . (52)


If, then, “Being is farther removed than every being and yet nearer to man than every being,” if “Being is that which is nearest,” we should consequently be able to say that Being is the near of man and that man is the near of Being. The near is the proper; the proper is the nearest (prop, proprius). Man is that which is proper to Being, which speaks into his ear from very near. Being is that which is proper to man. Such is the truth, such is the proposition which gives the there to the truth of Being and the truth of man. (54)


In the thought and the language of Being, the end of man has always been prescribed, and this prescription has never served except to modulate the equivocality of the end, in the interplay of telos and death. In the reading of  this interplay, the following chain of  events can be taken in all of its senses: the end of man is the thought of Being, man is the end of  the thought of  Being, the end of  man is the end of  the thought of Being. Man has always been his proper end; that is, the end of what is proper to him. The being has always been its proper end; that is, the end of what is proper to it. (55)