Humanism and its Discontents. The Rise of Transhumanism and Posthumanism – Introduction

Mon introduction à cet ouvrage publié en février de cette année (aurait dû paraître initialement en août 2021).

Humanism and its Discontents – The Rise of Transhumanism and Posthumanism


Humanism was defined by two pronouncements in the Book of Genesis: Man was made to Gods image and God had entrusted Man with the dominion of all creatures.

The Homo Imago Dei part of the definition went into a crisis in the eighteenth century with the Enlightenment and was henceforth dropped for all practical purposes. 

The rise of different types of anti-humanism or one should rather say, varieties of neo-humanism, such as Nietzsche’s superhumanism, posthumanism, transhumanism, and del Val & Sorgner’s metahumanism, finds its origin in the crumbling of humanism over the centuries due to doubts accumulating around the Western view of humankind rooted in Christianity: the Homo Imago Dei, and of its follower: the perfectible Man of an Enlightenment enamoured with never-ending progress.

I. Humanism on the wane

When in the mid-1960s Michel Foucault evoked our representation of Man as possibly on the wane: “It is comforting, however, and a source of profound relief to think that man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge, and that he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form”, it was not entirely clear from the contents of The Order of Things (1966) why this remark would come as a conclusion of sorts at the end of the book. 

There were two clues however. The first was that the French philosopher’s book was aiming at being an archaeology of the concepts of the contemporary social sciences (“sciences humaines”) and was examining how different épistémès succeed each other over the ages, épistémès being world views but restricted in their scope as highbrow ways of depicting the world, and therefore as tools for knowing and thinking. An épistémè, Foucault wrote “defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge”. The second clue was in the “not yet two centuries old”, signalling that the “man” in question was undoubtedly that of the Enlightenment.

The concept of Man which is currently ours, hints Foucault, is likely to evolve in the same way as all depictions have over the ages, such a process being illustrated in his earlier and later works, when he scrutinised the shifting assessment within our culture of madness, and what we have regarded as normalcy in our sexual behaviour, where he follows in the footsteps of his master Georges Canguilhem who reflected in his time on The Normal and the Pathological (1943). One grasps under that light where his doubts on the perennial character of a particular representation of humankind arose from. What remains more mysterious is why “it is comforting […] and a source of profound relief to think that” the Enlightenment’s Man would soon be gone.

One thing is sure then from the scope of The Order of Things with its focus on the Enlightenment, complemented by the confirmation provided by the unambiguous “not yet two centuries old” specification: Foucault’s starting point, the view of Man possibly on the wane, was not that of the Christian Homo Imago Dei: “Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis: 1.26), but of what was by then its successor: that of a human race whose nature is dynamic and mouldable, as its horizon is that of perfectibility, indefinitely unfolding, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau was first to underline: “But when the difficulties surrounding all these questions would leave some room for argument about this difference between man and animal, there is another very specific quality that distinguishes them, and on which there can be no dispute, it is the ability to perfect oneself” (Rousseau III: 142), a notion that Nicolas de Condorcet would further develop, while strategically assigning its conception to his mentor Turgot instead of Rousseau, inspirer of his political adversaries Robespierre and Saint-Just.

From inception the concept of Man in the image of God had shown frailties. What is indeed precisely the extent of the likeness: does God display any of our shortcomings? Does he need to eat and drink? To pee and poop? Most unlikely features for a perfect entity. But if not, what are the exact constraints on us rooted in the supposed God’s likeness?

Two periods of disarray in the history of Western humanism can indeed be traced, the first being the demise of Homo Imago Dei, the second, the crisis of the Enlightenment’s version of humanism, that of a humankind left to its own devices, having discarded the first prong of the Biblical message: “And God said, Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness”, while still remaining attached to the second, this time proactively: “… and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis: 1.26).

Christian theology is still tightly linked to Homo Imago Dei and as Marius Dorobantu underlines in his contribution to this volume: “Strong Artificial Intelligence and theological anthropology: one problem, two solutions”, it has the greatest difficulty cutting the cord in a context where more and more of the defining traits of humankind are now shared by machines. Dorobantu reviews in his paper a number of options open to Christian theology, all equally unsatisfactory. One is denying in retrospect the importance for the Christian faith of the Homo Imago Dei. Another resides in displacing the stress from the human nature to the relationship between Man and his Creator. As he emphasises however, the very essence of the Turing test for Artificial Intelligence lies not so much for the machine in emulating likeness in appearance with Man but in manners, i.e. in the quality of rapport established between human beings. 

Final option, in the Hegelian tradition, is setting Homo Imago Dei not as a design having presided to Man’s creation but as an aim for human beings over the ages. Which would mean that even future super-intelligent machines, should such a goal be indifferent to them, might still lack what it takes to truly be in the image of God,.

The sudden realisation that “God is dead” or the slow realisation that “God has never been around”, led to two types of attitudes, both having been reported: first, that of Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov according to whom “If there is no immortality, there is no virtue” and Nietzsche’s, amounting to “Then all is allowed, let us be merry and revel in a permanent Dionysian bacchanal!” and, second, that of the Enlightenment: in the absence of an all-pervasive God, the responsibility towards the universe is thence entirely ours. With this latter attitude, with the constraints attached to Man being in the image of God having been entirely relieved, and the option of the infantile response “Then let’s be wild!” having been discarded, Man is free to improve himself, in what he determines – through introspection – as being his deficiencies or other failings, in his body and soul.  

But in the same way as the Enlightenment’s thinkers had become suspicious of the Homo Imago Dei, intellectuals of Foucault’s generation had developed doubts about a limitlessly perfectible Man. The reason being – instead of Heideggerian qualms about technology’s “enframing” – a realisation in the style of Gunther Anders’ that the 20th century was the time when the devastating possibility that technology would wipe out humankind had become inescapable. Whatever Foucault may have had in mind, let’s remember that The Order of Things was published in 1966, four years only after the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, a time when the likelihood of ultimate doom was, for good reasons, impossible to dispel, even if Foucault mentions a more benevolent source for Man’s “disappearance”: “as soon as […] knowledge has discovered a new form”, i.e. a conceptual vanishing solely instead of proper annihilation.

If technology under the shape of applied science – to be distinguished from the empirical technology based on trial and error of the pre-Renaissance period – was capable of being the tool for perfectibility, it had become clear that it could as well wipe us out.There lay undoubtedly the germ of the major backlash and self-questioning against technology that can now be observed. Of much less importance in the drop in prestige of science is the possible reproach, and to technology in its capacity of being science’s operating arm in everyday life, that it has failed at disproving once and for all the existence of God, a task once regarded by its proponents as within its reach, and transpiring in Victor Hugo’s anecdote of when Napoleon complained about the absence of God in Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Mécanique céleste: « How, you make the whole system of the world, you give the laws of all creation, and in your whole book you do not speak once about the existence of God!”, the latter had allegedly retorted: « Sire, I had no need for that hypothesis” (Hugo [1847-1848] 1972: 217).

Let us remember though what precisely Rousseau understood under that word of « perfectibility” lest we turn to it naively as a simple placeholder for whatever happened to us humans since we, as Silvatici at the time, left the woods, and forget about the ambivalences of such a disposition for the human race, as the illustrious Citizen of the Geneva Republic had himself been quick to emphasise. So much so that we can read in the reflection he devoted to perfectibility a warning against the harms of today’s world and the perils that we are currently facing.

Let us therefore examine carefully Rousseau’s pondering on perfectibility. Unless stated otherwise, all quotations are borrowed from his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men of 1755.

First of all, what is an animal?

« I see in every animal nothing but an ingenious machine, to which nature has given senses in order to wind itself up, and to guarantee itself, to a certain extent, from everything that tends to destroy or disturb it » (Rousseau III: 141).

And what is a human?

« Considering him (…) as he must have come out of the hands of Nature, I see an animal less strong than some, less agile than others, but on the whole, the most advantageously organised of all » (Rousseau III: 134-135).

« Most advantageously organised of all », as on the one hand unspecialised: accumulating the instincts other animals share between them, and on the other hand omnivorous: finding his sustenance in a wide range of foods where other species pick according to their more restricted likings.

« (Humans) rise to the level of the instinct of animals, with the advantage that each species has only its own instinct, and that man, perhaps having none of his own, appropriates them all, also feeds on most of the various foods that the other animals share, and consequently finds his subsistence more easily than any of them can do » (Rousseau III:135).

The ease with which humans find their food must make them the most indolent of all animals, and this is what Rousseau, the « Solitary Walker », believes indeed that he’s observed:

« I see him satiating under an oak tree, quenching his thirst at the first stream, finding his bed at the foot of the same tree that provided him with his meal, and with that, all his wants supplied » (ibid.).

It should be noted that this notion of humans as unspecialised creatures is reminiscent of the fable that Epimetheus tells in Plato’s Protagoras. Due to inadvertence Man has been left without qualities, which forces Prometheus to make up for such a lack by drawing on a fund of qualities which had not been retained for distribution among animals: as a gift to Man, he steals fire from Hephaestus and Athena (Plato, Protagoras 320-322). Rousseau sees here something entirely different: Man fills that lack through addition: adding up all various instincts to make up his own, adding up all varieties of food to ensure his own sustenance.

And this is precisely where perfectibility comes into play:

« But, when the difficulties surrounding all these questions would leave some room for dispute about this difference between man and animal, there is another very specific quality that distinguishes them, and on which there can be no dispute, it is the ability to perfect oneself, a faculty which with the help of circumstances, successively develops all the others, and resides among us both in the species, and in the individual, instead of an animal being, after a few months, what it will be all its life, and its species, after a thousand years, what it was the first year of those thousand years. Why is Man alone liable to grow into a dotard? Is it not that he thus returns to his primitive state, and that, while the Beast, who has acquired nothing and has nothing to lose either, always remains with his instinct, man losing through old age or other accidents, all that his perfectibility had made him acquire, thus falls back lower than the Beast itself? » (Rousseau III:142).

There is however with perfectibility a downside to what might seem at first sight an undeniable advantage:

« It would be sad for us to be forced to agree that this distinctive and almost unlimited faculty is the source of all man’s misfortunes; that it is that faculty that draws him, over time, from his original condition, in which he would spend peaceful and innocent days; that it is that faculty that, over the centuries, has given birth to his enlightenments and his errors, his vices and his virtues, making him in the long run the tyrant of himself and of Nature » (Rousseau III: 142).

As can be seen here, perfectibility is the worm in the fruit, the faculty which, once in motion will, through its own momentum, draw Man out of the State of Nature, and will then preside over the succeeding ages of the human race. 

Perfectibility constitutes the delicate joint where History connects with Nature. History is from early on inscribed in Nature because a dormant History constitutes one of the elements of « Natural Man »‘s essence. Development written in potentiality, prepared and ready in the seed, is capable of building up the whole plant to come, but the command for the process to begin needs to come from above, from another facet of the very same Nature, in motion this time rather than still.

On such dormancy, Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote the following in From Honey to Ashes: 

« But the ‘dormancy’ of the seed, that is, the unpredictable time that will pass before the mechanism is triggered, is not due to its structure, but to an infinitely complex set of conditions that summon the individual history of each seed and a variety of external influences. The same is true for civilisations. Those we call primitive do not differ from others in their mental equipment, but only in that nothing in any mental equipment whatever, ever thought that it should deploy its resources at a certain moment and exploit them in a certain direction » (Levi-Strauss 1966: 408). 

« Let us conclude, writes Rousseau in the Discourse, that wandering in the forests without industry, without speech, without home, without war, and without connections, without any need of his fellow men, as well as without any desire to harm them, perhaps even without ever making any difference between them individually, the Savage man subject to few passions, and self-sufficient, had only the feelings and lights proper to this state, that he felt only his true needs, looked only at what he thought it was in his interest to see, and that his intelligence made no more progress than his vanity. If by chance he made some discovery, he could not communicate it, all the more so because he did not even recognise his own children. Art perished with its inventor; there was neither education nor progress, generations multiplied uselessly; and each starting always from the same point, centuries passed in all the crudeness of the first ages, the species was already old, and man always remained a child » (Rousseau III: 159-160).

Similarly, in his Letter to Philopolis (the naturalist Charles Bonnet [1720-1793]), Rousseau writes:

« Since you claim to criticise me through my own system, please remember that in my opinion society is as natural to the human species as decrepitude is to the individual and that there must be arts, laws, governments to peoples as there are crutches for the elderly. The whole difference is that the state of old age derives from the nature of man alone and that that of society derives from the nature of the human race, not immediately as you say, but only as I have proved, with the help of certain external circumstances which may or may not be, or at least come sooner or come later and therefore accelerate or slow down progress » (Rousseau III: 232).

What most obviously results from this is that Man could only remain in the State of Nature for a spell of time that would come to an end sooner or later. Then he would become sociable, whether sociability was inscribed in him or in the Nature around him: « Men’s associations are to a large extent the work of accidents of nature: the particular deluges, the extravasated seas, the eruptions of volcanoes, the great earthquakes, the fires started by lightning which destroyed the forests… » (Essay on the Origin of Languages [1781]: 552).

We fully understand then Rousseau’s dismay when he believes he has recognised the Natural Man in the orangutan that distant travellers describe: on the one hand he asserted that Man (out of his own nature) was to remain in the Natural State, but on the other hand, the way that nature is currently to our eyes offers little to suggest (due to climate change, decline of soil fertility, etc.) that the Natural Man could somehow have survived in his pristine state without his virtual faculties having been awakened by the stimuli that the turmoil and upheavals of external circumstances bring with them.

The loss marking the passage of Man from the nascent society to the policed Man (« The nascent society gave way to the most horrible state of war » [Rousseau III: 176) may look like a benefit, as it displays Man developing his potential faculties through perfectibility and moving towards his perfection but the truth is the decrepitude of the species. The benefits of budding Reason and self-esteem were accompanied by the emergence of a depraved narcissistic self-love. No doubt, those contribute to ensuring the conservation of the individual, but natural pity, the species’ benevolent warden, has faded away; the individual prospers, yet his prosperity is but a sham as at the same time the species as such is ensnared in decay.

Therefore the more productive way of looking at the emergence of our four recent brands of anti- or neo-humanism (superhumanism, posthumanism, transhumanism, and metahumanism) is likely to be to first notice the disarray arising in the Renaissance about the early humanism of the Homo Imago Dei, then observing humanism in its Enlightenment’s perfectibility form sharing a similar fate “not yet two centuries” later – truly in the exact shape that Rousseau had anticipated, and see then in them a variegated set of four attempts at reconstruction, confronting the diverse facets of that disarray from different angles.

II. Complement and supplements

 As Susanna Lindberg reminds us in her paper in this volume, “On Prosthetic Existence: what differentiates deconstruction from transhumanism and posthumanism”, Jacques Derrida would draw our attention to “le manque”, the want, the deficiency, proper to us and to any creature as there is indeed a constantly recreated shortcoming in us all calling for the replenishing of depleted resources: very soon we’ll need to breathe again, some time later in the day we’ll need to drink and to eat. All life needs to draw energy from the environment and in particular, breathe and feed itself. Our nature is in a constantly renewed need for rebuilding an ever-elusive completion. 

Our genius lies in our successes at fixing or establishing at least on a permanent basis a partial relief of such recurrent reminders of our essential incompletion. 

We gear to our surroundings through constant invention of new supplements, in attempts at remedying once and for all our inherent and ever returning deficiencies. The squirrel deals with his by creating troves of acorns or hazelnuts, and in the same way, we discovered how to build granaries. 

According to Rousseau, language arose as one of those supplements, as a manifestation of human perfectibility, then writing as a supplement to language, an observation that Derrida would revive and make contemporary again emphasising that, in addition to being a compensatory response to a lack, the supplement is as well a representative that deputises or supplants the original. 

Any type of tools which, once designed and manufactured, constitute a new supplement to who we are. Over the ages humankind kept adding similar new layers of supplements. A supplement is however no complement as we could have done without. It is a key part of the genius of a species to have come up with a constant flow of supplements. That, in a way similar to Rousseau’s to whom, after having thought he was possibly about to die, every new day came along as a welcome addition, a wonderful supplement. His life had by then been fulfilled: it was full already, without any need therefore for further complements; anything that would come in addition would only be, and could only be therefore, not only a welcome but also a wondrous supplement.

But such a distinction is not as clear-cut as one might imagine: the robin is in need of berries, of beetles, of worms, of caterpillars to eat, he is on the prowl, looking for ways to complement himself (it unfolds every day and he is hungry again). But if he uses a pine needle to dislodge a caterpillar from a bark’s crevice, he has responded adequately to one of his wants having resorted to a technical trick: he has turned to a supplement. Yet as far as he’s concerned he hasn’t noticed any difference between this particular method for finding food and any other that he usually resorts to. 

Should a robin share with us the notion of a personal identity, at no point would he consider when grabbing a pine needle that he is trespassing the boundary of that personal identity in the way we human beings do when having performed a particular heroic deed, made a revolutionary invention or proposed a new paradigm. When in A World on the Wane (1955), Claude Lévi-Strauss recalls his writing of a play entitled The Apotheosis of Augustus, he describes aptly such a human experience of feeling that one has acquired, if only for a fleeting moment, the status of a semi-god.

There are therefore two possible images of human nature: one where it is incomplete and in constant need to be completed because of its shortcomings, and another, where Man has kept adding new layers, which are as many supplements. Looking at the global picture, one realises that it is constantly enriched in that respect.

III. Boundaries and frontiers

Posthumanism is militantly anti-elitist, so much so that it extends the compass of universalism itself. It is this time the “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” that gets blown up. The realm of dignity reserved so far to Homo Imago Dei needs now to be shared with other creatures or entities. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner in the debate we hold in the present volume suggests an extension of dignity to a wide-ranging swathe of creatures, retaining the capacity to suffer as a valid qualifying criterion, while at the same time defending the view that the notion of truth is vacuous. However when choosing as example of a debate around dignity Sorgner turns to the case of an orangutan whom a court in Argentina set free. But how could any justice system, such as the Argentinian appeal court in question, operate without truth and falsehood constituting its frame of reference? If we think of the concept of responsibility whose three strands are imputability, accountability and answerability, imputability assumes that the culprit is truly the cause of the unfortunate course of events which justify his or her presence in court, accountability supposes that the accused or witness has the capacity to provide a true account of what happened, while answerability entails that the witness or accused in the box has the capacity of distinguishing truly between Good and Evil.  

However generous the ambitions of posthumanism at expanding dignity beyond the borders of the human species, it needs to be noted however that large portions of us humans do not even extend the notion of dignity to humankind as a whole, reserving it to members of one’s own ethnicity, to people sharing one’s own creed, or confining it to even smaller groups such as a band of kin-related folks. The somewhat nowadays paradoxical situation is that while posthumanism aims at extending dignity further than the humanistic Homo Imago Dei starting point, the current rise of nationalistic or regionalist populisms sees the extent of the “Us” receding in most quarters of the globe. It needs to be added that as Roden (2019) convincingly recalls, not all posthumanisms have an ethical orientation – speculative posthumanism for one explicitly recuses from the ethical engagement of critical posthumanism.

In her contribution to this volume: “When skin and technology intertwine”, Hélène Jeannin raises the question of boundaries under a different guise: the traditional barrier of the skin is getting porous as humans are ever more ready to acknowledge the power of piercing and breaking one’s skin to other professionals (or amateurs) than surgeons who were once the only ones being assigned that powerful invasive right. There is indeed a trivialisation of prostheses’ status for purposes which would have been regarded as frivolous until recently, such as implanting a sub-cutaneous chip in order to easily open a door. A reflection of this type is reminiscent of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s observation in the 1920s that for the so-called « primitive mentality » (in truth, the cultural sphere of archaic China) the notion that the person is fully contained within the skin’s boundary is anathema: personal identity extends to a wide range of « appartenances » (belongings), and more specifically to one’s totem and every one of its worldly and cosmological incarnations (Jorion 2011: 293-295).

 IV. The Enlightenment recovered

Transhumanism is a reaction to the second crisis of humanism, that linked to the questioning of the Enlightenment’s blind faith in progress. The destructive power of the atomic bomb played a crucial role in that crisis. In the two-phased process summed up as “disarray and reconstruction”, transhumanism has adopted the radical view of ignoring what had caused the disarray in the first instance so as to reconnect at the very location where the disconnect had taken place. Lindberg writes in the present volume: “instead of contesting traditional Enlightenment humanism, transhumanism actually adopts and enforces it”. Would it be too daring to call therefore transhumanism “the Enlightenment recovered”? 

Here lies besides the added value of Salomé Bour’s paper in this volume: “On Max More’s extropianism”, first drawing our attention on the role played by Max More’s “extropianism” as having broken the ground and provided the blueprint of later transhumanism and then, secondly, displaying to what large extent his manifesto promoted a version of libertarianism updated and boosted through having been rendered dynamic. Bour underlines that More was quick to soften somewhat his message by shifting his main references from the very radical sources of ultra-individualism that Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard instantiated, to milder versions of it with Karl Popper and William Warren Bartley.

In a similar way that Bour emphasises the close-knit relationship of transhumanism with libertarianism as far as political thought is concerned, Alexander Thomas, in his contribution here, entitled “‘Transhumanism and Advanced Capitalism: elitist logics and dangerous implications”, stresses the close-knit relationship existing between transhumanism and capitalism. Thomas is especially vocal when rebuking the ultra-individualistic premise that social and economic ills can be remedied merely through individual reform, doing away so with the differences existing between what can be changed through individual action and what implies modifying entire social structures, which can only be achieved through collective action. 

Thomas writes from that standpoint about Julian Savulescu’s way of thinking: “Savulescu simplifies all social inequality as being caused by human dispositions [and] puts the blame squarely within the moral core of each and every individual, all of whom need fixing. He offers little recognition of the social contingency of human moral failings”. While Thomas characterises Steve Fuller’s & Veronika Lipinska’s approach thus: “They wish for a kind of permanent shock doctrine, disaster capitalism on acid, whereby ‘the prospect of ecological collapse, epidemics or even global financial meltdown [might] serve a similar function to focus minds in our own day’”.

In Thomas’ opinion, the expulsions and concentrations we’re seeing at work in advanced capitalism mean a small sub-population only plays a role in re-defining “Man”.

Ultra-individualism displays an especially voluntarist view of humankind where human beings, in a first step make decisions and very unproblematically implement them in the real world in a second step, with supposedly very little wastage along the road. In my own contribution to this volume, entitled “Posthumanism, transhumanism, superhumanism and metahumanism from an adaptive standpoint”, I underline that those four varieties of neo-humanism are in essence all pre-Freudian in that particular respect of “voluntarism”, relying each on an antiquated simple-minded “intention / decision / implementation” operational model of the human psyche and will-power. 

That peculiarity of a pre-Freudian framework in all four current brands of neo-humanism is worth mentioning as every one of them owes much to the legacy of Nietzsche, the towering precursor of Freud, who sketched very much in all its aspects the ground-breaking discoveries assigned today to the inventor of psychoanalysis – if one excepts that is, Nietzsche’s own historical inspiration: Paul of Tarsus, the arch-precursor who stressed unrelentingly the conflicts between the “soul” and the “flesh” or as we would express it in contemporary parlance: the conscious and the unconscious. In Joachim Köhler’s uncompromising terms indeed: “Almost everything that is today associated with the name of Sigmund Freud can be found in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, if only one knows where to look” (2002 [1989]: 209). Köhler proceeds then by listing convincingly: the Superego, present with Nietzsche as “ancestors continuing to exist as powerful spirits”, the “wave effect” for adult life of a trauma in childhood, the interference of the unconscious with the conscious mind: “The decisive value of an act lies precisely in its non-intentional quality” and repression: “Forgetfulness is no mere passive quality, the product of lassitude, but a positive power of holding back, of inhibiting, a guarantor of the preservation of spiritual order” (ibid.). 

V. The cunning of Reason

When invoking the cunning of Reason, Hegel refers to these numerous occasions when the human race has made a decisive turn in its history despite no individual human holding at the time a clear representation of the process actually at work. Starting from the premise that there is active in every one of us a cunning of Reason that the unconscious operates, I suggest in my own contribution here that there is currently effective a cunning of Reason for the species as a whole for which transhumanism offers a discourse justifying the often very daring steps required to ensure its survival, whether that would occur on planet Earth or anywhere else in the universe.

In that same perspective, Clément Vidal & Francis Heylighen, in their contribution entitled: “Ethics and complexity”, stress the crucial role played by ethics in the survival of our species: “ethics is not about preserving the self, but about preserving the group”, and in a perspective akin to that of posthumanism where “dignity” needs to be extended further away rather than just restricted to humans, they suggest extending the range of ethics altogether: “in our transforming and complexifying society […] ethics needs its Copernican revolution to be able to deal with all moral agents, not only humans”. A view which ties in neatly with Émile Durkheim’s concept of ethics amounting to the « social intériorisé » (the internalised social) within each of us, unformulated precepts presiding to a way of life that goes without saying. Again, a notion overlapping with this inner instance which Freud attempted to capture with that of a Superego, an unconscious supervisor at work in us and making sure unrelentingly, often in a persecutory way, that a person, far from being one in a collection of so many Robinson Crusoes, is, in Aristotle’s wording, a zoon politikon: a social animal.


Canguilhem, Georges The Normal and the Pathological [1943], Berlin: Springer, 1978

del Val, J. & S. L. Sorgner, A Metahumanist Manifesto, 2010

Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences [1966], New York: Pantheon Books, 1970

Hugo, Victor, Choses vues 1847-1848, Paris: Gallimard, 1972

Jorion, Paul, Le capitalisme à l’agonie, Paris: Fayard, 2011

Köhler, Joachim, Zarathustra’s Secret. The Interior Life of Friedrich Nietzsche [1989], New Haven (Ct.): Yale University Press, 2002

Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Du miel aux cendres. Mythologiques II, Paris: Plon, 1966

Platon, Œuvres complètes – Tome 1, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris: Gallimard, 1950

Roden, David, ‘Posthumanism: Critical, Speculative, Biomorphic’, in Jacob Wamburg and Mads Thomsen (eds.), The Bloomsbury Handbook of Posthumanism, London: Bloomsbury, 2020

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Œuvres complètes III, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris: Gallimard, 1964

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Essai sur l’origine des Langues, texte intégral reproduit d’après l’édition A. Belin de 1817, Bibliothèque du Graphe (no indication of date or place) 

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5 réponses à “Humanism and its Discontents. The Rise of Transhumanism and Posthumanism – Introduction

  1. Avatar de pierre guillemot
    pierre guillemot

    J’avais acheté le livre dès juin 2022, sur la foi du nom qui figure en tête des métadonnées. Très cher, je n’avais jamais encore acheté un livre en édition Kindle pour 74 euros. Le contenu a été trop dur à assimiler pour mon cerveau dégradé par l’âge et les mauvaises pratiques. J’ai donc lu Raymond Moody, Life after Life et la suite, y compris le miroir qui fait revenir les êtres aimés. Je vais me remettre au transhumanisme avec un sentiment d’urgence très atténué.

  2. Avatar de Le Coz
    Le Coz

    Et l’homme total de Karl Marx ?

  3. Avatar de Pascal

     » le botaniste Boris Presseq : « On protège toujours un peu mieux ce qu’on connaît… à partir du moment où on nomme quelque chose, on lui donne une existence ».  »
    Si chacun peut s’accorder sur la première proposition, on peut questionner la seconde : à partir du moment où on nomme quelque chose, on lui donne une existence . N’est-ce pas là, la croyance dont nous héritons en bons fils de Descartes.
    Pourtant, peut on considèrer que pour les êtres dépourvus de la parole, rien n’existerait autour d’eux ? Notre première expérience du monde, comme chez l’enfant que nous avons été, n’est elle pas sensorielle avant que d’être mise en mots ?
    Si l’être humain est un livre, ce n’est pas seulement un livre de mots, c’est aussi un livre d’expériences. Combien avons nous eu chacun d’expériences que nous serions bien en mal de mettre en mots ? L’expérience n’est elle pas première avant les mots ?
    Qu’avons nous fait de nos sens et de notre perception directe du monde ? Ne l’avons nous pas oubliée plongé dans nos livres papier et maintenant derrière nos écrans ?
    L’être humain est un livre mais pas seulement de mots.

  4. Avatar de BasicRabbit

    Euh… On annonce ici trois commentaires … et il n’ y en a que deux, alors que parmi les commentaires récents on annonce un commentaire de Pascal…

    1. Avatar de JMarc

      Et maintenant 4 annoncés, 3 affichés. J’ai déjà remarqué ces décalages sur plusieurs fils, qui me semblaient se résorber ultérieurement (sans en être sûr). Un pb qui se résout lors d’actualisations par le webmaster ?

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