Ethical Posthumanism: That There Can Be More, Composing, 22/04/2014

It’ll take a while to get there, but it’s coming.

Some of the people I’ve recently consulted with on my Ecophilosophy project have given me very interesting, but unexpected feedback. Most of the unexpected feedback I’ve gotten about the project has to do with suggestions to include particular ideas that seemed natural to them, and as I think about them, they have a curious origin.

The most common kind of feedback I get on my article and book manuscripts are questions about why I didn’t include some particular philosopher. Some of the first editorial feedback I got on the Ecophilosophy project was a suggestion that I read Nicholas Agar. He’s a New Zealander professor who specializes in environmental moral and political philosophy, and wrote a short book that I quite enjoyed. I incorporated some ideas of his 2001 book Life’s Intrinsic Value into the first chapter of the manuscript. 

Nicholas Agar wrote a later book that
critiqued philosophical transhumanism,
which I'd probably enjoy, and I'd agree
with a lot of it. I haven't read it, though.
But I found his ideas couldn’t take on the more central role to the argument that my consultant felt they should. While my own project engages with the long-standing debate over the intrinsic value of nature, it isn’t a work of value theory as such. Really, the manuscript only touches on value theory long enough to describe its tools as inadequate to a task that requires a larger redefinition of how we understand the world and act in it. The core conceit of the Ecophilosophy manuscript is that people who think as we do are never going to be able to accept that nature itself has some form of value intrinsically, or at least without necessary dependence on human evaluation. But the manuscript isn’t about to resurrect any imagined Edenic perspective of semi-vanished indigenous people. Pretty much anytime an indigenous person shows up in environmental moral philosophy as an idealized figure, the atmosphere gets way too racist for me.

The basic point of the Ecophilosophy manuscript is developing a conception of humanity and its place in the universe that encourages environmentalist activity while also preserving productive aspects of scientific and technological knowledge and practice. This was the point that my most recent consultant made when he pointed me toward the posthumanists, particularly Rosi Braidotti. I’ve only just started exploring her work, but I already find it rather fascinating. I can understand why I had never discovered her work before — it’s rooted in the feminist philosophical traditions that I rarely exposed myself to in my undergraduate years, and that after those years I felt too embarrassed until now to plunge into for the first time. However, because we both lean on Gilles Deleuze as a significant conceptual influence, so in this regard at least, she’s a fellow traveller. Instead of incorporating her into an early chapter for the sake of criticizing, as I did with Agar’s work, she can instead supplement my final conclusions. Precisely how, I’m still figuring out, but I think this is the direction I’m going in.

I didn’t know it when I started the project, but I suppose it makes me a transhumanist of a sort. I say ‘of a sort’ because, as with most labels I temporarily adopt, my own version of it is so singular and, to a degree, idiosyncratic, that describing myself with that term misleads you about what I actually think instead of helping explain it. Transhumanism often revolves around embracing technology to overcome our human and organic limitations, essentially to become supermen. That’s the cartoonishly simple version, anyway. 

My own work is better characterized as posthuman. As a slogan, I could call it ethical post-humanism. The typical transhumanist conceives of human transformation using technological modification. I consider it important for humanity to change how we understand ourselves, to begin an ethical transformation.

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