JCU Professor Stefan Lorenz Sorgner on Posthuman Philosophies
JCU Philosophy Professor Stefan Lorenz Sorgner was invited to write an article on posthuman philosophies for the most recent issue of Civiltà delle macchine, an Italian magazine “that can help us understand, learn about and interpret modernity.” The magazine is issued by the ‘Fondazione Leonardo,’ an institution that aims to promote dialogue with civil society, enhance cultural heritage, and spread knowledge.
“Posthuman philosophies” is an umbrella term used to indicate various theories, such as Posthumanism, Metahumanism, and Transhumanism. A posthuman perspective critically questions Humanism and challenges the notion that humans are and always will be the only agents of the moral world. Posthuman thinkers argue that in our technologically mediated future, understanding the world as a moral hierarchy and placing humans at the top of it will no longer make sense.
In the article, called ‘Postumanesimo, metaumanesimo, transumanesimo: come andare oltre l’umano’ (Posthumanism, Metahumanism, Transhumanism: How to Go Beyond the Human), Professor Sorgner explains the differences between the three philosophies. However, he also touches on the similarities between them. All three use the term “posthuman,” but as Professor Sorgner explains, each variant attributes a slightly different meaning to it. Moreover, all three posthuman philosophical approaches share the objective of challenging Humanism, a branch of humanist philosophy which claims that human nature is a universal state from which the human being emerges. Lastly, they all consider the potential impact of emerging technologies.
One of the differences is the cultural background from which each posthuman philosophy developed. Posthumanism, a term coined in 1977 by Ihab Hassan, an Egyptian-born American literary theorist and writer, is based on postmodern theories, particularly those by French philosophers Giles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Transhumanism dates back to a 1951 article by English evolutionary biologist, eugenicist, and first General Director of UNESCO Julian Huxley, and is rooted in Anglo-American evolutionary tradition. Metahumanism has strong ties with Heraclitus and Nietzsche and was developed by Jaime del Val, a transdisciplinary media artist, philosopher and activist, and Professor Sorgner.
Critical Posthumanism rejects dualism, anthropocentrism, essentialism, and hierarchy among other things. Transhumanism focuses on the potential use of technology to transcend human limitations, as that would increase the possibilities for people to have a better life. This includes the idea of an uploaded mind, or the emergence of a new enhanced human species, both of which could be made possible through microchips installed in the human body and genetic engineering. Metahumanism represents an alternative approach that’s between Posthumanism and Transhumanism.
The world’s most dangerous idea
Defined “the world’s most dangerous idea” by American political scientist, political economist, and writer Francis Fukuyama, Transhumanism is increasingly attracting the public’s attention. American author Dan Brown portrays Transhumanism in a positive light in his 2013 novel Inferno, and the movie Transcendence (2014) and several television series such as The Big Bang Theory, Westworld, Altered Carbon, and Black Mirror touch on transhumanist ideas. In late 2014 in the United States, transhumanist Zoltan Istvan announced that he was running for President of the United States in the 2016 election. He ran for his own Transhumanist Party to raise awareness for transhumanist political issues.
“Intellectual, artistic and scientific cooperation is necessary to tackle the impact of emerging technologies,” said Professor Sorgner. “Intellectuals from various traditions and disciplines need to come together and discuss the most urgent social, cultural, and ethical contemporary issues using different approaches to try to solve them,” he added.
On June 11, 2020, Professor Sorgner was interviewed by David Orban, a Faculty member of Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity University. The interview was streamed live on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Watch a recording of the interview.
At JCU, students have the opportunity to take the ground-breaking introductory course on Posthuman Studies taught by Professor Sorgner, in which the great variety of impacts of emerging technologies on various aspects of our lifeworld are discussed.
About the author
Stefan Lorenz Sorgner teaches philosophy at John Cabot University in Rome and is director and co-founder of the Beyond Humanism Network, Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), and Research Fellow at the Ewha Institute for the Humanities at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.