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The boundaries of the ethical have traditionally coincided with the boundaries of humanity. This, however, is no longer the case. Scientific developments, such as genetic engineering, stem-cell research, cloning, the Human Genome Project, new paleontological evidence, and the rise of neuropsychology call into question the very notion of human being and thus require a new conceptual map for ethical judgment. The contours of this map may be seen to emerge in works of science fiction (SF), which not only vividly dramatize the implications and consequences of new technologies and discoveries, but also exert a powerful influence on culture, creating a feedback loop of images and ideas. This essay focuses on three SF topoi: the human/animal evolutionary boundary; non-biological subjectivity (AI); and the human/alien interaction. It explores each of these topoi in a selection of SF texts, including novels by H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Stephen Baxter, William Gibson, Stanislaw Lem and others, showing how the boundaries of humanity are expanded and then exploded through the radical subversion of the tenets of liberal humanism.
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The European Legacy, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 339–354, 2011
Science (Fiction) and Posthuman Ethics:
5Redefining the Human
ABSTRACT The boundaries of the ethical have traditionally coincided with the boundaries of humanity. This,
however, is no longer the case. Scientific developments, such as genetic engineering, stem-cell research, cloning,
the Human Genome Project, new paleontological evidence, and the rise of neuropsychology call into question
10 the very notion of human being and thus require a new conceptual map for ethical judgment. The contours
of this map may be seen to emerge in works of science fiction (SF), which not only vividly dramatize the
implications and consequences of new technologies and discoveries, but also exert a powerful influence on
culture, creating a feedback loop of images and ideas. This essay focuses on three SF topoi: the human/animal
evolutionary boundary; non-biological subjectivity (AI); and the human/alien interaction. It explores each of
15 these topoi in a selection of SF texts, including novels by H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Stephen Baxter,
William Gibson, Stanislaw Lem and others, showing how the boundaries of humanity are expanded and then
exploded through the radical subversion of the tenets of liberal humanism.
It is a commonplace that postmodernity is marked by the crisis of the liberal humanist
20 subject, the death of Man, as it is often dramatically called. And it is equally a
commonplace that the discourse of human rights has become central to ethical concerns
(or at least to the lip service policy-makers pay to such concerns). There is an
irreconcilable contradiction between these two trends. If we are—as so many
theoreticians of postmodernism argue—rapidly becoming posthuman, what is the
25 relevance of human rights ethics to the new subjects produced by scientific developments,
technological advances, and cultural shifts? Felipe Fernandez-Armesto succinctly
summarizes the situation: ‘‘Over the last thirty or forty years, we have invested an
enormous amount of thought, emotion, treasure, and blood in what we call human
values, human rights, the defense of human dignity and of human rights. Over the same
30 period, quietly but devastatingly, science and philosophy have combined to undermine
our traditional concept of humankind.’’
Traditionally, the boundaries of the ethical community have coincided with the
boundaries of humanity. This, however, is no longer the case. Scientific developments,
such as genetic engineering, stem-cell research, cloning, the Human Genome Project,
Department of English and American Studies, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel. Email:
ISSN 1084-8770 print/ISSN 1470-1316 online/11/030339–16 ß2011 International Society for the Study of European Ideas
DOI: 10.1080/10848770.2011.575597
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35 new paleontological evidence, and the rise of neuropsychology, do more than merely
pose new ethical challenges within the framework of stable moral precepts. They call into
question the very notion of the human being and thus require a radical restructuring
of the basis for moral judgment. Biomedical sciences, supported by the postmodern
Weltanschauung, have fundamentally changed the idea of the human subject: ‘‘the fact
40 remains that technology is rapidly making the concept of the ‘natural’ human obsolete.
We have now entered the realm of the posthuman, the debate over the identities and
values of what will come after human.’’
In this essay I argue that the ‘‘realm of the posthuman’’ requires a different
conceptual map from the one applicable to the ethical community of human beings.
45 The boundaries of humanity, always subject to conflicting political ideologies and
religious world-views, are now being eroded by advances in the bio-sciences and
informatics. Despite the well-meaning efforts of human rights activists, there is nothing
natural or self-evident about human rights because there is nothing natural or self-evident
about humanity. The rights—if any—of posthuman subjects must rest on a revision of the
50 fundamental criteria by which ethical status is ascribed to an entity; and the question
of what such criteria might be, is at the core of any debate on human rights in the
posthuman age.
While the question of posthuman ethics is debated across many discursive and
institutional sites, its most privileged arena is science fiction (SF). Not only does SF vividly
55 dramatize the implications and consequences of new technologies and new discoveries,
it is also a powerful influence upon culture, creating a feedback loop of images and ideas.
Many central concepts of posthumanism, such as cyborg, clone, android, human-animal
hybrid, and alien, originated in SF. As Sheryl Vint argues, ‘‘SF is particularly suited
to exploring the question of the posthuman because it is a discourse that allows us to
60 concretely imagine bodies and selves otherwise, a discourse defined by its ability to
estrange our commonplace perceptions of reality.’’
While there are many SF topoi relevant to the ethics of posthumanity, I will
concentrate on three: the human/animal evolutionary continuum; non-biological
subjectivity (AI); and the human/alien hybrid. In exploring each of the three in a
65 selection of relevant texts, I will show how the boundaries of humanity are first expanded
and then exploded through the radical subversion of the tenets of liberal humanism.
Whatever new ethics may emerge in the process will necessarily be based on the radical
restructuring of the notion of moral agency as to be hardly recognizable as such.
70 The posthuman subject is both a vision of the future and an echo of the past. A pivotal
moment in its history is marked by Michel Foucault’s striking statement in The Order
of Things: ‘‘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
75 a new form.’’
This statement bears the mark of Roland Barthes’s earlier critique of
‘‘universal human nature’’
in Mythologies, which, in turn, was a response to the utopian
ideas of the New Man, central to the early-twentieth-century ideologies of Nazism,
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Fascism, and Communism. Although the cultural genealogy of posthumanity is as
slippery and uncertain as the evolutionary history of humanity, one thing is certain:
80 posthumanity has arisen as a cultural response to the ideological, religious, and
philosophical attempts to police the borders of humankind.
In the twentieth century, this policing took the form of genocide and ethnic
cleansing both of which attempted to represent the victim as non-human. As Sam Keen
succinctly puts it in his pictorial guide Faces of the Enemy, the enemy is ‘‘the other.
85 The outsider. The alien. He is not human.’’
Such statements are often treated as empty
rhetoric but they are, in fact, a powerful linguistic tool for (re)drawing the boundaries
of our biological species and thus facilitating extreme violence. There is some biological
evidence that humans, much like other animals, possess genetic ‘‘brakes’’ when it comes
to killing members of their own species. Discourse, however, can easily override these
90 brakes by shifting the perceptual map of humanness. Once the enemy is perceived
as non-human, killing becomes easy.
In analyzing the Nazi biomedical discourse,
Robert Jay Lifton and Robert Proctor have shown how it misused anthropology and
genetics in order to represent the Jews as literally non-human, members of a parasitic alien
The same strategy of dehumanization operated, albeit in displaced and disguised
95 ways, in other twentieth-century genocidal regimes such as Stalin’s, Mao’s and Pol Pot’s.
With the rise of postmodernism as both a cultural episteme and a body of theory,
the question of posthumanism has become central to elaborating a new paradigm of social
relations that would undermine the old genocidal dichotomies, pitting ‘‘humanity,’’
in whatever way defined, against its enemies. In Donna Haraway’s influential ‘‘The
100 Cyborg Manifesto,’’ the posthuman (or ‘‘the cyborg’’ as she calls it) is a new modality
of human subjectivity linked to a utopian, socialist-feminist remaking of the world.
Haraway conceptualizes the cyborg as ‘‘a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and
organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived
social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction.’’
105 Cyborg is thus a social metaphor that represents the posthuman subject as polymorphous,
fragmented, multiple, transcending the dichotomies of organic and inorganic, human and
animal, male and female.
In The Inhuman Jean-Francois Lyotard raises a similar issue: ‘‘what if human beings,
in humanism’s sense of the word, were in the process of, constrained into, becoming
110 inhuman?’’
But both Lyotard and Haraway treat the posthuman as a textual construct,
a metaphor that reflects postmodernism’s radical questioning of the old verities of
humanism. For Lyotard, ‘‘the inhuman’’ has in fact always been with us: ‘‘what is proper
to humankind’’ is ‘‘inhabited’’ by the inhumanity of the social system as well as by the
secret otherness of the unconscious, ‘‘of which the soul is hostage.’’ Whereas Haraway
115 extensively draws upon genetics, evolutionary biology and medical prosthetics and
Lyotard addresses the possibility of an artificial manipulation of the human body and
mind, both are more interested in the philosophical and political redefinition of humanity
than in its actual, material remaking.
N. Katherine Hayles in How We Became Posthuman, however, links the
120 philosophical/political questioning of humanism with the sweeping advances in science,
particularly in cybernetics, genetic engineering and neuropsychology.
These advances
not only force us to abandon the bankrupt notion of ‘‘a universal human nature’’ but also
to consider the possibility of the actual production of subjectivities housed in bodies
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that are no longer recognizably human or even organic, such as genetically engineered
125 organisms or Artificial Intelligences (AIs).
The emergence of such subjects raises profound ethical and political issues. As
Thomas Foster points out, posthumanism may function in two politically contradictory
ways. There is the argument that ‘‘posthumanism has critical potential, that it is or can be
part of struggles for freedom and social justice, and the argument that posthumanism
130 dismisses such struggles or even makes them obsolete.’’
It is possible, however, to ask
an even more disturbing question: what if the ‘‘struggles for freedom and social justice’’
become politically unfeasible or undesirable in a posthuman world? And even if such
struggles are undertaken, the question is for whose freedom and justice will they be
135 The answers SF provides to such questions are as diverse as the genre itself.
However, because of its narrative architecture, SF is uniquely equipped to tackle the
problems that mainstream literature, with its focus on individual human interactions,
cannot adequately represent. Haraway thus singles out SF as a primary site for the
discursive production of posthumanity: ‘‘Contemporary science fiction is full of
140 cyborgs—creatures simultaneously animal and machine, who populate worlds ambigu-
ously natural and crafted.’’
These ‘‘crafted’’ fictional worlds differ from the magical worlds of fantasy in being
rational, logical, and consistent with the ethos of science. Darko Suvin’s famous definition
of SF describes the genre as ‘‘distinguished by the narrative dominance or hegemony
145 of a fictional ‘novum’ (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic.’’
What is
important is not that SF texts are based on specific scientifically-verifiable facts (most,
in fact, are not) but rather that they follow ‘‘the cognitive logic’’ of science by excluding
the magical, the supernatural, and the miraculous. The worlds of SF are not tilted toward
human wish-fulfillment; they seldom provide the reassuring sense of our centrality to the
150 universe. Instead, SF ‘‘is structured by its novum, a distancing element which forces
the reader to look at the basic narrative world from the estranged perspective of a new
And among those verities that SF estranges the most important is our concept
of humanity.
There are three ways in which SF can undermine the boundaries of humanity: from
155 below, at the evolutionary interface between Homo sapiens and our animal ancestors;
from above, in the confrontation with a disembodied artificial intelligence; and sideways,
in humanity’s conflict with an alien subjectivity that is opaque and incomprehensible
to us. Each case gives rise to specific ethical dilemmas.
160 In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle posits ethical behavior as a corollary of being biologically
For all things that have a function or activity, the good and the ‘well’ is thought to
reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function ...Life
seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man.
165 Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life
of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox, and every
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animal. There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle;
of this, one part has such a principle in the sense of being obedient to one, the other
in the sense of possessing one and exercising thought ...if this is the case, and we state
170 the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions
of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be the
good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed when it is
performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, human
good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue.
175 Aristotle, then, specifically excludes other living entities (despite their kinship with
humanity) from the ethical sphere. Only human beings can be ethical agents; and
whatever quality is thought to demarcate human beings from other animals demarcates
the ethical arena as well. And despite the profound changes in ethical concepts wrought
by Christianity, the dominant trends in Western moral thought seldom questioned
180 Aristotle’s restriction of ethics to biological humans.
This ‘‘homo-centric’’ concept of ethics has been attacked by Peter Singer and other
proponents of animal rights. Singer, author of the influential Animal Liberation, argues for
the extension of the utilitarian concept of interest to non-human species. Since all living
beings have vested interest in maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain, animals should be
185 accorded ethical consideration in proportion to their experiential capacity: ‘‘the capacity
for suffering’’ is ‘‘the vital characteristic that gives a being the right to equal
Singer’s argument circumvents the discourse of ‘‘rights’’ by focusing
instead on ‘‘interests’’ that humans and other animals share.
However, the problem of the boundaries of the human continues to plague Singer,
190 whose defense of animal rights rests on the fact that we afford ethical consideration to
those members of the human species who lack Aristotle’s ‘‘rational principle’’: babies,
children, and the mentally disabled. On what grounds, then, can we deny the same
consideration to the great apes that have a greater intellectual capacity than a newborn?
We can do so only on the grounds of ‘‘speciesism,’’ an ideological prejudice akin to
195 racism and sexism. In his debate with Richard Posner (Slate, 2001), Singer succinctly
summarizes this point:
What ethically significant feature can there be that all human beings but no nonhuman
animals possess? We like to distinguish ourselves from animals by saying that only
humans are rational, can use language, are self-aware, or are autonomous. But these
200 abilities, significant as they are, do not enable us to draw the requisite line between
all humans and nonhuman animals. For there are many humans who are not rational,
self-aware, or autonomous, and who have no language ...Like racists and sexists,
speciesists say that the boundary of their own group is also a boundary that marks
off the most valuable beings from all the rest.
205 In his response to Singer, Posner appealed to the gut feeling that a child is more valuable
than a chimp—a dangerous argument since many people’s guts just as unequivocally tell
them, for example, that a man is more valuable than a woman.
But since it is impossible to afford equal ethical rights to all living beings, the issue
of boundaries cannot be avoided. Singer postulates an alternative community that
210 includes many nonhuman animals but, at least theoretically, excludes some members of
our own species. If sentience is the criterion, then, as Singer puts it, ‘‘pigs count, but
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lettuces don’t. Pigs can feel pain and pleasure. Lettuces can’t.’’
But what if first-trimester
embryos, lacking a central nervous system, are substituted for the agricultural produce
in this statement? One hardly needs to revisit the violent history of the U.S. abortion wars
215 to see that it becomes political dynamite.
The criterion of sentience is inevitably based on the evolutionary closeness of to our
own species. Singer’s repeated attempts to have the great apes recognized as ethical
subjects rest on our close evolutionary kinship with them, which enables us to deduce
their feelings from their behavior and to ascribe similar ‘‘interests’’ to them. But if
220 instrumental intelligence is taken into account, ants and bees have a greater claim that
chimps and bonobos. It follows that if the boundaries of the ethical community are to be
redrawn so as to include (some) animals, one has to contend with Aristotle’s assertion that
man is ‘‘a certain kind of life’’ and to ask what kind of life that is.
Since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) and particularly The Descent
225 of Man (1871), scientists and philosophers have recognized the evolutionary continuity
between humans and animals and have grappled with its ethical implications. T. H.
Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics (1895) paradoxically argues that humanity’s ‘‘State of Art’’
(civilization) seamlessly merges with the ‘‘State of Nature’’ and yet constitutes a separate
ethical domain in which the amoral laws of survival and adaptation do not apply.
230 Huxley’s student, H. G. Wells, explored this ethical paradox of continuity in his
SF masterpieces. The Time Machine (1895) depicts the gradual devolution of humanity
into two animal species that are as brutally innocent in their mutual dependency and
predation as foxes and hares. But it is The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), the true precursor
of posthumanist SF, that Wells represents posthuman subjects as embodying the
235 evolutionary continuum and asks how and why this continuum is ‘‘sliced’’ into the moral
State of Art and the amoral State of Nature.
Dr. Moreau creates pseudo-humans by brutally vivisecting animals—bears, leopards,
monkeys, goats—and then imposes upon them a harsh Law, which prevents their mutual
predation. His creatures eventually revolt, kill their deified torturer, and then gradually
240 slide back into their original animality. This novel has been read in many ways: as
a parable of ‘‘mad science,’’ as a postcolonial fable, and as a condemnation of the
protofascist ‘‘biological sublime.’’ But while most readings focus on the pain Moreau
inflicts on his subjects, an important aspect of the novel deals with their acquisition and
subsequent loss of self-awareness.
245 Dr. Moreau’s Law is oppressive and grotesque and yet the Beast-Folk devoutly
memorize and attempt to keep it even after Moreau is killed. The Law is unnatural
because it prevents them from fulfilling their natural function of predation, yet it is ethical
for the same reason. Prendick, the narrator, is profoundly ambivalent in his attitude to the
Law, repulsed by it and yet horrified when the Beast-Folk abandon it and begin to prey
250 upon each other. As they gradually lose the power of speech and their self-awareness,
Prendick becomes indifferent and remote. When the still-rational Leopard-Man kills
another creature, Prendick sees it as murder; but when the devolved Beast-Folk, who
have forgotten the Law, hunt each other down, he regards it as part of nature’s
meaningless cycle of survival.
255 Dr. Moreau is a demented demiurge who epitomizes the cruel paradox of natural
selection: the gift of self-consciousness is bought with pain and suffering. In the 1933
Introduction to his collected SF novels, Wells describes evolution as ‘‘the aimless torture
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in creation.’’
But while Dr. Moreau himself is evil, his gift of language and self-
awareness is priceless. Thus the Beast-Folk’s liberation is a tragedy because they relapse
260 into the silence and indifference of Nature.
Wells never wavers from his Darwinian belief in the seamless continuity of human
and animal. The Beast-Folk are an embodiment of this continuity, animals temporarily
endowed with cerebral powers through a brutally physical procedure. And yet these
powers effect a startling change in their ethical status: from objects of pity, they—for a
265 time—become subjects responsible for their own destiny. This is powerfully dramatized
in the scene in which Prendick overhears the screams of a vivisected panther that
gradually become human sobs. Emotionally, the effect of the sounds of pain on him is
the same whether the creature is animal or human but, ethically, he feels compelled
to intervene, even at the risk of his own life, only when the sounds become articulate.
270 Contra Singer, the capacity to feel pain is not enough to cement an ethical community of
humans and animals.
In his SF masterpiece Sirius (1944), Olaf Stapledon develops Wells’ theme by
exploring another taboo frontier: interspecies sex. The dog named Sirius is a fully rational
and self-aware subject, the unique product of a scientific experiment, brought up, like
275 a reverse Mowgli, in a human family together with his future lover, the girl Plaxy. The
novel is one of the most successful and subtle explorations of the nature of consciousness
and of the interaction between genetic attributes and cultural imperatives (Sirius, brought
up on the upper-class English cultural diet, strives to reconcile his love of classical music
with his canine hearing and the Renaissance ideal of beauty with his predilection for
280 San Bernard bitches). His love for Plaxy, as hers for him, is based not on the biological
imperatives of reproduction but on the complex interplay of affection, sympathy, and
Like the Beast-Folk, Sirius shifts the terrain of the ethical debate from the quibbles
about human rights to the quandary of what it means to be human. In his canine shape,
285 Sirius is no more—and no less—at home in the natural world as we are in our simian
bodies, both being the products of the blind experimentation of natural selection.
He goes through a complex moral bildungsroman, alternatively embracing and rejecting
human culture; killing a man and suffering pangs of conscience; devoted to Plaxy yet
tempted away from her by his instinctive attraction to bitches whom he despises for their
290 lack of intelligence.
Inspired by Darwinism, The Island of Dr Moreau and Sirius reject the nature/culture
dichotomy. But they do so in a way strikingly different from our present-day animal-
rights and deep ecology movements, with their valorization of nature. Rather, both
novels exhibit similarities with contemporary sociobiology and evolutionary psychology,
295 which strive to understand the biological roots of mental and psychological human
attributes. Following Huxley’s tradition and foreshadowing E. O. Wilson’s and Richard
Dawkins’ theories, Wells and Stapledon emphasize both the evolutionary continuity
between human and animals and the unnaturalness of ethics, which cannot be tied to
humanity’s biological definition.
300 However, in their narrative form both novels privilege the human viewpoint.
Both are narrated by first-person human witnesses who cannot penetrate the experiential
world of the posthuman character, just as we cannot penetrate the experiential world
of animals. This narrative ‘‘opacity’’ of posthuman subjects limits the reader’s emotional
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investment in, and identification with, them. Postmodern SF, however, has developed
305 narrative techniques that enable such identification, moving the figure of the posthuman
to the center of the text. A striking example of such techniques is found in Stephen
Baxter’s novel Evolution (2002). While informed by the latest paleontological discoveries
and evolutionary scenarios, it is as resolutely Darwinian in its ethical outlook as Wells’ and
Stapledon’s novels.
310 Evolution is an attempt to represent the entire evolutionary course of humanity’s
development, from its remote insectivore ancestors to its equally remote possible
descendants. The book begins 145 million years before the present, with the carnivorous
dinosaurs of Pangaea, Earth’s single giant landmass before the continental drift tore it
apart, and ends 500 million years after the present, when the remote descendants of Homo
315 sapiens are balls of orange-red fur, living in mindless symbiosis with highly evolved trees
on a new Pangaea. This is possibly the greatest temporal span ever covered by a work of
fiction. Baxter devises a narrative frame which simultaneously makes this incredible time-
span humanly comprehensible and yet creates the effect of estrangement. The novel is a
series of vignettes, each focalized through a single character, only very few of whom
320 are human. The use of focalization, rather than first-person narration, enables the
omniscient narrator to introduce the relevant biological information about each creature
and to circumvent the fact that most of them do not possess any form of language.
But since in each vignette the reader is made to see through the eyes of the focalizer
and to identify with her/his predicament (for sound biological reasons, most of Baxter’s
325 characters are female), we have a much greater insight into their pre- and posthuman
sensibilities than a purely human point of view would enable. For example, in ‘‘The
Crossing,’’ taking place 35 million years ago, the odyssey of a small anthropoid called
Roamer, crossing the primordial ocean clinging to an accidental raft to land in the
New World, is conveyed through a series of emotional states—pain, pleasure, fear,
330 relief—that draw on our commonality with animals. At the same time, the narrator often
withdraws from Roamer’s limited sensorium to convey information about her kind
and its future. This alternating point of view is perfectly adapted to what Suvin describes
as the artistic goal of SF: cognitive estrangement, a combination of the sense of wonder
and intellectual engagement. Roamer’s intense awareness of her own kind is conveyed
335 through a striking simile: ‘‘Roamer was aware of the rest of her troop as if they were a
series of Chinese lanterns stuck in the foliage, diminishing the rest of the world to a dull,
mute grayness.’’ And yet immediately after this intimate inner image, the narrator
describes Roamer from the outside, in neutral, scientific terms: ‘‘She looked something
like a capuchin, the organ-grinder monkey that would one day roam the forests of
340 South America ...She weighed a couple of kilograms, and she was covered in dense
black fur.’’
One might object that Evolution merely deploys anthropomorphism, much like a
traditional animal fable. However, the difference is that the novel gradually closes the gap
between the (non-human) focalizer and the (human) narrator. As we enter recorded
345 history, this gap disappears, only to widen again as civilization crumbles under the weight
of climate change and humans rediscover that ‘‘they were still, after all, just animals
embedded in an ecosystem; and as it died back, so did they.’’
In its very narrative form, the novel inscribes its central Darwinian insight: that
humans are animals, differentiated only by ‘‘imperceptible gradations’’ (Darwin’s favorite
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350 expression) from their non-rational ancestors and possible descendants. And yet, in that
brief interval in which a specifically human history plays itself out, humans are ethical
agents. In the vignette set after the collapse of civilization, a couple of modern humans
wake up from cold sleep into a world in which their descendants have begun their
devolutionary journey into the loss of language and self-consciousness. One of them
355 encounters a semi-human female and like Wells’ Time Traveler in The Time Machine,
realizes he is dealing with a creature straddling the boundary between human and animal.
He treats her wounds and releases her from a snare, even though she can no longer
apprehend their kinship or respond with anything other than fear. But this last flicker
of ethics dies out in a changed world, and in the subsequent vignettes, humanity is once
360 again relegated to the disembodied voice of the narrator, describing the world without
human beings. The somber tone of these last chapters echoes the pessimism of
‘‘Evolution and Ethics’’ and The Time Machine:‘...Makes you think brief it all
was. There was a moment when there were minds there to understand: to change things,
to build. Now it’s gone, evaporated, and we’re back to this: living as animals, just another
365 beast in the ecology. Just raw, unmediated existence.’’
Evolutionary posthumanism has been accused of ethical nihilism. Abjuring both the
pseudo-religious hierarchies of liberal humanism and deep ecology’s worship of nature,
sociobiology seems to have nothing to offer as a foundation for ethical thought. In River
Out of Eden Richard Dawkins describes the world as revealed by evolutionary science:
370 ‘‘the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at
bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless
Sociobiologist Michael Sherman tries to counter Dawkins’ nihilism
with the theory that moral universals are grounded in evolutionary adaptation: ‘‘moral
sentiments and behaviors exist beyond us, as products of an impersonal force called
375 evolution’’ and are, therefore, binding.
However, apart from the fact that many
scientists seriously doubt that moral codes are adaptive in Sherman’s narrow sense, he
commits the classic mistake of confusing ‘‘the is’’ with ‘‘the ought.’’ More than a hundred
years ago, Huxley critiqued the fallacy that evolution offers a substantive guide to human
behavior, arguing that the evolutionary process is non-teleological, amoral, and
380 contingent—or, in another of Dawkins’ memorable phrases, it is ‘‘the blind watch-
maker.’’ Similarly, Michael Ruse argues that ‘‘Darwinian evolutionary biology is
nonprogressive, pointing away from the possibility of our knowing objective
morality ...I argue strongly that Darwinian evolutionary theory leads one to a moral
skepticism, a kind of moral nonrealism.’’
385 However, the Darwinian erasure of the biological boundaries of humanity does
suggest a more complex and nuanced approach to ethics, which rests not on absolute
precepts of any kind but on gradation and choice. In other words, since Darwinism
indicates that there is no such thing as ‘‘pure’’ humanness, there can be no ‘‘pure’’ human
rights. But while Darwinism denies the difference in kind between humans and other
390 animals, it does not deny the difference in degree. Singer’s animal-rights ethics simply
collapses the hierarchy of liberal humanism. But posthuman ethics—as adumbrated in
Darwin and Huxley, and as narrativized in the SF of Wells, Stapledon, Baxter and many
others—suggests that an alternative hierarchy can be created, in which regardless of their
biological classification, self-conscious subjects, by virtue of their status as ethical agents,
395 possess rights that other entities do not. Giovanni Bonioli argues that ethics is much more
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flexible and culturally-dependent than Sherman’s strict evolutionism would suggest:
while moral capacity is the result of evolutionary processes, moral judgments are not.
But this moral capacity, while an unintended and perhaps even accidental by-property
of our large brains, enables us to be moral agents: ‘‘We can both formulate and apply
400 moral judgment and behave accordingly only because we are animals that have
reached a suitable cerebral-mental evolutionary stage (we possess the enabling
conditions).’’ And these enabling conditions are not the exclusive property of our
biological species: ‘‘The moral capacity is an evolutionary outcome that occurred in the
phylogenesis of Homo sapiens, but it could occur also in the phylogenesis of other
405 living beings.’’
In the Epilogue to Evolution, a human mother and daughter discuss the dim
prospects of Homo sapiens after the climate catastrophe. The mother knows that our
posthuman descendants will adapt, even though it might cost them their intelligence
(as eventually happens in the book). And yet, she is still entranced by the sublimity of
410 evolution, its perpetually unfolding story: ‘‘in my glimpses of the great encompassing
mechanism that has shaped us all, I’ve seen a little of the numinous.’’ Her hope is that
‘‘however cruel the process of evolution might seem to us, something new and in some
sense better than us might some day come out of it.’’
This is not what happens in either Wells’ or Baxter’s future scenarios: their
415 posthumans are pitiful animals barely surviving in the changed environment. But in other
SF texts, this ‘‘something new’’ is indeed a posthuman subject who retains and even
enhances the human moral capacity albeit in a way that would appear to most of us
frightening or revolting. This is particularly true of the texts that abandon the ‘‘blind
watchmaker’’ of natural selection in favor of the sighted watchmaker of human
420 technology that creates new, disembodied subjects: the AIs.
The Turing test is the procedure devised by the computer genius Alan Turing to see
whether a machine can think. Basically it amounts to the claim that if a software
program can fool a human interlocutor into believing that it is self-conscious, then it is
425 self-conscious. Such a radical reduction of consciousness and agency to performance
evokes the fears of the loss of the Real, articulated in Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the
But if Baudrillard’s writing is informed by a Luddite nostalgia for the
pre-technological age, postmodernity has to come to grips with the fact that some future
AIs may in fact be ethical subjects and thus possess the rights that have hitherto belonged
430 only to biological humans. The question is: which rights?
The ethical boundary explored through the figure of the AI is to be drawn not
across the temporal axis of descent but rather across the spatial continuum of imitation.
In his collection of philosophical fables Cyberiad, Stanislaw Lem articulates the ethical
dilemma inherent in the concept of simulacra. Two robotic constructors Trurl and
435 Klapaucius discuss the miniature model of a populous kingdom Trurl created for the
amusement of a deposed tyrant. The model is so perfect that its nano-inhabitants do all
the things that the tyrant’s long-suffering subjects used to do: cry for mercy, mutter
in discontent, resign themselves and obey. Trurl believes that he has found an ethically
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harmless way to keep the tyrant happy with his toy by deflecting his attention from ‘‘real’’
440 people. Klapaucius, however, is horrified: ‘‘You gave that brutal despot, that born
slave master ...a whole civilization to rule and have dominion forever?’’
When Trurl
objects that this is only a model, Klapaucius questions the difference between original
and copy:
If an imperfect imitator, wishing to inflict pain, were to build himself a crude idol of
445 wood or wax ...his torture of the thing would be a paltry mockery indeed!
But consider a succession of improvements in this practice! Consider the next sculptor,
who builds a doll with a recording in its belly ...consider a doll which, when beaten,
begs for mercy ...consider a doll that sheds tears, a doll that bleeds, a doll that fears
death ...Don’t you see, when the imitator is perfect, so must be the imitation, and
450 the semblance becomes the truth, the pretense a reality ...[A] sufferer is one who
hands you his suffering, that you may touch it ...; a sufferer is one who behaves like
a sufferer!
The ethical dilemma of the perfect copy is explored in Philip K. Dick’s novel
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and in the film Blade Runner (1982), based
455 on it. The film’s replicants are simulacra of human beings, whose rebellion against
the corporation that has made and enslaved them is represented with sympathy and
understanding. The revelation in the director’s cut that the film’s protagonist and
narrator—whose profession is to assassinate rogue replicants—is a replicant himself,
renders the ethical boundary between original and copy meaningless. Since replicants
460 behave like human beings, they are human beings.
However, there is an additional complication in the relationship of copy and
original. The replicants are not merely equal to humans, they are better than humans.
Their short life-span is a precaution against these artificial beings taking over. We see
this precaution as tyranny only because Blade Runner manipulates the audience’s
465 point of view by nudging us to identify with the replicants. But the genocidal history
of various self-declared Ubermenschen and New Men should make us wary of super-
In the SF written in the 1950s and 1960s, super-humans were almost always
represented as evil, largely because of the lingering shock of Nazism. And if a superior
470 intelligence was housed in an artificial body, free of the organic taint of deterioration
and mortality, it was even more frightening. In Harlan Ellison’s ‘‘I Have No Mouth and
I Must Scream’’ (1967), the omnipotent computer that calls itself AM destroys humanity
and eternally tortures the few survivors. Rather than a persecuted victim, the AI becomes
an evil god. The copy violently supplants the original.
475 But both victimhood and paranoia are insufficient responses to the ethical problems
posed by AI. The issue of the rights of simulacra ultimately rests on the question of
embodiment. The replicants are organic, though artificial, entities; they can be killed
and they die. Lem’s nano-slaves also possess bodies of sorts. But contemporary
AIs are basically software and, like any software, they can be downloaded, copied,
480 and moved from one receptacle to another. If so, what is the locus of their ethical
The problem posed by AI is the opposite of that posed by the evolutionary
continuity of human and animal. In the latter, the organic body, with its capacity for pain
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and mortality, may be used to ground ethical discourse, at the same time as it undermines
485 the connection between this discourse and humanness. Paraphrasing Jeremy Bentham’s
famous statement, the question is not whether they (posthuman subjects) can think but
whether they can suffer. But an informational simulacrum of consciousness may not be
able to suffer or to experience any bodily sensation whatsoever.
In William Gibson’s classic Neuromancer (1984), whose ‘‘cyberpunk’’ aesthetics has
490 largely shaped the contemporary environment of the Internet, the AIs Neuromancer
and Wintermute are remote, god-like intelligences that manipulate the actions of the
human characters in pursuit of their own goals. At the end of the novel, the two AIs
merge, creating an electronic equivalent of the omnipotent deity. This new entity pursues
its own incomprehensible goals in cyberspace, leaving Case, the cyber-cowboy who was
495 instrumental in its creation, to suffer the indignities of the ‘‘meat,’’ the imprisoning and
degrading physical body. Gibson’s AI is neither benevolent nor evil; its superhuman
abilities, however, set off the human corporeality as limiting and even degrading. The
ultimate success of the simulacrum lies not in supplanting the original but in making
the original look inferior. Neuromancer turns around Lem’s contention that a good
500 enough copy is as good as the original: for Gibson, a better copy makes the original
Hayles critiques cyberpunk’s disdain for the body, as expressed in the notion
of downloading a human consciousness into a computer, which possibility has been
seriously proposed by the scientist Hans Moravec, author of Mind Children (1988). Once
505 downloaded, of course, this consciousness would be as malleable as any piece of software,
capable of being modified, rewritten, copied, and so on. Hayles perceives this notion as
a fantasy of false transcendence, re-inscribing Cartesian dualism as a technological pipe
dream. But Foster argues that ‘‘it is also possible to read Moravec’s fantasy as an
imperfect ...response to the perception that it is necessary to relocate subjectivity in some
510 more complex spatial relation than it is possible when we imagine the body as container
for mind or self.’’
Thus the notion of a disembodied AI challenges both the mind/body
duality and the impulse to collapse the two.
It is in this very challenge that a new ethics for humanism becomes possible—not on
the biological level of suffering, as in Singer’s discourse of animal liberation—but on the
515 cybernetic level of cognition. There is no AI, as of now, capable of passing the Turing
test, nor is it technologically feasible even to approach the possibility of copying a human
mind into a computer or network. Theoretically, however, neither is impossible. Many
AI scientists confidently predict that Turing subjects will be a commonplace twenty
years from now. As with human-animal hybrids or human clones, the obstacles are often
520 ideological rather than practical: the persistence of the ethics of liberal humanism, which
is often reinforced by religious taboos.
In Greg Egan’s story ‘‘Chaff’’ the technology of rewiring humans’ mental software
renders human nature as ‘‘less than chaff in a breeze,’’ quoting Conrad’s Heart of
This intertextual reference brings back the historical memory of the horrors
525 unleashed by twentieth-century attempts to police the boundaries of humanity. AIs,
replicants, virtual inhabitants of a computer, may be ‘‘mere’’ simulacra. But in affording
ethical primacy to the original over the copy, we risk the same blindness as Marlow, who,
in perceiving the Africans merely as inferior simulacra of the white man, cannot recognize
their personhood.
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Perhaps the most challenging topos in SF is the representation of a truly alien subjectivity.
Both animals and AIs share mental and physical features with humans, whether as a result
of common descent or conscious design. But it is hard to even begin to imagine an
intelligence that is qualitatively different from ours. SF’s primary artistic goal is to create
535 fictional worlds ‘‘that are ...radically distanced or estranged from any collaborative effort
of world construction outside their own modal intertext.’’
However, these fictional
worlds are always, in some way, rooted in a shared reality, so the genre has to perform
a balancing act between the strange and the familiar.
Some critics argue that aliens in SF are only more or less sophisticated disguises
540 of disenfranchised and marginalized human groups, such as women, minorities, or gays,
and see the genre’s critical function as writing ‘‘the narrative of the same, as other.’’
not all SF aliens are transparently allegorical as the blue-skinned Native Americans
in Avatar. Stanislaw Lem, arguably the greatest SF writer of the last century, criticized
Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 soppy adaptation of his novel Solaris (1961) precisely on the
545 grounds of trying to find ‘‘human interest’’ in a text that is not about human beings at all:
Indeed, in ‘‘Solaris’’ I attempted to present the problem of an encounter in Space with
a form of being that is neither human nor humanoid. Science fiction almost always
assumed the aliens we meet play some kind of game with us the rules of which we
sooner or later may understand (in most cases the ‘‘game’’ was the strategy of warfare).
550 However I wanted to cut all threads leading to the personification of the Creature, i.e.
the Solarian Ocean, so that the contact could not follow the human, interpersonal
pattern—although it did take place in some strange manner.
In Solaris, as in Lem’s other novels of alien contact, Eden (1959) and Fiasco (1989), the
alien is totally Other, opaque and impenetrable. Lem eschews not only easy
555 humanizations of the alien through familiar physical forms but also subtler narrative
humanizations, which inevitably occur when an alien subjectivity is presented through
first-person narration or internal focalization. Lem’s aliens are often situated outside
language or on the very boundary between language and silence.
Parallel to the artistic and cognitive difficulty of envisioning and/or understanding
560 the totally Other is the ethical difficulty of judging the actions of non-human agents.
The planet-wide ocean in Solaris that tortures the human characters by materializing
their traumatic memories and fantasies, the ‘‘doublers’’ in Eden who fill their planet with
mass graves, the enigmatic Quintians in Fiasco who rebuff all attempts at communication
while engaging in suicidal violence—all are ‘‘evil’’ according to human ethics. Lem’s
565 great achievement is that he inverts the formula of xenophobia—different equals evil—
suggesting instead that what we consider evil may be just a particular case of different.
In each novel, the sheer frustration of dealing with a totally opaque subjectivity
causes one of the human characters to suggest some radical method of purification:
destroying the ocean, bombing Eden or Quintia. In each novel, this suggestion is
570 represented as an irrational counsel of despair and is ultimately rejected. However, there is
no attempt to bring together the human and alien points of view or to indicate that the
apparent evil of the aliens is the result of human misunderstanding. At most, as in Solaris,
the actions of the godlike ocean may be seen as beyond good and evil. The inhabitants
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of Eden and Quintia, while biologically closer to us, are engaged in actions that from
575 a human ethical standpoint appear to be absolutely destructive. But since we cannot
know the meaning of these actions for the aliens themselves, ethical judgment appears
stalemated by cognitive failure.
Nevertheless, a way out of this stalemate is suggested by the character of Hari in
Solaris. She is an artificial being created by the ocean according to the protagonist Kris
580 Kelvin’s memory blueprint of his dead lover, whom he drove to suicide. Suffering from
remorse, Kelvin initially regards Hari purely as the ocean’s means of torturing him, that is,
as possessing an instrumental rather than intrinsic value. The first time she appears,
he therefore kills her without any compunction, only to find out that she (or at least
aHari) always comes back. Interestingly, this is also how she initially describes herself—as
585 a sort of pseudo-human veneer over the unfathomable will of the ocean, into which her
own self-awareness, such as it is, has no access. Although she gradually develops, seeming
to acquire a true subjectivity, she remains opaque to us because Kris narrates the story
in the first person. But Hari’s final suicide at least indicates some moral agency, since she
refuses to be an instrument of the ocean’s will. Ironically, she demonstrates her freedom
590 of choice by replicating the action of her original.
Hari is a mediator, straddling the boundary between human and alien. She herself
is the Other for Kris, but beyond her stands the absolute Otherness of the ocean.
It is through her mediation that ‘‘some kind of contact’’ is established at the end, though
it occurs neither on the cognitive nor on the ethical plane, but as a quasi-religious
595 epiphany. Lacking such mediation, both Eden and Fiasco end with the total failure
of understanding and engagement.
The human-alien hybrid is found throughout SF: for example, in Octavia Butler’s
Lilith’s Brood trilogy (2000), the alien Oankali merge with the remnant of a devastated
humanity, and in Matthew Farrell’s Thunder Rift (2001), a human woman is taken in by a
600 conglomerate of alien species, to become part of another world’s ecosystem. That such
hybrids are often female, non-Western, or both, is not accidental: the social and political
Other often becomes a figure for the ontological Other with whom no meaningful
contact is possible.
The human-alien hybrid adumbrates a form of posthumanity which is beyond a
605 simple reversal and/or subversion of liberal humanism. Both the human-animal and the
human-machine boundary can be assimilated to the Cartesian duality. The Beast-Folk are
an image of the corporeality of the human subject, and the AI, of its rational mind.
But however imperfectly, the human-alien hybrid or mediator gestures toward a form of
Otherness that is altogether beyond humanism. In the necessary failure of representing
610 such an Other, SF demarcates the outer limit of an ethical discourse that is predicated on
the notion of ‘‘human’’ rights.
SF does not predict the future; it investigates the present. In elaborating posthuman
ethical scenarios, the genre confronts its readers with the fact that the Universal Man is
615 already dead. Human nature, Foucault’s ‘‘recent invention,’’ has been superseded by
cyborgs, gene-modified organisms, and distributed networks. The ethics appropriate to
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the age of posthumanity, however, has not yet emerged. Levinas’s ethics, with its respect
for, and humility in the face of, the Other, has been proposed as a candidate, but his
system is still anthropocentric: ‘‘Levinas’s ethics,’’ according to Silvia Benso, ‘‘retains
620 anthropologocentric features in its reading life still in terms of an opposition between
human and nonhuman, where the human logos of ethics is the defining factor.’’
Benso’s own suggestion of an ‘‘ethics of things,’’ however, risks the same vacuity as the
ethics of deep ecology or animal liberation: since it is impossible to afford equal ethical
consideration to everything, boundaries will have to be drawn somewhere.
625 The question of such boundaries is ultimately political. The battle between
humanism and posthumanism is as much a battle of political will as it is of philosophical
thought. However, in exploring the emerging modalities of the posthuman, SF indicates
that they all have something in common; and this common feature might, arguably,
be the basis for an ethical thinking that avoids both anthropocentrism and universalism.
630 This feature is moral agency. The Beast-Folk, in striving to fulfill the Law are ethical
subjects, but in degenerating into mere animals, are no longer so. Replicants and AIs
pursue their own goals, often inimical to humanity, and yet, in this pursuit, they commit
themselves to a set of binding rules. Ontological aliens, no matter how incomprehensible,
are not passive objects, but active subjects. Agency seems to be a corollary of self-
635 awareness, and, indeed, it is impossible to conceive of any ethical behavior that does not
involve consciousness of a self.
In ‘‘Toward a Posthuman Ethics’’ Dongshin Yi suggests a dialog between humans
and other self-conscious agents, ‘‘with their own ontology and ethics,’’ who can insist on
a ‘‘non-metaphorical relationship’’ of reciprocity and respect.
Such agents do not (yet)
640 exist. Or perhaps they do: as a potentiality of Homo sapiens whose biological and cultural
self-fashioning ceaselessly generates new modalities of subjectivity and consciousness.
In this sense, it would appear that the ethics and politics of posthumanity are already here,
with us, today.
1. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, So You Think You Are Human?: A Brief History of Humankind
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1.
2. Sheryl Vint, Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction (Toronto: University
of Toronto Press, 2007), 7.
650 3. Vint, Bodies of Tomorrow, 19.
4. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (1966) Trans. by
A. M. Sheridan Smith. (New York: Random House, 1974), xxiii.
5. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957), trans. Annette Lavers (London: Paladin Books, 1973),
655 6. Sam Keen, Faces of the Enemy: The Psychology of Enmity (New York: Harper & Row, 1988),
7. And, conversely, for a dedicated vegan or a loving pet-owner, animals, despite their biological
dissimilarity, become ‘‘humanized.’’
8. Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York:
660 Basic Books, 1986); Robert Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under Nazis (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1988).
9. Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York:
Routledge, 1991), 149.
Science (Fiction) and Posthuman Ethics: Redefining the Human 353
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10. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (1988), trans. Geoffrey Bennington
665 and Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), 2.
11. N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and
Informatics (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999).
12. Thomas Foster, The Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory (Minneapolis, MN:
University of Minnesota Press, 2005), xxvii.
670 13. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, 149.
14. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 65.
15. Carl D. Malmgren, Worlds Apart: Narratology of Science Fiction (Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press, 1991), 11.
675 16. Aristotle, Ethics, bk. 1,
17. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals (New York:
Random House, 1975), 8.
18.—.htm; accessed 12/7/10.
19. Ibid.
680 20. T. H. Huxley, Evolution and Ethics (1895) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).
21. H. G. Wells, The Scientific Romances of H. G. Wells with an Introduction by the Author (London:
V. Gollancz, 1933), 242–43.
22. Olaf Stapledon, Sirius (1944) (London: Victor Gollanz, 2000).
23. Stephen Baxter, Evolution (New York: Ballantine, 2002), 131.
685 24. Baxter, Evolution, 472.
25. Baxter, Evolution, 504.
26. Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 8.
27. Michael Sherman, The Science of Good and Evil (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004), 19.
28. Michael Ruse, ‘‘Is Darwinian Metaethics Possible (And If It Is, Is It Well Taken?),’’
690 in Evolutionary Ethics and Cotemporary Biology, ed. Giovanni Bonioli and Gabriele De Anna
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 25.
29. Giovanni Bonioli, ‘‘The Descent of Instinct and the Ascent of Ethics,’’ in Bonioli and
De Anna, Evolutionary Ethics and Cotemporary Biology, 37.
30. Baxter, Evolution, 577, 576.
695 31. Jean Baudrillard, ‘‘The Precession of Simulacra,’’ in A Postmodern Reader, ed. Joseph P. Natoli
and Linda Hutcheon (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993), 342–76.
32. Stanislaw Lem, The Cyberiad (1972), trans. Michael Kandel (New York: The Seabury Press,
1974), 166.
33. Lem, The Cyberiad, 168–69.
700 34. Philip K Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (New York: Del Rey Books, 1968).
35. Harlan Ellison, The Essential Ellison (Beverly Hills, CA: Morpheus International, 1991).
36. William Gibson, Neuromancer ((New York: Ace Books, 1984).
37. Foster, The Souls of Cyberfolk, 10.
38. Greg Egan, ‘‘Chaff,’’ in Our Lady of Chernobyl (Paramatta, Australia: MirrorDanse Books,
705 1995), 32.
39. Damien Broderick, Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (New York: Routledge,
1995), 49.
40. Broderick, Reading by Starlight, 51.
41. Stanislaw Lem, ‘‘The Solaris Station,’’
710 soderbergh/147-the-solaris-station; accessed 3/9/10.
42. Stanislaw Lem, Eden (1959), trans. Marc E. Heine (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1989); Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1961), trans. Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox (New York:
Walter & Co., 1970).
43. Silvia Benso, The Face of Things: A Different Side of Ethics (Albany, NY: State University of
715 New York Press, 2000), 43.
44. Yi Dongshin, ‘‘Toward A Posthuman Ethics,’’ Re/construction: Studies in Contemporary Culture
( January 2006).; accessed 4/9/2010.
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Posthuman affirmative ethics relies upon a fluid, nomadic conception of the ethical subject who develops affective, material and immaterial connections to multiple others. Our purpose in this paper is to consider what posthuman affirmative business ethics would look like, and to reflect on the shift in thinking and practice this would involve. The need for a revised understanding of human–animal relations in business ethics is amplified by crises such as climate change and pandemics that are related to ecologically destructive business practices such as factory farming. In this analysis, we use feminist speculative fiction as a resource for reimagination and posthuman ethical thinking. By focusing on three ethical movements experienced by a central character named Toby in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, we show how she is continually becoming through affective, embodied encounters with human and nonhuman others. In the discussion, we consider the vulnerability that arises from openness to affect which engenders heightened response-ability to and with, rather than for, multiple others. This expanded concept of subjectivity enables a more relational understanding of equality that is urgently needed in order to respond affirmatively to posthuman futures.
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Beauchamp and Childress proposed a theory of autonomous action that is currently considered the default concept of autonomy in bioethics. According to their theory, the following conditions need to be met for action to be truly autonomous: (i) the agent acts intentionally, (ii) with understanding, and (iii) without any controlling influences that determine their action. It has been established that the concept of default autonomy (DA) should be the basis of the doctor–patient relationship. The presented empirical study aims to assess the ability of Czech medical doctors to meet the concept of DA in ethically dilemmatic cases. Fifty-two out of sixty-nine cases were evaluated utilizing an interpretative phenomenological analysis and the Four Boxes model to determine whether (i) all cases met the criteria of default autonomy; (ii) if not, which criteria were omitted; and (iii) what was the most commonly omitted criterion of DA. Then we classified the cases into three categories based on the number of criteria fulfilled. We found that only 21% of cases met all three criteria of DA. The criteria omitted most frequently included intentionality (35%), understanding (26%), and voluntariness (25%). Twenty-one percent of cases were classified as a “white zone”, meaning that all criteria of DA were met; sixty percent of cases were classified as a “black zone”, where at least one criterion was not met; and nineteen percent of cases were classified as a “grey zone”, where we could not determine whether all criteria had been met or not.
The depiction of science in theatre has been widely acknowledged and debated, while discussion of science fiction in theatre remains limited. Specifically, plays which draw upon the practices of both sciences fact and fiction are typically viewed as examples of the former, with the latter’s influence elided. Nick Payne’s Elegy interrogates the evolution of medical treatment into the prevention of neurological diseases, depicting a future society where such disorders can be surgically cured. The play creatively expands upon modern scientific knowledge to imagine this future world, using a science-fictional lens to engage with current ethical stances regarding life, death and the line between both. However, critical reaction to the play focused predominantly on Elegy’s apparently factual foundations, as opposed to its combination of imagined and scientific aspects. This paper aims to encourage a more nuanced view of science fiction, and its relationship to science, in theatre. By placing Elegy in conversation with science fiction scholarship, and by drawing comparisons with specific areas of current scientific research in which charges of science-fictionality have encouraged engagement and funding opportunities, I propose a template for how theatre-makers and scholars can recognise the role that science fiction plays within contemporary performance.
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This article explores how the science-fictional figure of the metamorph can serve as a feminist figuration, a tool for rethinking structures for determining sameness and difference. The article offers close readings of selected metamorphs in contemporary science fiction and connects these imaginaries/imageries to recent feminist debates about representation, materiality, and agency. I suggest that contemporary metamorphs in visual science fiction open up space for a consideration of changeability and flexibility rather than fixity when issues of identity and ontology—of being in the world—are at stake. In light of the current political situation, where mass migration to Europe is foregrounding the fundamental differentiation between Self and Other, this article invites a discussion of the ethics at stake in the potentially transformative encounter between “us” and “them”, and the political potential of rethinking representation and signification through the figure of the metamorph.
Ce texte propose de prendre au serieux l’experience de pensee d’une rencontre extraterrestre, pour poser a la philosophie politique et morale le defi d’une rencontre de l’alterite radicale. En se demandant comment accueillir des non-humains non-terriens, cet article argumente en faveur d’une politique de l’hospitalite, comme alternative aux propositions posthumanistes souvent trop abstraites. L’hospitalite offre une serie d’epreuves qui permettent de determiner la nature d’entites inconnues et d’affuter notre sensibilite a leur egard. Le detour par la science-fiction permet ainsi de penser la responsabilite.
This article discusses a play published in The Strand Magazine during the First World War which features a cyborg presenting anti-war and pacifist messages, used by The Strand to create anti-German propaganda. The article draws on theories of disability, cyborgs and the posthuman, and from new research on wartime fiction magazines. The importance of the cyborg character, Soldier 241, for the literary history of science fiction is explored by focusing on the relations between the mechanical and the impaired body, and on the First World War as a nexus for technological, surgical and military development. As a cyborg, this character reflects politicized desires that the wartime authorities did not acknowledge: a longing for the end of war, and refusal to countenance a society that rejected the impaired body.
Anxieties about embodiment and posthumanism have always found an outlet in the science fiction of the day. In Bodies of Tomorrow, Sherryl Vint argues for a new model of an ethical and embodied posthuman subject through close readings of the works of Gwyneth Jones, Octavia Butler, Iain M. Banks, William Gibson, and other science fiction authors. Vint's discussion is firmly contextualized by discussions of contemporary technoscience, specifically genetics and information technology, and the implications of this technology for the way we consider human subjectivity. Engaging with theorists such as Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Anne Balsamo, N. Katherine Hayles, and Douglas Kellner, Bodies of Tomorrow argues for the importance of challenging visions of humanity in the future that overlook our responsibility as embodied beings connected to a material world. If we are to understand the post-human subject, then we must acknowledge our embodied connection to the world around us and the value of our multiple subjective responses to it. Vint's study thus encourages a move from the common liberal humanist approach to posthuman theory toward what she calls 'embodied posthumanism.' This timely work of science fiction criticism will prove fascinating to cultural theorists, philosophers, and literary scholars alike, as well as anyone concerned with the ethics of posthumanism.
Let us then liken the soul to the natural union of a team of winged horses and their charioteer. The gods have horses and charioteers that are themselves all good and come from good stock besides, while everyone else has a mixture. To begin with, our driver is in charge of a pair of horses; second, one of his horses is beautiful and good and from stock of the same sort, while the other is the opposite and has the opposite sort of bloodline. This means that chariot-driving in our case is inevitably a painfully difficult business. Plato, Phaedrus, 246 a–d. MORAL CAPACITY. Reflecting on the biological foundations of human moral behavior within a Darwinian framework should involve something too often forgotten: finding actual links with what Darwin proposed in his writings. This task should not be intended as a philosophically idle form of deference to an author of the past, but as a necessary step to recover the correct historical and theoretical bases of the problems we are facing. Indeed, an interest in the history does not necessarily mean to commit fallacies akin toargumentum ad verecundiam, but it can take the form of a correctargumentum ad auctoritatem. In considering what Darwin wrote about the biological bases of morality, I will recall some of the theses ofThe Origin of SpeciesandThe Descent of Manthat, mutatis mutandis, could be accepted without much difficulty by those who believe in the correctness and validity of (neo-)Darwinian evolutionism.