ChapterPDF Available

Morality (of Transhumanism and Posthumanism)

Authors:
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality.
In: Robert Ranisch & Stefan Lorenz Sorgner (eds.): Post- and Transhumanism:
An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
Morality
(of Transhumanism and Posthumanism)
-
Robert Ranisch (Tuebingen)
Transhumanism and the Bioliberals ..................................................................................... 2
Transhumanism versus Bioconservatism ............................................................................ 4
Morality of Transhumanism .................................................................................................. 5
(Morphological) Freedom ................................................................................................... 6
Harm-Principle ..................................................................................................................... 7
Reproductive Freedom ........................................................................................................ 7
Promoting Well-being and Reducing Suffering .............................................................. 8
Rejecting Anthropocentrism ............................................................................................... 8
Rejecting the Wisdom of Nature ........................................................................................ 9
Progressivism ...................................................................................................................... 10
Obligation to Support Science .......................................................................................... 10
Perfectionism ....................................................................................................................... 11
Obligation to Enhance ....................................................................................................... 11
Transhumanist Morality: Between Neutrality and Perfectionism ................................. 12
Posthumanism: A Critical Take on the Transhumanist Project ...................................... 13
Moral Bio-Enhancement: Better Acting Trough Chemistry ............................................ 16
Moral Status Enhancement and the Fear of Post-Persons ............................................... 17
Posthumanist Criticism on Human Exceptionalism ........................................................ 18
Concluding Remarks ............................................................................................................. 20
Bibliography ........................................................................................................................... 21
There is no comprehensive transhumanist morality or moral theory.1 It is still
possible to identify common moral claims concerning right or wrong action, what is
of value and what constitutes a good or virtuous character. Without a doubt,
transhumanism as a techno-optimistic political and cultural movement is
distinguished by a specific set of normative assumptions, and transhumanist
1 “Morality” and “ethics” is sometimes used interchangeable. While there is no common
definition in academic literature, some authors distinguish ethics from morality. Often it is said
that morality is the subject of ethics, i.e. of moral philosophy. Sometimes “morality” is used to
describe questions of what we owe to other people while “ethics” refers to questions of a good
life. These terminological questions are beyond the scope of this article. Throughout this article I
shall refer to “morality” rather than to “ethics” to discuss evaluative questions in a broad sense,
i.e. questions of right actions and a good life.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
2
organizations dedicate themselves to moral questions.2 Nevertheless, transhumanism
comes in many forms, representing a wide spectrum of moral and political
orientations.
The question concerning morality of posthumanism3 is even more intricate.
Because posthumanism is often associated with postmodernism, which is known for
“the celebration of the ‘demise of the ethical’” and the “substitution of aesthetics for
ethics” (Bauman 1993, 2), some posthumanists eventually reject “morality”, which
they identify with a universalist, categorical and norm-based system that has its
origin in (allegedly) false beliefs about humans’ rationality, subjectivity, and
autonomous agency. Nevertheless, posthumanism, just like every form of moral
criticism, is not free from moral judgments. Often these do not however form a
coherent code of conduct but present themselves as critique of a specific morality.
This chapter critically examines essential moral topics in transhumanism. The
first sections will discuss the relation between transhumanism and the so-called
bioliberal positions, as well as provide a review of bioconservative’s criticism of
transhumanism. By identifying ten major claims of transhumanist morality, a
particular tension between individual freedom and perfectionism will be pointed
out. In the next chapter a brief overview on posthumanist’s engagement with
transhumanism follows. After a short review of current debates on moral
enhancement, i.e., the augmentation of moral capacities by means of technology, the
questions of moral status enhancement will be discussed. Addressing these questions
is crucial for investigating into transhumanist morality, because it makes explicit
what transhumanists believe to matter morally. Discussing transhumanist’s struggle
with moral status enhancement will finally lead to some concluding remarks
concerning posthumanists’ contribution to the controversies about transhumanism.
Transhumanism and the Bioliberals
Not all authors that share transhumanist ideas regard themselves as transhumanists.
In bioethics, for instance, we find numerous theorists supporting human
enhancement just like the transhumanists. Authors such as John Harris, Julian
Savulescu, Nicholas Agar or Allen Buchanan, just to name a few, can loosely be
2 On their webpage Humanity+ states its mission as “the ethical use of technology to expand
human capacities”, which, in fact, repeats the slogan of its precursor, the World Transhumanist
Association (WTA). One of the most famous transhumanist platforms, the Institute for Ethics and
Emerging Technologies (IEET), carries the label “ethics” in its name as well.
3 For the conceptual differences between “transhumanism” and “posthumanism”, see the
introduction to this volume.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
3
described as bioliberals.4 The distinguishing mark of bioliberalism is its claim for
liberty and (state) neutrality concerning the use of enhancement technologies. As
long as no third party is harmed, people should be free to use these technologies as
means to realize their own ideal of the good life. Moreover, just like transhumanists,
many bioliberal thinkers believe that we do something good by augmenting the
human cognitive, physical, or mental capacities. Discussing the question of
transhumanist morality, we shall include these bioliberal positions.
There are, however, two differences between transhumanism and bioliberalism
that are worth considering in particular because the differences rise from their
distinct moral assumptions. One concerns their attitude towards (state) neutrality,
and the other, the desirability of posthumanity.
First, while transhumanists often defend some ideal of human perfection,
bioliberals are more neutral concerning this question. Transhumanists advocate the
desirability to enhance human beings by means of technology and typically defend a
certain objective standard on how to enhance human beings. Not only should
individuals be allowed to use enhancement technology, but also, “it could be good
for most human beings to become posthuman” (Bostrom 2008, 135). Compared to
this, bioliberals primarily defend human liberty, something manifested in their claim
to neutrality concerning different forms of life. People should “lead the life that they
believe is best for themselves” (Savulescu 2007, 526), and the question, whether or
how to use enhancement technologies, should be based on their free choice and their
individual concept of the good life. As Agar puts it, bioliberals…
“[…] do not present themselves as marketing any particular view of human
excellence. Rather they defend institutions that allow individuals to make
their own choices about how to live” (Agar 2007, 14).
Bioliberals’ commitment to state neutrality, however, is compatible with the
suggestion that, from a moral point of view, it would be better to enhance human
capacities.
Second, most transhumanists explicitly affirm the possibility to overcome human
biological nature in a radical way. To realize transhumanist visions “ideally,
everybody should have the opportunity to become posthuman” (Bostrom 2005b, 10).
By the same token, technology is not yet developed, and admittedly, “there is no
manner by which any human can become a posthuman” (Humanity+ n.d.) at the
moment. As a consequence, everything transhumanists can hope for is that people
are willing to submit themselves to the transhumanist “social experiment” (see
4 The liberal aspect of bio-liberalisms may be seen in its commitment to a specific form of (state)
neutrality. Following Dworkin, liberalism supposes that “government must be neutral on what
might be called the question of the good life […]” and “political decisions must be, so far as is
possible, independent of any particular concept of the good life” (Dworkin 2002 [1978], 67).
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
4
Walker 2011), which makes them part of an evolutionary chain that may eventually
lead to posthumanity.
By contrast, achieving posthumanity is not the aim of bioliberals. While a few
bioliberals embrace such possibility (see Savulescu 2009), this should rather be seen
as a side effect of human enhancement. Even though “there is nothing wrong” that
we may end up in posthumanity, “becoming transhumans is not the agenda” (Harris
2007, 39). The bioliberal focus is not a broad-scale attempt to overcome the
humankind in the long run. Rather, it concerns itself with individuals and their
desire to benefit from enhancement technologies for themselves and their offspring.
This perspective also makes plausible why some bioliberals openly reject
transhumanism. Nicholas Agar for instance, a champion of liberal eugenics (see Agar
2004), opposes the prospects of posthumanity. By defending a species-relativist view
about values, he insists radical enhancement “alienates us from experiences that give
meaning to our lives” (Agar 2010, 179). While moderate enhancement might be
desirable and does not prevent human beings to relate to themselves, their offspring,
and fellow citizens, posthumanity threatens our common values und will eventually
cause the loss of our humanity.
Transhumanism versus Bioconservatism
While Agar rejects transhumanism, he still defends the enhancement project as such.
He also makes clear that his critique must not be mistaken for a number of positions
that tend to reject the enhancement project altogether. Such positions are often
labeled as bioconservative and are frequently perceived as opposition to
transhumanism. The clash of transhumanists and bioconservatives is not so much a
dispute about the general possibilities of achieving posthumanity or about the
technological aspects of such enterprise. At stake are evaluative and moral questions
concerning the desirability of (radical) human enhancement.
Bioconservatives maintain, that in order to deal with posthumanity, we must not
be politically neutral about such questions. When the prospects of radical human
enhancement induce a moral vertigo, as Michael Sandel puts it, people in liberal
societies…
“[…] reach first for the language of autonomy, fairness, and individual
rights. But this part of our moral vocabulary does not equip us to address
the hardest questions posed by cloning, designer children, and genetic
engineering” (Sandel 2007, 9).
There is a consensus among bioconservatives that bioliberals are incapable of
addressing the problem of human enhancement in the right way. Autonomy is not
the most important concern for the ethics of enhancement. In order to deal with
emerging technologies, we rather need “to confront questions largely lost from view
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
5
in the modern world”. Questions about “the moral status of nature” (ibid.), the
human good, and the merits of certain life forms and aspects, such as authenticity,
need to be considered.
Several attempts have been made to reject the transhumanist project altogether.
There are comprehensive criticisms from leading bioconservatives above all Leon
R. Kass – in the US President’s Council on Bioethics report Beyond Therapy (see PCBE
2003). Most famously, Francis Fukuyama argues that transhumanism is the world’s
most dangerous idea (see Fukuyama 2004). George J. Annas’ prediction that
advances in genetic technologies will most likely cause a “genetic genocide,” and his
call for a “human species protection” expresses similar concerns (see Annas 2005).
While these arguments are expressed in the language of equality, Annas, Fukuyama
(2002), as well as Kass (2003) primarily fear that the use of enhancement technologies
will eventually cause the loss of essential human qualities, and thus, threaten human
rights or dignity.
Calling for the moralization of human nature and a post-metaphysical concept of
the good life, Jürgen Habermas (2003) certainly shares some assumptions with the
bioconservatives. His critique on enhancement technologies primarily targets liberal
eugenics, and Habermas’ main worry is that genetic interventions “undermine the
essentially symmetric relations between free and equal human beings” (ibid., 23).
Addressing the same issue of planned reproduction, Sandel (2007) is worried about
the drive of mastery that he sees central for the human enhancement project. This,
however, may distort the relation between parents and their (genetically engineered)
offspring as well as solidarity in society.
Morality of Transhumanism
It has been argued by transhumanists that there is no coherent moral doctrine in their
own camp. Furthermore, some authors maintain that there is a greater disagreement
among transhumanists about moral assumptions than about metaphysical or
epistemological matters (see More 2013, 6). Nevertheless, concerning moral theory
and moral claims, there is at least some convergence among transhumanists.
Most transhumanists broadly defend a consequentialist theory of morality.
According to this, the rightness of actions depends on the goodness of consequences.
Thus, most transhumanists are indifferent concerning the means of enhancement as
long as the outcome is good. Hence, there is no decisive moral difference between
therapy and enhancement, or between improving people with biotechnologies or by
means of education (see Agar 1998; Sorgner 2013a). Furthermore, transhumanist’s
consequentialism scrutinizes the distinction between actions and omissions. If safe
enhancement technologies were available, failing to improve future generations’
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
6
“capacities is to wrong them, just as it would be to harm them” (Savulescu 2007, 529;
see Harris 2007).
There is also a moral conviction that is shared by literally all transhumanists:
transcending human’s biological limitations is desirable. This normative thesis rests
on an empirical assumption about the possibility to radically enhance human beings.
Apart from this general aspect that distinguishes transhumanist morality, the
subsequent section identifies ten further moral claims that most transhumanists
embrace. While these topics are not presented in a hierarchical order, they show a
continuum from liberal to perfectionist ideas in transhumanism. Furthermore, this
continuum displays a peculiar tension in transhumanist morality, which will be
discussed briefly in the following chapter.
(Morphological) Freedom
For transhumanists (and bioliberals), individual freedom is considered as being one
of the most important, if not the most important, value. Freedom or liberty is
frequently sketched negatively, that is, as the absence of constraint or compulsion.
This involves a strong case against paternalism when it comes to questions of
choosing a certain plan of life. Individuals should be free to decide for themselves
how to live and institutions should be designed in a way to guarantee neutrality
between different forms of life. Sometimes individual freedom is perceived in a more
demanding sense, embracing conditions that enable individuals to realize their ideal
of a good life.
Closely related to transhumanists’ defense of individual freedom is their call for
morphological freedom. It has been argued that liberal rights, such as freedom of
speech, should be extended by “the right to modify oneself according to one’s
desire” (Sandberg 2013, 56). Thus, people should be free to use enhancement
technologies to alter their biological traits and eventually transform themselves into
transhumans.
The strong emphasis on (morphological) freedom, which is frequently brought
forward to argue for the permissibility of enhancement technologies, has neglected
implications. For instance, if people have the right to modify themselves by means of
biotechnologies, they also have the right to refrain from the transhumanist project.
Hence, “it is crucial that no single solution be imposed on everyone”, but rather that
“individuals get to consult their own consciences as to what is right for themselves”
(Bostrom 2005a, 206). Consequently, morphological freedom should embrace
protection of those who do not wish to use enhancement technologies, too. This may
also include measures to compensate for possible competitive disadvantages people
may have compared to their biotechnologically augmented fellow citizens.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
7
Harm-Principle
While morphological freedom must not be limited in cases where well-informed
people use enhancement technological, which may even cause side-effects,
transhumanists believe that freedom must be limited only if harm is caused to third
parties. This idea echoes a line of argument from the liberal tradition and is often
associated with J. S. Mill’s harm principle. According to this, the…
“[…] only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any
member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to
others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant”
(Mill 1977 [1859], 223).
Morphological freedom and the harm principle generate a strong case in favor of
human enhancement. It is often argued that an informed decision to use technology
to transform one’s own biology must not be limited if no third party is harmed.
There are many diverging views about the nature of harm that must have been
caused in order to legitimize constraints on individual freedom. While some
transhumanists believe that only a direct impact on other people’s freedom or well-
being justifies constraints, it is sometimes assumed that resulting inequalities,
unfairness, or structural effects might be sufficient to impose constraints on freedom.
As a consequence of this, some transhumanists reject enhancement technologies if
the mere purpose is to improve position relative to others. They defend
enhancements as absolute goods rather than positional goods, because “they are good
for people, not because they confer advantages on some but not on others” (Harris
2007, 29).
Reproductive Freedom
While transhumanists believe that people should decide whether and how to use
enhancement technologies, they also argue that (future) parents should be free to
enhance their offspring. This idea is frequently expressed in language of reproductive
freedom or procreative liberty: “a right [of people] to control their own role in
procreation unless the state has compelling reasons for denying them that control”
(Dworkin 1993, 148). Not only should reproducers be free to decide whether, how
often, with whom and when to procreate, but they should also be free to choose what
kind of children to have (see Buchanan et al. 2001, 204-213; Agar 2004). This
encompasses the right to use means of reproductive technologies to determine
children’s genetic traits.
Like morphological freedom, reproductive freedom has certain limits. It ought to
be constrained in cases where reproductive decisions clearly cause harm to offspring.
More controversially, it is often argued that parents should only be allowed to use
genetic interventions to promote general-purpose means. These are means that promote
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
8
human capacities “useful and valuable in carrying out nearly any plan of life or set of
aims that humans typically have” (Buchanan et al. 2000, 167). These capacities would
not restrict or even determine children’s ways of life and thus it would guarantee
their right to an open future.
Promoting Well-being and Reducing Suffering
Apart from their focus on morphological freedom and avoidance of harm,
transhumanists often make a much stronger, positive moral claim: we should
promote people’s well-being. While there are diverging views of what constitutes
well-being or a good life, there is a consensus that normative reasons speak in favor
of a clever use of technologies for this purpose. While transhumanists sometimes
promise good life in a distant posthuman future, bioliberals are more concerned with
short-time effects of enhancement technologies. Yet, the idea of promoting happiness
for all people is central for both and shows their humanist roots.
Sometimes, it is not only stated that we should promote well-being, but we
should also reduce suffering. Such an idea, which is also known from the (negative-)
utilitarian tradition, has been brought forward by WTA co-founder David Pearce in
The Hedonistic Imperative. This transhumanist manifesto defends an admittedly
“ambitious, implausible, but technically feasible” plan “to eradicate the biological
substrates of suffering” and guarantee a “sublime and all-pervasive happiness”
(Pearce n.d.).
Rejecting Anthropocentrism
In their aspiration to reduce suffering and promote well-being, transhumanists do
not only focus on human beings, but also defend an inclusive pathocentric or
welfarist account of morality. In contrast to humanist’s anthropocentric scope
transhumanists …
“[…] advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-
human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or
other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give
rise.” (Humanity+ 2013, 54)
Human beings are not the only beings that matter. Nonhuman beings may also
belong to our moral community: they can be carriers of rights and even hold
personhood status.
Transhumanists’ attitude towards anthropocentrism, however, is ambiguous. On
the one hand, they are willing to grant full moral status or personhood to some
sentient beings other than humans (e.g. Hughes 2004). Transhumanists consider the
possibility of artificial intelligence and interspecies hybrids as indication that no clear
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
9
line can be drawn between human beings, nonhuman beings, and possible artificial
life forms that could justify discrimination in moral status. Furthermore, the
transhumanist ambition to create superior life forms, which are “unambiguously
human by our current standards” (Humanity+ n.d.), suggests, that it might not even
be human beings who ultimately matter. If posthuman life forms are greatly
superior, we might even “have reason to save or create such vastly superior lives,
rather than continue the human line” (Savulescu 2009, 244).
On the other hand, it seems equally true that transhumanists still privilege
humanity above animality (see Fuller 2013, 41). Even though there might be no
reason to preserve the human condition in its current form, most transhumanists are
eager that posthumanity emerges out of humanity. In the end it remains an open
question why it should be our descendants who continue the human line. Regardless
of transhumanist’s skeptical attitude towards anthropocentrism, to a great extent the
posthuman realm is imagined as an extension of the human realm of values (see, e.g.,
Bostrom 2005b).
Rejecting the Wisdom of Nature
While some transhumanists see a certain wisdom in nature, which makes it possible
to “identify promising human enhancements and to evaluate the risk-benefit ratio”
(Bostrom/ Sandberg 2009, 408), the idea that human biological nature is of inherent
value is widely rejected (see, e.g., Buchanan 2011, 115-141). As a matter of fact,
transhumanists repeatedly try to debunk faith in the value of human nature as
prejudice (see Savulescu 2009) or irrational bias (see Bostrom/ Ord 2006). They argue
that our nature is nothing more than “a half-baked beginning that we can learn to
remold in desirable ways” (Bostrom 2005b, 4). Even more, not only is human nature
open to modification, but there is also the imperative to improve human nature. The
reason for this is that human biological nature – shaped by blind evolutionary forces
– is not equipped to serve (post)human needs and achieve (post)human goods.
Transhumanists not only maintain that there is no intrinsic value in human
nature in its current form, but they also argue against bioconservative’s belief in the
very existence of some essential human characteristic. Nevertheless, it has rightly
been pointed out that transhumanists implicitly advocate normative concepts of
human nature, too (see Hauskeller 2009). By maintaining that perpetual self-
overcoming is an essential human characteristic, not only do they suggest a
controversial idea of human nature, but they also believe to find the ground for their
techno-progressive aspirations in some common human core features.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
10
Progressivism
Transhumanists share the belief in the ongoing and accelerating progress of science
and technology. Such progressivism shows transhumanist’s Enlightenment roots (see
Hughes 2010) and can be found in most varieties of transhumanism. Bostrom (2005b)
sees progress as the basic condition for the entire transhumanist project and ideas
such as the singularity hypothesis fundamentally rest on a peculiar model of
exponential technological progress (see Kurzweil 2005). Most clearly, progressivism
can be found in Max More’s Principles of Extropy (2003) where “perpetual progress” is
the number one principle. His early sketch of the transhumanist philosophy calls for
“progress without end” where life and “intelligence must never stagnate” (More
1996).
While there is much to argue about such a concept and the rhetoric of progress
from a theoretical point of view (see, e.g., Verdoux 2009), progressivism also has a
moral dimension. For instance, belief in exponential growth eventually implies a
“claim about the history of technology” and may show up as a “blunt tool in the
effort to render an otherwise remote and speculative future as something that
demands our immediate attention” (Nordmann 2007, 36). Often mere possible
futures and speculations about emerging technologies determine transhumanist
agenda. These speculations are frequently employed to support normative claims for
today’s policies, e.g., when questions about the distribution of scarce resources arise.
In addition, progressivism may lead to a future-oriented paternalism, as present
generations pretend to know what is good for future generations (ibid., 40).
Obligation to Support Science
The hope for ongoing progress does not come from nothing. For this reason, it is
essential for transhumanists to support science and technology. In order to radically
change the human condition, appropriate technologies need to be developed. This is
not only necessary to increase the benefits for future (post)humanity but also to
reduce existential risks that threaten life (see Humanity+ 2013). Without a doubt,
technological progress is a basic condition for transhumanism and it is required to
take a “proactive approach to technology policy” (Bostrom 2005b, 4) rather than a
precautionary approach. This amounts to the protection of rights for free research as
well as investment in research.
The call for supporting science sometimes comes in more radical forms. John
Harris, for instances, argues that it is not only the moral imperative to fund and
undertake scientific research, but there is also a “clear moral obligation to
participate” in some form of medical research to benefit humankind. This obligation,
he argues, is “not confined to purely therapeutic research” but also involves
“research into human enhancement” (Harris 2007, 192).
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
11
Perfectionism
So far it has been suggested that transhumanists approach the question of human
enhancement from a subjectivist perspective. Their claim for neutrality concerning
the good life as well as their defense of morphological freedom eventually suggests
that people should be free to use or refrain from enhancement technologies. This
analysis of the transhumanist morality, however, is not sufficient. As a matter of fact,
transhumanists often value certain forms of life over others and even have a positive
account of human perfection.
First of all, it becomes clear that transhumanists “favor future people being
posthuman rather than human”. Compared to humanity, posthumanity is
considered to be of superior value and transhumanists maintain that people have
reasons to explore this “hitherto inaccessible realms of value” (Bostrom 2005b, 9).
Despite of their liberal commitment and subjectivist rhetoric concerning questions of
values, some transhumanists advocate objective accounts of human perfection. They
believe in the intrinsic superiority of certain values and privilege specific
(intellectual, creative etc.) human capacities over others (see Hauskeller 2009). It has
been pointed out that bioliberals implicitly endorse perfectionist ideals of an
autonomous individual (see Roduit et al. 2013). As for Savulescu (2001), he even
advocates specific (genetic) traits to be desirable for future persons. Some
transhumanist visions of human enhancements resemble a Renaissance-ideal, aiming
at a well-rounded person, having intellectual, artistic, and physical traits (see, e.g.,
Bostrom 2008). Sorgner, then again, brings forward a pluralistic account of human
perfection (see Sorgner 2013b).
Obligation to Enhance
From the ideal of human perfection, it becomes clear that transhumanists do not only
consider human enhancement as being permissible but believe that “enhancements
[are] obviously good for us” (Harris 2007, 35). Some bioliberals argue that we
“clearly have moral reasons, perhaps amounting to an obligation” (ibid.) to engage in
the enhancement project, and transhumanists maintain that “becoming posthuman is
imperative” (Walker 2011, 95).
The obligation to enhance does not only concern existing, autonomous
individuals. It is sometimes argued that there is also an obligation to enhance
offspring. Most famously, Julian Savulescu defends a principle called procreative
beneficence. According to this principle, future parents have a moral obligation to
genetically select the best offspring. Savulescu and others maintain that…
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
12
“couples (or single reproducers) should select the child, of the possible
children they could have, who is expected to have the best life, or at least as
good a life as the others, based on the relevant, available information”
(Savulescu 2001, 415).
Procreative beneficence has invoked heavy criticism, and several commentators
pointed out that it bears similarities to “old” eugenics (see, e.g., Bennett 2009).
Nevertheless, it should be recognized that the proposed obligation to enhance is not a
legal obligation. While Savulescu argues that moral reasons may justify an obligation
to enhance our children, on the legal level, he maintains morphological and
reproductive freedom. While it might be wrong not to enhance from a moral
perspective, this statement is compatible with the “enjoyment of a right to
autonomy” on a legal level. This encompasses the right to “make procreative choices
which foreseeably and avoidably result in less than the best child” (Savulescu/
Kahane 2009, 268). From the fact that something is morally wrong or suboptimal, it
does not follow that it should be legally prohibited or punished.
Transhumanist Morality: Between Neutrality and Perfectionism
It becomes clear that the above-mentioned aspects of transhumanist morality bear
some tensions. In particular, the tension between the emphasis of individual liberty
and the aspiration to bring about posthumanity has concerned a number of authors.
Even some transhumanists such as James Hughes warn that faith in posthumanity
may, in the end, legitimize technocratic authoritarianism to realize transhumanist
visions (see Hughes 2010). Other critics are harsher: it has been pointed out that the
tension between transhumanist libertarianism and perfectionism may eventually
have consequences similar to those of authoritarian eugenics (see Sparrow 2011).
No wonder, transhumanists are cautious to distance themselves from
authoritarian policies such as eugenics, which they consider to be “entirely contrary
to the tolerant humanistic and scientific tenets of transhumanism” (Humanity+
n.d.).5 As a matter of fact, despite some transhumanists who flirt with the advantages
of antidemocratic systems (see Persson/ Savulescu 2012, 86-90; Bostrom 2006), there
is little evidence that mainstream transhumanism intends some form of technocratic
authoritarianism. Still, transhumanists have to face a major difficulty: making
5 There are many reasons to doubt that transhumanism has nothing to do with eugenics.
Prominent references and ancestor of transhumanism such as Julian Huxley (who coined the
term “transhumanism”) or J. S. B. Haldane (the WTA named an award after him) can be seen as a
direct link from 20th century eugenics to contemporary transhumanism (see Bashford 2013). Of
course, everything depends and what is meant by “eugenics”. Transhumanists, however, are
particularly anxious of getting associated with Nazi eugenics and have little interest in dealing
with their own cultural history.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
13
plausible how, on a theoretical level, their commitment to liberty is compatible with
the imperative to become posthuman. On a practical level, they need to ensure that
their project will not bring in a coercive eugenics “through the back door”.6
Posthumanism: A Critical Take on the Transhumanist Project
Post-World War II antihumanism and critical theory certainly had something to
contribute to the ongoing debates on liberal eugenics (see Seubold 2001). After all,
their critique is fostered by the experience of the horrors of the 20th century, which
witnessed the failures of humanism, rationality, and morality. Habermas, who
perceives transhumanists as a “handful of freaked-out intellectuals” defending an
“all-too-familiar […] German ideology” (2003, 22), still echoes this tradition.
In recent years, an increasing amount of posthumanist literature has considered
the relationship between humanity and technology. Authors such as Peter Sloterdijk
spelled out the implications of transhumanist technologies for our perception of
humanism. Sloterdijk is frequently misinterpreted as the champion of human
enhancement, even though he has little in common with the mainstream
transhumanists. He rather suggests a critique on humanism out of human
engagement with technology. At the same time, he is very critical of transhumanist
ideas that he would describe as “primitive biologisms with helpless humanisms and
theologisms […] without a trace of insight into evolutionary conditions of
anthropogenesis” (Sloterdijk 2001, 221). Yet, Sloterdijk is far away from rejecting
technology as such. If there is a humankind, he maintains, this is because technology
made the human evolve from the pre-human.
“Hence, nothing unfamiliar happens to humans when they expose
themselves to further creation and manipulation. They do nothing perverse
or against their ‘nature’ when they change themselves autotechnologically”
(Sloterdijk 2001, 225).
In his notorious response to Heidegger’s Letter on ‘Humanism’ entitled Rules for the
Human Park (2009 [1999]), Sloterdijk proposes an unconventional reinterpretation of
the history of humanism in the advent of the transhuman age. This attempt is
motivated by advances in biotechnologies and the necessity for regulations that
will…
6 In this regard, the results of a recent survey by the Institute of Ethics & Emerging Technologies
(IEET) are disturbing (see Hughes 2013). The IEET webpage asked their transhumanist
community: “When there are safe cures for these conditions should parents be legally obliged to
provide them for their children?” Respondents (>500) were alarmingly happy to introduce legal
obligations for parents to fix their kids’ near-sightedness (67%), propensity to obesity (66%) or
attention deficit disorder (58%).
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
14
“[…] retroactively alter the meaning of the old humanism, for it will be
made explicit, and codified, that humanity is not just the friendship of man
with man, but that man has become the higher power for man” (Sloterdijk
2009, 24).
Sloterdijk’s analysis stems from a particular interpretation of Western history. He
sees humanism as a history of taming human beings by means of proper “reading”
(Lesen). Even more, not only did humanism involve the taming of humans, but also
the breeding of humans.7 People “domesticated themselves and have committed
themselves to a breeding program aimed at a pet-like accommodation.” That is also
the “great unthinkable” insight that Nietzsche’s Zarathustra reveals, from which
“humanism from antiquity to the present has averted its eyes”. Human beings have
been a product “of intimate constraints of breeding, taming, and raising,” which for
the most time has been an invisible project, a “breeding without breeder” (ibid., 22-
23). Sloterdijk, however, diagnoses a shift in our biotechnological age. Facing new
possibilities such as embryo selection, he insists:
“It is characteristic of our technological and anthropotechnological age that
people fall more and more into the active, or agent, side of selection, even
without having sought out the role of selectors willingly […]. As soon as an
area of knowledge has developed, people begin to look bad if they still […]
allow higher power, whether it is the gods, chance, or other people, to act in
their stead […]” (Sloterdijk 2009, 23-24; translation modified8).
Sloterdijk concludes that it will become necessary to seize actively our role as
selectors and prepare a “codex of anthropotechnology” (ibid., 24). Although
Sloterdijk does not make any suggestions about this codex and Rules for the Human
Park can hardly be read as a celebration of posthumanity, it has frequently been
interpreted as a transhumanist manifesto. The most famous instance of this
misinterpretation is Jürgen Habermas’ (2003) criticism on liberal eugenics, which
could be seen as an attack against Sloterdijk. This criticism does not do justice to the
fact that Sloterdijk is much more concerned with developing a posthumanist
(post)anthropology than defending some form of transhumanism (see Herbrechter
2013, 165-168).
7 Sloterdijk’s interpretation of humanism gains some plausibility from the German etymology of
his central concepts. In German language it is a short way from lesen (“to read”) to auslesen (“to
select”). Furthermore, Erziehung (“rearing” or “education”), which Sloterdijk sees as central for
the taiming of humans, is etymologically linked to Zucht (“breed”) and züchten (“to breed”).
8 The English translation of this central passage is misleading. It states: “people willingly fall more
and more into the active, or agent side of selection” (Sloterdijk 2009, 23; emphasis added). The
German text rather stresses that this actually did not happen willingly: “ohne daß sie sich
willentlich in die Rolle des Selektors gedrängt haben müßten” (Sloterdijk 2001, 328).
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
15
Bruno Latour (2009) is certainly right in pointing out that Habermas fails to
recognize the posthumanistic thesis in Sloterdijk. He is not only far from “post
human dreams of cyborgs” but also from the “humanists’ limited view of what
humans are”. Whereas Sloterdijk does raise the question how humans could be
“designed”, this bears only superficial similarities with the “old phantasm of eugenic
manipulation.” “Yes, humans have to be artificially made and remade,” Latour
agrees with Sloterdijk, “but everything depends on what you mean by artificial and
even more deeply by what you mean by ‘making’.” Sloterdijk’s “philosophy of
design” (ibid., 8) offers an alternative account of humanization that scrutinizes that
“deeply rooted categorical distinctions between the subjective and the objective, the
grown and the made” (Habermas 2003, 71), which Habermas sees essential for our
self-understanding as autonomous subjects.
Sloterdijk’s rejection of techno-utopianism as well as his denial of a fixed human
nature bears similarities to other posthumanistic analyses. In her seminal work on
posthumanism, N. Katherine Hayles (1999) already identified major flaws in
transhumanist fantasies of mind uploading. Recently, she directly engaged with
transhumanism and expressed criticism on its individualistic and neoliberal
assumptions (see Hayles 2011). Hayles shows little sympathy for the
bioconservative’s attempt to moralize human nature and, at the same time, finds
transhumanism too ideologically fraught. While the transhumanist rhetoric is deeply
individualistic, she sees a “conspicuous absence of considering socioeconomic
dynamics beyond the individual” (ibid., 217). All forms of transhumanism “perform
decontextualizing moves that over-simplify the situation and carry into the new
millennium some of the most questionable aspects of capitalist ideology” (ibid., 215).
Contrasting transhumanism and posthumanism, we get the following
impression: Both recognize human coevolution with technology and reject the belief
in human nature as a moral constraint on human auto-evolution. The transhumanist
call for technological enhancement aims at liberating human beings from human
biological limitations. Compared to this, posthumanists want to liberate human
beings from these dominant ideologies that foster transhumanist visions.
Nevertheless, posthumanist’s engagement with the moral challenges of
posthumanity is ambiguously vague. They rarely offer any positive account of how
to deal with emerging biotechnologies, but rather express doubt that all problems
can be solved with technological enhancement. Sloterdijk as well as Hayles see the
transhuman future coming, but they are silent about how the “(post)human park”
should be governed and what moral codex is necessary to maintain it.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
16
Moral Bio-Enhancement: Better Acting Trough Chemistry
Sloterdijk upholds that humanism has always been a commitment to save human
beings from barbarism (see Sloterdijk 2009, 15). While it is certainly true that
humanism embraces some form of moral education, Sloterdijk’s provocation lies in
his claim that this enterprise did not only involve cultivating forces but also taming
and breeding forces. Even though his playful interpretation of humanism as a
breeding program is controversial, in some way, it anticipated current trends in
transhumanism. As a matter of fact, the issue of moral perfection recently entered
technophile discourses and possibilities of moral enhancement caused a vigorous
debate (see, e.g., Douglas 2008; Persson/ Savulescu 2012). Some bioliberals even
argue that we should rather aim at getting morally better than anything else, because
our (potentially dangerous) research needs to be accompanied by the moral
enhancement of humanity (see Persson/ Savulescu 2008).
While transhumanists show their humanist roots in addressing such questions of
moral perfection, their approach radically differs from traditional moral education.
Moral goodness is not only associated with proper cultivation, a right way of
practical reasoning of a fully developed, virtuous person, but also with right human
biology. Immoral behavior is deemed to be a question of anatomy (e.g. damage to the
prefrontal cortex), hormones (e.g. lack of Oxytocin), and genetics (e.g. abnormality in
MAOA). Naturalization of morality is no new phenomena and has a tradition in
philosophy (e.g. Nietzsche) as well as in science (e.g. Delgado). However, genetics,
neuroscience of ethics, and social psychology brought new momentum to debates on
moral enhancement. If science can explain where and how moral decisions are made,
so the theory goes, we might be able to directly influence human behavior for the
better. Pharmaceutics, neural implants, or even “breeding forces” such as genetic
selection (see Faust 2008), should complete traditional moral education by means of
moral bioenhancement. At the core of this debate, we find the belief that…
“[…] the current predicament of humankind is so serious that it is
imperative that scientific research explore every possibility of developing
effective means of moral bioenhancement” (Persson/ Savulescu 2012, 2).
This is necessary because human’s biological and psychological nature is ill equipped
to deal with the most serious and pressing problems of the 21st century. Our
common-sense morality may have worked for a long period of our evolutionary
history. But today we have to tackle global problems such as the climate change and
the weapons of mass destruction, which make possible for a small number of
criminals to cause great harm to the whole of humanity. Our moral shortcomings
prevent us from addressing these challenges adequately. Moral bioenhancement
might be the key for the survival of (post)humanity (see Persson/ Savulescu 2012).
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
17
The theoretical assumptions and practical implications of moral bioenhancement
have been strongly challenged, even from the bioliberal camp (see Harris 2011). The
utopian character of this debate has been pointed out; after all, we are far away from
having the “morality pill”9 developed. Moral bioenhancement might not even be a
challenge for scientific development but rather points to fundamental conceptual and
philosophical questions: What, after all, could it mean to enhance “morality”
biotechnologically? Even if it were possible to influence human behavior in a
desirable way, it remains an open question what this has to do with moral agency.
Apart from these philosophical questions, additional serious social and political
worries still remain: How does one establish the practice of moral bioenhancement
without introducing a coercive system? Who should decide what counts as moral
enhancement? What would it do to the legal, political, and moral statuses of the
ordinary people, if we lived in a society where some people are distinguished by
their moral superiority?
Moral Status Enhancement and the Fear of Post-Persons
The last questions point towards a concern related to moral enhancement: the
question of moral status enhancement. The very idea of transhumanism is to improve
human’s cognitive, physical, or moral capacities so radically that we regard these
enhanced beings as other than human. It might be argued, then, that these trans- or
posthuman beings “may even be able to attain higher levels of […] excellence than
any of us humans” (Bostrom 2005a, 210). Would this superiority not only justify a
higher degree of excellence but also a higher moral status than ours and thus
guarantee more moral rights compared to the unenhanced persons? If human beings
having equal moral status were the ground for personhood, would moral status
enhancement bring about post-persons, i.e., beings with a moral status higher than
personhood? Such conclusion resembles the bioconservative fears that, if superior
beings emerge, we should worry that they are legitimate to wear boots and spurs
while we have saddles on our back (see Fukuyama 2002, 10).
Most transhumanists reject this conclusion. Bostrom and some bioliberals such
as Harris argue that no “enhancement however dramatic […] implies lesser (or
greater) moral, political, or ethical status, worth, or value” (Harris 2007, 86). It is
certainly possible and even likely that the future posthuman beings would have a
higher degree of intellectual, artistic, or even moral excellence. And yet, this fact has
little bearing on our common concept of moral status that is the basis for equal moral
9 Typically three substances are discussed in debates on psychopharmacological moral
enhancement: SSRIs such as citalopram, the hormone oxytocin and beta blockers like
propranolol. While recent studies show certain influence on human attitude, behavior and
motivation, no serious findings supports the idea of a “morality pill”.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
18
rights, dignity, or personhood. Buchanan (2011, 209-241) has brought forward an
argument for the conceptual impossibility of post-persons. He finds it difficult to
perceive how enhancement technologies could bring about beings with a moral
status higher than that of a person. Moral status as well as personhood, he argues,
are threshold concepts, “not a matter of relative superiority” but “a matter of
sufficiency” (ibid., 224). All beings above a certain limit – be it human, nonhuman, or
posthuman – count as persons and thus they have equal moral status.
Buchanan’s argument supports the widespread belief that all persons have equal
moral status. Still, it can be doubted that the possible impact of radical enhancement
on the question of moral status is unproblematic for transhumanists. In recent
discussions, the conceptual possibility of post-personhood has been embraced by a
number of authors. Agar (2012) provides an inductive argument for a moral status
that is higher than personhood. The fact that we already distinguish moral statuses of
inanimate objects, sentient beings and, persons, makes a superior status plausible.
DeGrazia (2012) supports this view. He argues that Buchanan’s model is perfectly
compatible with acknowledging that there could also be a second (higher) threshold
corresponding to a higher moral status than that of a person. Both, Agar and
DeGrazia are aware of the consequences: if post-persons are brought into existence,
their moral status justifies that “their needs should take precedence over our own”
(Agar 2012, 5), and they may legitimately “regard us […] as resources for their use”
(DeGrazia 2012, 138). These are not good prospects for transhumanists.
From this alarming outlook both authors draw different conclusions: Agar
argues that we should refrain from creating such post-persons. For DeGrazia, the
discussion of post-personhood rather indicates that there is something
fundamentally wrong with our established moral categories. He eventually drops the
very idea of levels of moral statuses and proposes an “interests model of moral
status.” According to this model, all sentient beings have a moral status. This implies
that “no morally important difference between persons and animals – or between
post-persons and persons amounts to a difference in moral status.“ Even though
“differences in interests, capacities and circumstances” (DeGrazia 2012, 139) could
justify certain differences in treatment of these beings, this does not indicate a
hierarchy in moral status.
Posthumanist Criticism on Human Exceptionalism
The discussion of moral status enhancement brings about an interesting dialectic:
facing the possibility of human progress up to a point where the biotechnologically-
enhanced, superior beings may come about raises new fears of how to protect human
uniqueness and supremacy. This attempt eventually leads back to the question why
human beings actually have been the privileged being in the first place. DeGrazia’s
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
19
discussion of this topic is indicative to this dialectic. The consideration of the
question of post-personhood leads him to reject moral anthropocentrism. He
ultimately defends an inclusive account of morality, which encompasses persons as
well as sentient animals. Such a view bears close resemblance to posthumanism that
points to the fundamental flaws in the moral framework of humanism. At this point,
transhumanism meets posthumanism and gets in line with environmentalism,
animal rights theory, and many others criticisms of human exceptionalism.
In moral philosophy, the critique of anthropocentrism is primarily associated
with the contemporary utilitarian tradition rather than with the postmodern theory.
The best know work is Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (1975) where he popularized
the concept of speciesism that stands for “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the
interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other
species” (Singer 2002 [1975], 6). In his analysis of Singer’s critique on
anthropocentrism, Sorgner (2013b) recently brought forward a posthumanist
approach concerning moral status, personhood, and dignity. Like posthumanists
such as Hayles (1999), Sorgner challenges established boundaries between human
and non-human beings as well as bodily existences and virtual simulations. Unlike
Hayles, he defends a naturalistic version of posthumanism with a genuine moral
concern. According to Sorgner, not only are there merely gradual differences
between human beings and other living beings, but also merely gradual differences
between them and cybernetic organisms. Without a dualistic metaphysics, a
categorical special status of human beings cannot be maintained. He eventually
suggests a plurality of moral statuses and different types of persons, ranging from
self-conscious nonhuman animals to sentient unborn humans. By dissociating the
concept of personhood from that of dignity, Sorgner, nevertheless, still attributes
dignity to the born human beings exclusively.
Singer’s critique on moral anthropocentrism has sometimes been associated with
posthumanism (see Fuller 2013). Cary Wolfe, however, who sees “the problem of
anthropocentrism and speciesism” (Wolfe 2010, xix) as the key focus of
posthumanism, has doubts concerning Singer’s attempt. Wolfe is not only critical of
Singer’s naturalism but also argues that his rejection of anthropocentrism “ends up
reinforcing the very same humanism” that posthumanism wants to overcome.
Singer, and the same criticism applies to DeGrazia, does recognize nonhuman
animals not because they are different from human beings but only because they are
an “inferior versions of ourselves”. Hence, Singer reproduces the “ethical humanism
that was the problem from the outset simply […] on another level” (Wolfe 2003, 192).
Recently, a considerable amount of posthumanist literature has scrutinized
human exceptionalism by refusing the humanist dichotomies and boundaries
between the human and the nonhuman. Apart from being critical with the
humanistic narrative of “the human,” the reasons for rejecting anthropocentrism
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
20
differ and the umbrella-term “posthumanism” hardly does justice to capture this
plurality. Also, some posthumanist critique on anthropocentrism is not motivated by
genuine moral concerns alone but also calls the dominant Western ideologies into
question. This, however, can have profound social and political implications (see,
e.g., Braidotti 2013). The posthumanist’s debunking of the established ontological
and epistemological beliefs eventually has straightforward implications for concepts
such as gender, species, (dis)ability, or nature, which are central for Western moral
codes.10
Concluding Remarks
The aim of this paper was to introduce norms and values that underlie the
transhumanist project. While it has been argued that there is no coherent
transhumanist morality, it was possible to identify claims that are shared by some
transhumanists and bioliberals. One of the most significant findings was a particular
tension within transhumanism that is rooted in its emphasis on individual liberty
and praise of perfectionism. The controversies about moral enhancement as well as
moral status enhancement have been analyzed.
The article did not discuss posthumanist morality in greater length. This was
partly due to the plurality of posthumanist philosophies, but also because of
postmodernist’s denial of the traditional concept of morality. It has been argued,
however, that the posthumanist criticism has straightforward normative
implications. Furthermore, it also showed how the posthumanist critique could
contribute to current controversies about transhumanism.
First, regarding the general desirability of human enhancement. The analysis
showed that some bioconservatives reject transhumanism especially because they
fear a technological violation of human nature. While it became clear that some
posthumanists share a skeptical attitude towards transhumanist’s techno-optimism,
their skepticism does not come from the desire to moralize human nature.
Posthumanism rather aims at overcoming established distinctions such as
natural/artificial, grown/made, or human/machine. Much clearer than anyone else,
their analysis of human’s engagement with technology as well as with animality
helps to overcome the humanist categories and may eventually set the stage for a
more nuanced debate about the morality of human enhancement technologies.
Second, it has been argued that the transhumanist rejection of anthropocentrism
is ambiguous. While posthumanism radically questions the established narratives
and rejects human exceptionalism, transhumanism still rests on a humanistic
framework with its belief in rationality and progress. Even though transhumanists
10 See, in particular, the contributions in this volume by James Hughes and Francesca Ferrando.
Ranisch, Robert (2014): Morality. In: Ranisch, Robert & Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (eds.): Post- and
Transhumanism: An Introduction. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 149-172.
21
are willing to abandon exclusive morality and grant moral status to nonhuman and
posthuman life forms, “the human” remains the measure for all things. Nonhuman
life forms are recognized as moral patients if they resemble human characteristics.
Animals matter insofar as they are inferior humans, and posthumans are imagined as
augmented beings, equipped with specific characteristics that have always been
essential for human pride. The transhumanist dedication to humanism is the reason
why the possibility of post-personhood could leave them perplexed. Associating
moral status to humanistic values confirms a hierarchy between the human and the
posthuman, which brings difficulties for egalitarian aspiration. The posthumanist’s
radical non-anthropocentrism, which celebrates the difference rather than the
normative force of the universal, may be seen as an attractive alternative to
humanist’s order of rank. While this option is not readily available for the
transhumanists as long as they uphold the credibility of their own humanistic
framework, a future dialog between both movements might be promising.11
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