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Abstract

The focal point of posthumanism consists not as such in an a-critical acceptance of the technological promises, like there is for transhumanism, but in a total contamination and hybridization of human beings with other living beings and machines (these are the two main forms of contamination). The change of perspective untaken by posthumanism would be, thus, a paradigmatic shift in anthropology. As with ecologism, posthumanism, in order to obtain total contamination and man's openness to otherness, proposes the elimination and the fluidification of boundaries, thus even denying man's identity, and, with it, the very possibility of openness. However, by denying the identity, one denies the condition of possibility of thought, just as it has been manifested in history until now: hence we understand how, primarily, posthumanism is not configured as an adequate philosophical reflection, but as a narrative that takes origin from certain requirements, which are eminently human, and that discloses its deeply anthropogenic roots.
Luca VaLera Posthumanism: Beyond humanism?
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POSTHUMANISM: BEYOND HUMANISM?
POSTHUMANISMO: ¿ MÁS ALLÁ DEL HUMANISMO ?
Luca VaLera
Institute of Scientific and Technological Practice
Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma
Via Alvaro del Portillo, 21, 00128 Roma.
l.valera@unicampus.it
ABSTRACT:
The focal point of posthumanism consists not as such in an a-critical acceptance of the technological
promises – like there is for transhumanism – but in a total contamination and hybridization of human
beings with other living beings and machines (these are the two main forms of contamination). The change
of perspective untaken by posthumanism would be, thus, a paradigmatic shift in anthropology. As with
ecologism, posthumanism, in order to obtain total contamination and man’s openness to otherness, proposes
the elimination and the fluidification of boundaries, thus even denying man’s identity, and, with it, the very
possibility of openness. However, by denying the identity, one denies the condition of possibility of thought,
just as it has been manifested in history until now: hence we understand how, primarily, posthumanism is
not configured as an adequate philosophical reflection, but as a narrative that takes origin from certain
requirements, which are eminently human, and that discloses its deeply anthropogenic roots.
RESUMEN:
El punto focal del posthumanismo consiste no tanto en la aceptación acrítica de las posibilidades
ofrecidas por la tecnología, tales como el transhumanismo, sino en una contaminación y hibridación total
de los seres humanos con otros seres vivos y con las máquinas (éstas son las dos principales formas de
contaminación): el cambio ofrecido por esta corriente de pensamiento querría configurarse primero como
un cambio de paradigma en el pensar el ser humano. Igual que el ecologismo, el posthumanismo propone,
con el fin de obtener la contaminación total, una eliminación y fluidificación de los límites que impiden
la apertura del hombre a la alteridad, negando así también su identidad y, con ella, paradójicamente,
la posibilidad misma de la apertura. Al negar la identidad, sin embargo, se niega también la posibilidad
del pensamiento, por como se ha manifestado hasta ahora en la historia: aquí se entiende cómo el
posthumanismo no se configure primero como adecuada reflexión filosófica, sino como una narración
que se origina en algunas exigencias que son eminentemente humanas y que revelan así sus raíces
profundamente antropogénicas.
Keywords:
Posthuman,
ecology, human
nature, technology,
boundaries.
Palabras clave:
Posthumanismo,
ecología,
naturaleza
humana, tecnología,
límites.
Recibido: 22/10/2013
Aceptado: 20/06/2014
Cuadernos de Bioética XXV 2014/3ª
Copyright Cuadernos de Bioética
1. Transhumans or posthumans?
In the contemporary age we often hear about the
possibility to overtake a reality that appears as anti-
quated1, as if the “post” (that has been disclaimed the
1 See: Anders, G. Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen. Band I: Über
die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution. C. H. Beck,
various post-modern, post-romantic, post-structuralist,
etc.) should necessarily indicate a situation of positive
development, a possible release from an oppressive and
limiting condition. Post-modernism, in fact, is free from
München, 1956; Band II: Über die Zerstörung des Lebens im Zeitalter
der dritten industriellen Revolution. C. H. Beck, München, 1980.
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the backwardness of the modern age, presenting itself
as a very innovative thought, as something that can
upset the current state of things: it is something like a
Copernican revolution. So much so that the post-mod-
ernism is no longer understood through the modern
paradigm, since it makes use of radically different con-
ceptual categories. If in the modern age there was the
paradigm of certainty and great metaphysical point of
view, in post-modernism we are witnessing the end of
the certainties and great stories, a prelude to a more
liquid concept of the human being and society.
If then we move within the anthropological context,
we witness the same paradigm shift: the different phi-
losophies that preach an overtaking of man – at dif-
ferent levels: historical, ontological, chronological, etc.
– have the upper hand on those that are anchored to
an “antiquated” model of human nature, trying, at the
same time, to unseat a “traditionalist” ontological con-
ception. Rosy Braidotti, indeed, writes: «This philosophi-
cal post-humanism does not, therefore, result in anti-
foundationalism. It rather stresses the need for process
ontology»2. It is a new conception of totality, of man
and of all that is offered as a panacea to the ills of the
modern age and of the traditional thought of western
metaphysics: the posthumanist philosophy imposes a
radical change of mentality and Weltanschauung, such
that would be incomprehensible in the light of the prec-
edent paradigms.
However, we should point out: this posthumanism
that we try to characterize with greater precision in
the following paragraphs is really different from the a-
critical glorification of technological potentials, which
instead, was put into act in the famous Transhumanist
Movement Manifesto: «Contemporary transhumanists
argue that human nature is an unsatisfactory “work
in progress” that should be modified through techno-
logical means where the instrumental benefits for in-
dividuals outweigh the technological risks. This ethic of
improvement is premised on prospective developments
in four areas: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Informa-
2 Braidotti, R. «Posthuman, all too human: towards a new
process ontology», Theory, Culture & Society 23/7-8, (2006), 199.
tion Technology and Cognitive Science – the so-called
“NBIC” suite»3. Nick Bostrom, one of the pioneers of
the transhumanist movement, incisively describes the
theoretical gain of the transhumanist philosophy: «Why
do I need to know arithmetic when I can buy time on
Arithmetic-Modules Inc. whenever I need to perform
arithmetic tasks? Why do I need to be good with lan-
guage when I can hire a professional language module
to articulate my thoughts? Why do I need to bother
with making decisions about my personal life when
there are certified executive-modules that can scan my
goal structure and then manage my assets so as to
best fulfill those goals?»4. An extreme exaltation of
technology and its potentially redeeming and cathartic
role is not part of posthumanist ideology5: in fact, it
is an idea of transhumanist matrix to overcome man
once and for all, through a process of technological
improvement; Birnbacher writes: «“Transhumanism”
can be defined as a movement that wants us to get on
the way to “posthumanity” by going beyond humanity
in its present form. Transhumanists want us to enter
upon a process that will ultimately lead to “posthu-
manity” by attempting, now and in the near future, to
transcend certain limits inherent in the human condi-
tion as we know it»6. If, therefore, transhumanism is
not possible without technology7, then a posthuman-
3 Roden, D. [On line publication] «A defence of precritical
posthumanism, Transcript of a Peper given at Nottingham Univer-
sity’s Psychoanalysis and the Posthuman Conference». 07/09/2010.
<http://enemyindustry.net/blog/> [Consulted: 05/10/2013].
4 Bostrom, N. [On line publication] «The Future of Human
Evolution». 12/05/2001. <http://www.nickbostrom.com> [Consulted:
29/08/2013].
5 It could be true, however, that the boundaries are not as
clear-cut as those that we would like to draw. In posthumanist
thought, also exist some schools that believe that fundamental tech-
nological input is necessary for a total contamination of the human
being with other living beings: «Technological posthumanists rush to
embrace technology as that which saves us from humanism and frees
understandings of what it means to be human from humanism’s es-
sentializing and normativizing grip. They imagine a future where the
human body has been left behind and humans are free to configure
and augment themselves however they see fit» - Benko, S. «Ethics,
Technology, and Posthuman Communities», Essays in Philosophy, 6/1,
(2005), 2.
6 Birnbacher, D. Posthumanity, Transhumanism and Human
Nature, in Gordijn, B. Chadwick, R. (eds.) Medical Enhancement and
Posthumanity, Springer, New York, 2008, 95.
7 Hables Gray, indeed, writes: «Technology is not alien to or
destructive of our individual and common humanity, it is the very
definition of it. We are, simply, animals that use tools. Thus tech-
nology is a definition of our humanity, not something foreign to
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ism, which does not have at its centre the potential-
ity of today’s techno-science, is even now plausible.
If the transhuman being is a being of passage, which
still in some ways conserves the characteristics of the
human being – although enhanced and amplified via
technologies – the posthuman one is characterized as
something radically new, which clearly exceeds the hu-
man frontier, so much so as to no longer have the ap-
pearance of the Homo sapiens species: «A post-singular-
ity world would be constituted in ways that cannot be
humanly conceived»8.
2. Posthumanism and ecology: the
contamination of the living being
The inability to think of the posthuman being is cer-
tainly given, not so much by the difficulty of grasping
a process still in fieri9, as it (at least) currently does not
exist: «Posthumanism has yet to settle, yet to succeed,
yet to make its mark»10.
The additional difficulty of interpretation that is
hidden behind the posthumanist philosophy is to elimi-
nate the identity, and thus render impossible any defi-
nition: only that which has clear edges is defined, only
that which has unambiguous boundaries can be de-
fined. If there weren’t distinct and distinguishable enti-
ties, any affirmation or attempt to define is equivalent
to a characterization of a quality of the Whole. But the
ground that is gained by posthumanist philosophy is
precisely that of the total contamination of the human
it» - Hables Gray, C. Introduction, in Hables Gray, C. (ed.) Technohis-
tory: Using the History of Technology in Interdisciplinary Research,
Krieger Publishing Co., Melbourne, 1996, 2.
8 Roden, op cit.
9 In this sense, Roden’s statement appears really inappro-
priate: «If the genuine posthuman would be, like the human,
a historically emergent multiplicity, there can not be a priori
“posthumanology”. We can understand the posthuman only in
the process of its emergence or line or flight from the human.
Thus understanding the posthuman is not rendered impossible
by imaginary limitations on human understanding, but nor will
it be achieved by armchair speculation on the essential nature of
the human and the posthuman. It can be achieved only through
participating – to a greater or less degree – in the excision of the
posthuman from the human» - Roden, D. «Deconstruction and
excision in philosophical posthumanism», The Journal of Evolution
& Technology 21/1, (2010), 34.
10 Badmington, N. «Pod almighty!; or, humanism, posthuman-
ism, and the strange case of Invasion of the Body Snatchers», Tex -
tual Practice 15/1, (2001), 5.
being with other forms of life, i.e., the elimination of
differences: post-mankind lives in harmony with other
living (and non-living) beings, establishing a sort of
open system. In this regard, Pepperell writes: «There
is nothing external to a human, because the extent of
a human cannot be fixed. If we accept that the mind
and body cannot be absolutely separated, and that the
body and the environment cannot be absolutely sepa-
rated, then we are left with the apparently absurd yet
logically consistent conclusion that consciousness and
the environment cannot be absolutely separated»11.
The real goal of posthumanism, is not so much an
hyper-technological appliance of the human being, but,
rather, a progressive elimination and fluidization of the
differences, as expressed effectively by Rosi Braidotti:
«What Braidotti refers to as the posthuman predicament,
or living in the times of the posthuman, requires humans
to think beyond their traditional humanist limitations
and embrace the risks that becoming-other-than-human
beings»12. A complete posthumanism, thus, coincides with
the annihilation of all the boundaries that make “hu-
man” a human being: «In the posthumanist thought, the
human is no longer [...] the adoption or the expression
of man but rather the result of a hybridization of man
with non-human otherness»13. Posthumanism, therefore
represents the vertex of a parabola that began well be-
fore the modern age, to which man is nothing other than
merely one of living creatures that inhabit the Earth. In
this way, the culmination of the posthumanist philosophy
is not reached in the denial of anthropocentrism – which
is peculiar of the Renaissance era and of modern philoso-
phy – but in a return to a pre-Socratic or stoic period,
to that time in which the research on man and nature
was but one. The abandonment of the anthropocentri-
cal paradigm on an ethical level, in fact, appears only as
a consequence of a certain metaphysical point of view,
previously embraced: it is decided that man should not
11 Pepperell, R. «The Posthuman Manifesto», Kritikos, 2,
(2005), II, 10-11.
12 Herbrechter, S. «R. Braidotti The Posthuman. Cambridge:
Polity Press. Review». Culture Machine, (2013), 2.
13 Marchesini, R. Ruolo delle alterità nella definizione dei pre-
dicati umani, in: Barcellona, P. Ciaramelli, F. Fai, R. (eds.) Apocalisse
e post-umano. Il crepuscolo della modernità, Dedalo, Bari, 2007, 54.
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deserve privileges because he is not different from other
living beings. The anti-anthropocentric point of view is
configured on an ethical level, therefore, as a result of
the anti-identitarian conception at a cosmological level
(it would be better to say ontological level): «The up-
shot is that individual humans in the sense of isolated,
separate objects do not really exist, other than in our
imaginations. What exists instead are non-contained be-
ings who, in numerous ways, are distributed far beyond
their local space and time, caught in an infinite chain
of events without beginning or end. Each act I make,
whether trivial or expansive, has further consequences
that will ripple through infinity, just as each act is the ex-
tension of an indeterminate number of prior events. […]
The result is that our conception of human beings must
include our wider cultural environment as well as our
physical structure, and in particular our technological en-
vironment, not just as an external adjunct to the human
condition but as an inherent part of what constitutes us
in the first place. To put it succinctly: Humanists might
regard humans as distinct beings, in an antagonistic re-
lationship with their surroundings. Posthumanists, on the
other hand, regard humans as embodied in an extended
technological world»14.
Just as with Deep Ecology, therefore, «posthuman-
ism [...] is defined by the elimination of the degrees of
being, because there is no hierarchy in the ecosystem»15.
And just as with ecological concepts, the conceptual ful-
crums become essentially two: the system and the net-
work. The posthuman entity exists as it is part of the
Super-Organism or Ecosystem and lives and feeds on the
relationships/networks (webs) that constitute it in an es-
sential way, so much so that without these, there would
be nothing. The culmination of a complete posthuman-
ism (like that of a fulfilled ecology), is, indeed, the adap-
tation of common consciousness to the Superorganism/
Gaia, the pouring out of oneself and the cancellation of
one’s own ego. One of the most successful representa-
tions of a successful adaptation to the Whole can be
14 Pepperell, R. «Posthumans and Extended Experience», Jour-
nal of Evolution and Technology 14, (2005), 34.
15 Viola, F. Umano e post-umano: la questione dell’identità, in:
Russo, F. (ed.) Natura cultura libertà, Armando, Roma, 2010, 90.
found in the famous novel by Asimov, Foundation and
Earth: «“Yes”, said Trevize. “Exactly! I chose Gaia, a su-
perorganism; a whole planet with a mind and personal-
ity in common, so that one has to say ‘I/we/Gaia’ as an
invented pronoun to express the inexpressible”. [...] “I/
we/Gaia do not know how it is that you come to the
right decision. Is it important to know that as long as we
have the decision?” “You speak for the whole planet, do
you? For the common consciousness of every dewdrop,
of every pebble, of even the liquid central core of the
planet?” “I do, and so can any portion of the planet
in which the intensity of the common consciousness is
great enough”»16.
It is realized in this way, even in the posthumanist
philosophy, the “metaphysical revolution” that charac-
terizes much of the contemporary ontologies: the role
reversal of the relation (accident) with the subject (sub-
stance). From this conceptual framework, one can un-
derstand disembodied consciousness, mind uploading
(or downloading), unconditional openness to otherness
as a source of “constitution of identity”, and its empha-
sis on forms of “energy without matter” and becoming:
the posthumanism features, at an essential level, as a
radicalization of relationships. The importance commit-
ted to the substantial accident of the relationship allows
posthumanism, on the one hand, to establish a “com-
plex” cosmological view, and, on the other, to avoid the
root of the problems about the existence of such a thing
as human nature: «Posthumanism, emerging as it does
from poststructuralism, denies that there is such a thing
as human nature»17.
The basic problem is the fact that becoming needs
Being as its foundation: the condition of possibility
man's change is precisely the fact that we can give a
structure to which the mutations adhere, namely man
himself. Yet, posthumanism denies the permanence of
a thing such as human nature, perhaps fearing to lose
the metamorphosis of phenomena. The point is per-
haps to accept that the human being is not defined
once and for all, but neither is he “nothing”: only ad-
16 Asimov, I. Foundation and Earth, Bantam Books, New York,
2004, 4.
17 Benko, op cit., 2.
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mitting that he is becoming, just like all other living be-
ings, we can explain both his identity and his changes18.
3. Eliminate the limits to eliminate man
In the absence of a human nature – in its deepest
meaning, of course – there are no restrictions or limita-
tions on how humans can configure themselves: the only
limitation humans have to overcome is the organic body.
But, even in this case, avoiding the impasse of the body
should become quite simple: once its boundaries are re-
moved, or the body is reduced to a mere function, this
latter becomes a useless pretence, completely replace-
able. In fact, Pepperell writes: «There is nothing external
to a human, because the extent of a human cannot be
fixed»19; and again: «The mind and the body act together
to produce consciousness. If one is absent consciousness
ceases. […] In order to function the brain must be con-
nected to a body, even if the body is artificial»20. The
most significant difficulty in this context seems to be the
following: is it possible to totally cancel the limit – of an
entity, of the whole, etc. – or do you tend to postpone
and procrastinate it only? The issue of the alleged perfec-
tion (or perfectibility) seems, in fact, to be a more regula-
tive idea than a real possibility: is it possible to achieve
perfection? What kind of perfection: material (bodily),
spiritual (psychic), or both? The difficulties are so obvi-
ous, especially if you think that, to establish the idea of
perfection, it is always necessary to refer to a “model of
perfection”, an ideal to which you can inspire to for the
design of an entity. Yet some contemporary philosophies
(posthumanism and ecologism first of all, but also evolu-
tionism, which is the theoretical background for these)
deny, a priori, a norm of which to refer to, an ideal of
perfection to aim for, a purpose and a directionality of
the perfective activity. The “where to”, in fact, speaks of
an end, a goal to tend towards, which can inspire and
give the sense (meaning and direction).
Firstly, “blind evolution” that is at the base of ecol-
ogy, and then of posthumanism, excludes for itself the
18 See: Bontadini, G. «Sozein ta phainomena», Rivista di filo-
sofia neoscolastica V, (1964), 439-469.
19 Pepperell, «The Posthuman Manifesto», op. cit. II, 10.
20 Ibid, II, 4.
category of perfection, since the case (or the non-adjust-
able biological processes) does not follow trajectories
oriented and adjustable by an intelligence; it is quite the
opposite: to delegate the interpretation of the whole
and of its becoming to mere bio-chemical processes,
driven by irrational principles, means to deny the pos-
sibility that reality actually responds to a higher rational
order.
The denial of limit (and its idea) at this level, there-
fore, far from asserting consistently the realization of
such perfection, contradicts its very possibility: perfec-
tion exists only if there is a limit to go beyond. To speak
of perfection we still need to keep in mind something
that is not perfect, and, on the other hand, something
that will positively inspire our idea.
Perhaps the elimination of limit is not as possible
as the posthumanism wants us to believe: at most, we
can move to postpone it, but the very own ontological
constitution of reality states a necessity and an in-elim-
inability of the limit. To think of “eradicating” the full
limit from reality means losing its becoming: this means,
ultimately, denying the very constitution of the world.
But this is self-evidently unthinkable.
The posthumanist thought, therefore, moves the
centre of the contemporary philosophical reflections
from the question of technological possibilities and of
its alleged ethical limits to the question of the limits of
man, interwoven in his original essence: «The crucial is-
sue is not that of the relationship between natural and
artificial, but that of the distinction between man and
his environment, between man and man’s world. If this
distinction is impossible, then we lose human identity.
It is not a coincidence that the core of the problem of
posthumanism doesn’t turn so much around the pos-
sibility of natural hybridization between species, but
above all around the issue of confusion between man
and man’s environment. Here, bioethics and ecology
meet and blend. Posthumanism is not as such a replace-
ment of the human species with a more perfect one,
but rather it is a new way of considering mankind,
one in which the question of identity has no longer
any meaning. Post-humankind has no face, also be-
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cause we are no longer able to predict the effects of
our actions and what we produce is without telos»21.
4. The forms of contamination: the technology
The dissolution of boundaries – their liquefaction – is
configured in posthumanism as the condition of possi-
bility until a total contamination occurs, until the enti-
ties are totally opened to other entities and until they
can allow themselves be plagued. A first theoretical
difficulty encountered here is this: it seems to us that
the condition of openness to others is precisely the
demarcation of boundaries, and not their dissolution;
the ontologically closed thing is opened to otherness
since it is defined: we can, thus, recognize a “you”
distinguished from an “I”. The difference and the pro-
portion (and thus the diversity marked by the identity)
are configured as essential conditions for otherness. For,
there to be an “other”, there must always be contem-
porary given an “I”.
The forms of the posthuman contamination – or hy-
bridization – are essentially two, and are distinguished
by the objects that make it possible, accepting the initial
human structure: technology and other living beings22.
For posthumanism it is not, in fact, the technique
to represent an opportunity to dominate the world of
man – just like for transhumanism – but it is technology
that defines the hybrid identity of man, finally open to
otherness. In the light of posthumanist speculation, it is
not possible talking about technique as a mere means to
direct human evolution, yet; on the contrary, the tech-
nique turns off all anthropocentric domination pretence
over other species, living and non-living. In this regard,
it becomes a vehicle for hybridizing transformation,
21 Viola, op cit. 95.
22 As reported in the most influential studies in this topic
area, «the term posthuman stands for a series of quite different
perspectives and positions. […] These different uses of the term
reflect often radically different and opposed approaches to the
category of the “human”. On the one hand, posthumanism names
a contemporary context in which scientific developments trouble
the foundational figure of the human subject as distinct from other
animal forms of life. New technologies […] disturb an idealized
definition of the human subject as separate and liberated from
nature and fully in command of the self and non-human others» -
Castree, N. Nash, C. «Editorial. Posthuman geographies». Social &
Cultural Geographies 7/4, (2006), 501.
freeing up from its traditional role as a functional tool
that can provide for the structural human deficiencies:
man is not technical since he needs and has needs... it is
the technique, rather, that imposes new ways of inter-
preting the living being, decentralizing the position of
man in the cosmos.
In this sense, posthumanism is configured as an over-
coming of transhumanism and as distancing from an
a-critical glorification of the possibilities opened up by
technology. It can also be portrayed as an abandon-
ment of many humanist anthropocentric ideas: «The
posthuman is thus the idea of a speculative transfor-
mation of the human that can be developed through
a range of synthetic activities: say, by developing and
testing enhancement technologies, the development of
cybernetic art forms or the fielding of imaginative pos-
sibilities in philosophy or literature. In Derridean terms,
these productive activities (occasion) singular judgments
in which we re-invent our understanding of anthropo-
centric concepts»23.
Therefore, posthumanism understands technology as
one of the many means useful to reach a not purely
technological end: hybridization –which does not occur
exclusively with machines– can also be achieved through
further means24. In this posthumanist point of view,
technology is not configured as an extrinsic way through
which the living being progressively eliminates its limita-
tions, but rather, as an intrinsic possibility of the living
being (in particular for the human being): «A critical
theory of technology begins by embracing the symbiotic
relationship between people and technology. As much
as people create and determine technology, technology
creates and determines people. Therefore, this critical
theory of technology is thoroughly posthuman»25.
In this regard, posthumanists critically distance them-
selves from transhumanists and, at the same time, from
23 Roden, D. «Deconstruction and excision…», op cit. 34.
24 In this sense, we cannot endorse the following thought:
«Whatever this new post-human condition will be, it will involve at
least the enhancement of mental and physical capabilities, but also
possibly the extension of life itself towards immortality» - Russell,
M. Sharpe, M. «Editors’ Introduction: The Post/Human Condition
And The Need For Philosophy», Parrhesia 8, (2009), 2.
25 Seltin, J. «Production of The Post-Human: Political Econo-
mies of Bodies and Technology», Parrhesia 8, (2009), 46.
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hyper-humanists –the name for the staunchest contem-
porary defenders of the existence of a human nature
already defined, such as Fukuyama or Habermas–, and at
the same time, abandoning technophilia or technopho-
bia. According to the posthumanists, we are not deal-
ing with denigrating or overestimating technology in its
influence on man: it is necessary, however, to analyze it
with different parameters from those used as of now.
To do this, however, we must overcome the Cartesian
dichotomies, which led to the consideration of nature
and culture (and with them the couple nature/artifice)
as areas separated by an insurmountable ontological
barrier26. The separation of the natural from the arti-
ficial and from the cultural inevitably led to, according
to Roberto Marchesini, a radical distancing of man from
the machine, and at the same time, from the animal27.
This distancing also brings with it “strangeness”: the
machines and the technological constructions are now
seen as something alien to human nature, so much so
that «while the animal is realized exclusively within the
natural context – i.e., within the so-called first nature –
man feels the need to be completed – i.e., to contribute
with culture, which is considered in all respects as a
second nature»28.
Instead, in posthumanism, between technique and
human beings there cannot be “strangeness”, because
man may be the result of hybridization with technique29:
the technique may modify the biological data, although
it does not produce gaps between the two elements but
a conjunction, so that technique is embodied materially
to the bios. Thus technique, by human means to reach
an extrinsic end to an object, becomes a co-operator of
hybridization. Although posthumanism is going in the
direction of a restoration of the natural/artificial frac-
ture by mixing technology with the living world, thus
aiming to overcome the Cartesian dichotomy nature/
culture, it still seems to suffer from a deficiency that
undermines the ground of the conceptual system: it ap-
26 See: Marchesini, R. Post-human, verso nuovi modelli di esi-
stenza, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 2002, 72 ss.
27 See: Ibid, 77.
28 Ibid, 79.
29 See: Ibid, 167.
pears, in fact, conceptually inaccurate, at least for the
writer, to talk about technique and, then, man. If it is
true that technique is a natural condition for man – as
Ortega y Gasset wrote: «without technology, man would
not exist»30 – on the other hand, it must also be taken
into account that without man, technique may not exist
either. The hypostatization of technology – and, with
it, the machines that are mostly considered fully au-
tonomous systems – returns to the thought of a fracture
that has not healed, and a difficulty of taking man into
account as a naturally technical being. The technique
configures, in fact, as a typical posture of man, and this
is the real origin of technology. If technique is essentially
in man’s glance on the world, there cannot be a rift be-
tween it and the human being, and likewise, that glance
cannot exist once the man is removed.
5. The forms of contamination: the
hybridization with other forms of life
As with technique, we should think of the relation-
ship between man and other living beings in the same
way: the openness to others does not configure as the
opposite attitude to the closure of everything that is
extrinsic to man, but as a modality of an almost en-
tirely accomplished expression of the self. Post-mankind
is revealed as a reality that surpasses man in terms of
completeness and accomplishment, since they are more
connected and in tune with the energies that vivify the
cosmos. Here, the conception of the world as a universal
community emerges, «based on empathy, accountability
and recognition»31, and unified by «zoe, or the genera-
tive force of nonhuman life-rules through a trans-spe-
cies and transgenic, interconnection, or rather a chain of
connections which can best be described as an ecological
philosophy of non-unitary, embodied subjects and of
multiple belongings»32.
As a result (and a consequence) of this hybridization
and acceptance of others into itself, we have the disloca-
tion of the «centrality of the human, in favor of the in/
30 Ortega y Gasset, J. Meditazione sulla tecnica e altri saggi su
scienza e filosofia, Mimesis, Milano-Udine, 2011, 37.
31 Herbrechter, op cit. 7.
32 Braidotti, op cit. 203.
Luca VaLera Posthumanism: Beyond humanism?
Cuadernos de BioétiCa XXV 2014/3ª
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non/post-human and of bio-centered egalitarianism»33.
Thus, the change in perspective undertaken by the post-
humanist philosophy consists in the abandonment of
the anthropocentric conception to gain post-anthropo-
centrism, once surpassed the negative form of anti-an-
thropocentrism, describing it as a movement of Hege-
lian thesis/antithesis/synthesis: «Postanthropocentrism’ –
a key focus of posthumanist thinking – as rethinking the
human “with” its nonhuman others (animals, machines,
objects, systems, environments, etc.)»34.
The difficulties encountered by the anthropocentric
and bio-centric paradigms35 seem to be permanently
abandoned due to the post-anthropocentric proposal,
which recalls the need for «a new global “ecology”:
the end of human exceptionalism returns the question
of how to live together with nonhuman others with a
vengeance. New ethical and political challenges and the
extension of the demand for social justice to include all
humans and nonhumans calls for new “ecologies” of
how these increasingly complex environments may be
shared “sustainably” in the face of disappearing natural
resources and the increasing demand for them, and in
the face of global migration flows, threats to the en-
vironment and biodiversity, and a globalized capitalist
system that seems to be destined to pursue its path of
destruction until everything is consumed»36.
This form of posthumanism, thus, far from wishing
to decline the “post” as an attempt to overcome the
evolution process of the Homo Sapiens species, tries
to reinterpret it in terms of inclusiveness of otherness
rather than self-closure. In this perspective we would
speak of posthumanism to indicate the fact that the
possibility of human realization lies in the ability of
man to go beyond himself, that is to recognize the
irreplaceable value of co-existence and collaboration
with biological or technological diversity. Rather than
the “completed evolution” of transhumanism, or the
33 Herbrechter, op cit. 7.
34 Herbrechter, S. «R. Braidotti The Posthuman. Cambridge:
Polity Press. Review». Culture Machine, (2013), 3.
35 See: Valera, L. «Singer e la questione ecologica. Per il supe-
ramento della dicotomia tra antropocentrismo e biocentrismo», Per
la filosofia 80/3, (2010), 67-78.
36 Herbrechter, op cit. 7.
condition of life for the present and the future hu-
manity through the application of sophisticated tech-
nology, posthumanism becomes a new perspective on
the current human condition: «In one important sense,
the “posthuman” means not the literal end of human-
ity, nor the dramatic mutations in the human body
brought on by various technologies. Rather it signi-
fies the end of certain misguided ways of conceiving
human identity and the nature of human relations to
the social and natural environments, other species, and
technology»37. The possibilities offered by posthuman-
ism are therefore, firstly, a new hermeneutical perspec-
tive: «When we talk about posthumanism, we are not
just talking about a thematic of the decentering of the
human in relation to either evolutionary, ecological,
or technological coordinates...rather, I will insist that
we are also talking about how thinking confronts that
thematic, what thought has to becomes in the face of
those challenges»38.
So the “post”, in the light of these forms of con-
tamination, cannot be longer interpreted as an “anti”
or simply as the affirmation of a strong subject, tending
to perfection, which is dialectically opposed to its cor-
ruptible materiality, and that tends to abuse technology
as an instrument of power and domination over himself
and the world. On the contrary, the “post” represents a
“with” that proposes the affirmation of a subject in con-
tinuous metamorphosis, modulated by the relationship
entertained with the otherness, be it a machine or an-
other living being. If, in the first case, we are spectators
of a fictitious overtaking of the critical referent of post-
humanism, i.e. the “humanist” human being, character-
ized as the centre of the universe, in the second case,
we come out with a real alternative conception, which
sees in becoming, in relation to otherness, a necessity
inscribed in the very being of man, which, in order to
find himself, must paradoxically cross the boundaries of
the self.
The total symbiosis of man with the other forms
of life and the recognition of a single superior and
37 Seltin, op cit. 46.
38 Wolfe, C. What is Posthumanism?, University of Minnesota
Press, Minneapolis, 2009, xvi.
Luca VaLera Posthumanism: Beyond humanism?
Cuadernos de BioétiCa XXV 2014/3ª
489
transversal strength – zoe, or life – clash with a dif-
ficulty which appears as dialectically insurmountable,
as evidenced from everyday experience: life – candidly
elevated to a positive principle of everything – is pole-
mos. Living beings – especially those which constitute
the main partners of hybridization – are consumed
by infighting, and the world outside of man does not
seem to be as peaceful as it is described today in an
exquisitely sweetened up manner. The nature, outside
of man, is not the home of the happy coexistence of
different species, rather the contrary: it is the home of
the greatest injustices and abuses. In nature, the weak-
er continues to succumb to the stronger, and without
giving rise to some motions of piety: compassion and
mercy are strictly human feelings; on the other hand,
also the opening up to difference seems to be an ex-
clusively human prerogative.
The difficulty in practice by offering a realistic and
non-idealized view of nature as polemos seems to un-
dermine the harmony that should be given with the to-
tal hybridization of living beings. Always assuming that
the other living beings “desire” this hybridization: oth-
erwise, forced contamination would only reveal another
form of the purely anthropocentric position.
6. Posthuman: still human?
The posthumanist idea, for which man can step out-
side his own boundaries, potentially embracing every
form of life and every technological structure, is entirely
different from many forms of thought that have oc-
curred for many centuries. Post-mankind is not a bad
copy of the Nietzschean Ubermensch, nor an aggrava-
tion of Baconian power and new science. In this sense,
posthumanism is configured as an original thought, far
from continental metaphysical traditions, and, at the
same time, the analytical reflections and eastern mys-
tiques. The difficulty in cataloguing posthumanism in a
well-defined structure of thought is given by the elusive-
ness of such a philosophical system, so seemingly simple
yet difficult to understand. And it is difficult to explain
because it tends to undermine the very condition of
thought, that is, the same human being: «The posthu-
man, according to Hayles, does not signify the “end of
humanity” but the end of a conception of the human
as self-present, autonomous agent that “may have ap-
plied, at best, to that fraction of humanity who had the
wealth, power and leisure to conceptualize themselves
as autonomous being exercising their will through indi-
vidual agency and choice»39.
The negation of man’s identity is also, on the other
hand, the denial that thought can be given in a prob-
able future as it is always been given, i.e., starting
from the same existential coordinates. Denying man,
we also inevitably deny the persistence of thought.
If it is true, beginning from the theory of embodied
intelligence that supports the posthumanist thought,
and for which one thinks with body and mind togeth-
er40, then the changing of the body also changes the
thought. The conditions that make a thought possible
in the contemporary age could change the attainment
of a new body, be it is a technological one or a hybrid
form with living beings. The difficulty of predicting the
way by which one deploys the thought in an indeter-
minate future, makes any discussion present about this
hypothetical forms of life so vain and foolish, and thus
reduces it to a mere form of narrative. Here posthu-
manism reveals its deepest essence: it is precisely one of
many narratives that man has always proposed in order
to interpret a reality that is revealed as mysterious, and
perhaps to fight off fear. Posthumanism is, after all, a
narrative41.
Far from denying the possibility of reflection that a
narrative can provide, rather, we affirm that the true
power of the posthumanist thought consists in redis-
covering some purely human needs and desires: the
pursuit of eternity and immortality, the desire of per-
fection, the need to open up to otherness and to live
in harmony with other living beings, the need to know
that we are part of a single cosmos. The posthumanist
39 Roden, D. «Deconstruction… », op cit. 30.
40 In fact, Pepperell writes: «Consciousness is an effect that
arises through the co-operation of a brain and body; we think with
our whole body» - Pepperell, «Posthuman Manifesto», op cit. II, 4.
41 We tried to provide an adequate argumentation to that
statement in another article within this special issue: Valera, L.
Tambone, V. The Goldfish Syndrome. Human Nature and the Post-
human Myth.
Luca VaLera Posthumanism: Beyond humanism?
Cuadernos de BioétiCa XXV 2014/3ª
490
narrative reaffirms, in short – albeit in philosophical
disguise – a human feeling, all too human, namely the
search for his own perfection: «“The supporters of this
new current of thought compose the praise of man,
not a mere subject, but a being sovereign of his own
body, demiurge, and infinite re-creator of his own post-
nature. In this perspective, the physical and psycho-
logical identity appears as a mutant entity, a becoming
process, capable of continuously updating information
assets”. Posthumanists believe that through the inter-
vention of the deep structures of the human being,
we should arrive to a better, more advanced humanity.
This idea is not new»42.
Ultimately, the posthuman being is nothing if not the
same human being. With the modified and hybridized
body, with enhanced intellectual faculties and diluted
consciousness in space and time, with increased sensitiv-
ity and no more diseases... but also with the same needs
and desires of human beings.
Needs and desires that are post-human, perhaps all
too human.
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... Wolfe (2010, xv) views the posthuman as "after human" and "beyond human" because people begin to lose their identity. Arguments by Phillips (2015), Pepperel (2005), and Valera (2014) show that being posthuman is the "fall" of humankind because their positions are equal or even lower than technology/machines. Therefore, Colebrook (2104, 28) justifies posthuman as the "human world without humans," humans without humanity. ...
... At this time, it is useless to critically address the issues raised by transhumanist or posthumanist thinkers (Valera, 2014) in order to understand the dynamics and possibilities of the new technologies. The problems so radically unleashed by these new tendencies are already regularly used in some technological media, precisely because the logic of technology remains the same for both simple and the most complex contexts. ...
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Foundation and Earth, Bantam Books
  • I Asimov
Asimov, I. Foundation and Earth, Bantam Books, New York, 2004.