and communication technologies (ICT) together with
developments in the life sciences, particularly in biotechnology, have
about not only societal changes but also new philosophical questions.
It is the
very nature of some key philosophical concepts such as personhood and
that are challenged when interpreted within the narratives of ICT and
biology (Kang 2011). There is a tendency toward dogmatism in the legal
patent fields to highlight the notion of human personhood and its
as human dignity, autonomy and the uniqueness of human moral action
new biotechnological developments.
biology and ICT seem to lead to methodical and practical
reductionism because of anthropomorphic concepts that can be used to
beings as characterized only by what they have in common with other
with digital computation. The discovery of the genetic code, which
deciphered by the aid of ICT, together with the invention of the
provided a basis for a naturalistic and technocratic view of human
namely their personhood and their capacity of acting in a free and
manner. The concept of humans as autonomous moral agents is rooted in a
complex tradition of Western thought. It builds the core of democratic
and legal systems as well as of international treaties and declarations
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The concept of agent is today often used in an “inflationary” and
of this paper is to address some of the questions raised by
Kang (2011) on the notion of agent in relation to property and
the first part, I deal with the concept of agent within the framework
Aristotelian philosophy, which is the basis for further theories in
with and/or opposition to it, particularly since modernity. In the
I deal with the concepts of subjectivity, personhood, and ownership in
and legal philosophy. In the third part, I discuss the current creation
artificial and natural agents on the basis of biotechnology and ICT. A
of agents that does not take into account the rich philosophical
in this paper only by Aristotle and Kant, is mostly superficial and
Many times, it also creates sophistic arguments that give the
deal with completely new philosophical questions, whereas the opposite
A comparative discussion of past models of agency and agents can only
impact today if it is hermeneutically confronted with the questions
particularly from ICT and biotechnology.
Aristotle on Agents
metaphysics deals with the question of being as being
and the search for an originating or primordial
substance beyond the sublunar ones that we perceive through our senses.
sublunar substances are a mixture of matter (hyle) and form (morphe) in
a process of becoming based on their actuality (energeia) and
potentiality (dynamis) toward
their end that they already instantiate.
According to Aristotle, there must be a primary substance or a prime
mover that is the original source of all natural movements and agents
is the object of a special science, namely first philosophy (Aristotle
This is the
framework within which Aristotle develops the concept of
movement taking it as a basis for a taxonomy of divine, natural, and
agents. Natural and artificial agents are what they actually are (energeia) as well as
what they can be (dynamis). Potential
being is not pure
nothingness. It means the potentiality of being addressed by an agent.
Aristotelian agents, with the exception of the prime unmoved mover, are
patients. The concept of dynamis
is one of Aristotle’s epoch-making philosophical innovations enabling
to think beyond
the Parmenedian and Platonic dichotomy of being versus non-being. There
possibility of thinking being, namely potentiality. The specific kind
movement which is characteristic to natural living agents, such as
plants, is generation and corruption through which they participate in
of the eternal and divine according to their own possibilities
415 a 28).
unmoved mover is an eternal substance whose pure activity is
thinking that thinks this thinking (Aristotle 1973: 1074 b 34). This
agency as pure reflective thinking is the very essence or model of what
means by agent and agency. Agency and thinking are originally the same.
prime agent is present in every natural agent as its primordial and
i.e., as that to which it is intrinsically and potentially related to
very beginning. The prime mover moves or “in-forms” all natural agents.
It is the
originator and final term of reference and attractor of all other kinds
agents and actions with or without own reflective capacity and with
degrees of actuality and potentiality.
In On Heaven (Aristotle 1965),
Aristotle points to another kind of natural celestial agents that take
the eternal movement of the stars being not essentially but
unmoved movers. It is indeed possible, as Aristotle remarks, to think
as being just bodies without a soul. But as they are part of action and
kai zoe) it should not
be strange to conceive them as having a soul that leads them to their
goal (Aristotle 1965: 292 a-b). In other words, heaven and its
are conceived by Aristotle as a kind of living being moved by eternal
substances that substitute their anthropomorphic representations in
1973: XII, 8). In this text, Aristotle uses the concept of praxis which is
proper to humans as
intelligent agents and the one of zoe
which is proper to all living beings. Even if this animistic
Aristotle’s cosmology is controversial (Moraux 1965) it can be stated
Aristotle the stars are moved by intelligent agents of divine nature,
divine agent embraces them as their final goal (Aristotle 1973: 1074
According to Thomas Aquinas (Thomas 1922: I, 79. X), Arab
the souls of the stars intelligentiae
divine intelligences separated from matter. Beyond this cosmic
as such divine intelligences are called following the biblical
tradition, are divine
messengers (Capurro 1993, Piepmeier 1976, Agamben 2007).
develops a theory of the human agent with regard to what
humans have in common with other living beings as well as to what is
their form or essence as an intelligent agent. All living agents move
themselves on the basis of a desire towards something as well as
Beyond the perceptual capacity, the human agent has an intellectual one
1974: 433 b 27-30) allowing not just to move arbitrary but to do it on
of a planned reflection. Human agents lose their autonomy, i.e., the
power over their actions when the will becomes purely a passive object
desire (Aristotle 1974: 434 a 5-15).
What is the
cause of spatial movement of agents such as plants, animals,
and human beings? Aristotle discusses different possible explanations
the capacity or potentiality of searching for food, sensory perception,
towards something as well as reflection, and reason (Aristotle 1974:
15-26). He comes to the conclusion that the origins of spatial movement
and reason or, more precisely, practical reason (dianoia
praktike) as well as sensory
not all living beings have the human reflective capacity (Aristotle
1974: 433 a
There is a
difference between practical and theoretical reason with
regard to their goals which is the knowledge of first philosophy in
theoretical reason (Aristotle 1974: 433 a 14-15) and good life (eu zen) in case of
Reflection (dianoia) by itself
does not move anything if it is not related to a goal to be achieved.
This can be
either "practical" (prakton),
case it remains inside the agent, or "poietical" (poieton), in case
the subject produces something outside
itself (Aristotle 1962: 1139 b 1-4). Practical reason is confronted
is good as well as with what is apparently good. The good must be of
that becomes part of the agent (to
(Aristotle 1974: 433 a 29). This reflection concerns a kind of good
that can be
1974: 433 a 30).
develops a theory of human action (praxis) based on a
specific reflective capacity concerned
with what is supposed to be good for us humans (ta
anthropina) instead of subordinating
the human agent to the
idea of the good as Plato does (Bien 1985, Capurro 1991). Aristotle
capacity of practical ethical reflection oriented towards good life phronesis. This kind of
not purely intellectual reasoning that can be acquired through learning
it is possible to forget what we learn but it is not possible to forget
1962: 1140 b 29-30).
Rather, it is an innate capacity of the human agent to reflect on what
for good life as a whole and not just for what is good in a particular
1962: 1140 a 28).
agent strives toward the good as something that remains in
the agent, i.e., the agent strives for becoming good instead of doing
externally something good. Aristotle’s terminological distinction in
regard is between poiesis as a kind of
productive activity related to what is outside the agent and praxis as the
activity concerned with the life
(bios) of the
human agent (Aristotle
1962: 1140 b 3-4). The knowledge about
how to produce something outside the agent is called techne
(2). In other
words, techne and poiesis – the
knowledge on how to produce
something external to the agent and the production process itself –
to phronesis and praxis, i.e. to the
knowledge about good
life and the activity of good life itself. The Aristotelian ethics,
as a theory about the character (ethos) of
the human agent is part of his practical philosophy which includes the
the human agent with regard to the household and the city-state (Bien
In his Politics, Aristotle addresses
different kind of agents such as politicians, kings, managers and
family heads (Aristotle
1950: 1252 a 7-8). A main issue in case of managers concerns the
between slaves and free men. Aristotle justifies the ownership of a
house and tools
as being necessary for life and particularly for good life (eu zen) (Aristotle
1950: 1253 b 25). He
mentions two kinds of tools, namely with or without a soul, and he
the helmsman steering the helm or commanding the officer and the house
administrator who owns tools as well as slaves (Aristotle 1950: 1253 b
He addresses a third possibility, namely tools without a soul but able
to do autonomously
the same kind of work as the ones with a soul as was envisioned in
like the case of the statues of Daidalos or the tripods of Hephaistos
according to Homer (Ilias 18,
373-377), came on their own (automatous)
to the meetings of the gods. Aristotle remarks that in case we had, for
instance, automatic weaving machines or music machines playing by
slaves would not be necessary any more (Aristotle 1950: 1253 b 35-38).
case of man-made artificial agents the form or eidos remains in
the mind of the human designer. They have
therefore no intrinsic goal that they would instantiate (Kobusch 1980).
are incapable of praxis.
main difference in this context concerns the kind of activity
performed by tools as different from the one performed by their owners.
action performed by a master is practice (praxis) in the
sense of an intellectual planning agent in
contrast to material production (poiesis)
which is the kind of action proper to tools even if such tools, as in
of slaves, perceive themselves as having reason (logos) which they
are not supposed to use (Aristotle 1950: 1254
b 20-23). The difference between slave and master – not all human
by nature masters or slaves (Aristotle 1950: 1255 b 5) – arises from
that the master owns the slave which he – in the context of Ancient
masters no less than political leaders being always male – uses as a
tool produces (poietika)
something while the owner performs an intelligent action (praktikon). What is
belongs from the point of view of the master to the realm of practical
1950: 1254 a 1-2). The relation between master and slave is an
The slave belongs completely to the master. The concept of ownership is
on the idea that no part remains out of the control of the master
1950: 1254 a 10-13). The ownership of production tools characterizes
the praxis of the
master. It allows him to use what
they produce, as well as to purchase and to exchange the products using
1950: 1257 a 34) for the sake of profit (Aristotle 1950: 1257 b 5). To
towards an unlimited accumulation of money and things owned through
that a human agent is committed to life but not to good life (Aristotle
1257 41-42). A manager can delegate this kind of administrative life
him to commit himself to
politics and philosophy, i.e., to another kind of intellectual praxis (Aristotle
1950: 1255 b 35-38).
Aristotle develops a theory of agents based on the
metaphysical presupposition of a prime unmoved mover whose nature as a
agent is to think his own thinking as well as to attract all other
the cosmic sphere, there are divine star movers. All living non-divine
beings are agents with different properties. The human agent can
agents, giving them extrinsically a form and using them as tools. The
difference between master and slave among human agents is a de
facto difference based on ownership,
the slave being a living tool and having intelligence but not using it
autonomously. Tools are agents of material production (poiesis) in
opposition to the intellectual activity (praxis) that
characterizes the human agent
when striving for different possibilities of good life in order to
become a good,
i.e., virtuous agent.
from Aristotle to Kant, we might think, prima facie,
that both thinkers are antipodes with regard to
agents. Let us take a thorough look.
Kant on Personhood
brings about a transformation of the Greek metaphysics of
substance into that of the subject made possible by the epoch-making
Jewish-Christian tradition, as well as by the rise of Modern empirical
The Enlightenment questions the hierarchical dependence of the human
a divine agent including its analogical worldly power structures such
slave-master dependency and the view of material production as
honourable than thinking. The influence of the Aristotelian agent
obvious, for instance, on Hegel’s master-slave trope and on Karl Marx’s
of use and change value, the dualism between intellectual and bodily
on the question of using human beings purely as means for purchasing
exchanging products with the goal of the endless accumulation of
critical philosophy is, prima
facie, the antipode of the metaphysics of substance. It is the
subject, and not the divine prime mover, who is at the core of Kant’s
theory as well as of his practical philosophy. Kant compares his
of classic Greek-Christian metaphysics with the Copernican revolution
the human subject from the apparently obvious position as a stable
observer of things,
without taking care of the limits of theoretical reason and its
aspiration to a
first philosophy – i.e., to a knowledge of what is metaphysical or
natural world. But, nevertheless, he still makes a conceptual
between the metaphysical god that has now many attributes of the
and is being called intellectus
in contrast to the derivative human intellect or intellectus
ectypus (Kant 1974a, B 351). The
as is dual agent. Being a natural agent, human actions are determined
laws of nature in a Newtonian universe. As a member of a "noumenal,"
transcendent world, the human subject is a free agent and origin of
This has far reaching consequences. As Kang rightly remarks:
humans, by legal orthodoxy, cannot be property, patent law transfers
human subjectivity into a non-material, disembodied realm of the
'sacred' [footnote 7: See Agamben (1998) for the notion of the sacred
as falling outside the legal realm. On the quasi-religious aura of
genetic language, see Kay (2000)] as expressed in the notion of human
dignity, [footnote 8: See Pottage (2002) for an exposition of the
employment of the concept of human dignity as a legal blackbox.], which
has the adverse effect of disconnecting the human from the singular
experience of embodiment. In order to redress such a lack of
representation of processes of human embodiment in the context of
patent law, it would be necessary to incorporate representations of
human embodiments discourse to the patent law discourse itself.
It is, in
fact, not only patent law but also Kant himself who transfers
human subjectivity into a disembodied and sacred or noumenal realm
addressed with the concept of human dignity (Würde) in
opposition to value (Wert) or price (Preis)
of all worldly natural and artificial things to which human beings as
also belong (Kant 1974b: B 77). One corollary of this thesis is that
no equivalent that could be given in exchange for humans because they
do not just belong to the kind of things that
can be produced, evaluated, used, and/or exchanged. Their noumenal
nature is strictly
speaking invaluable, which means also that they cannot be used simply
towards ends like in case of the Aristotelian slave. Humans as noumenal
belong to a transcendent or metaphysical community, the "kingdom of
themselves" of intellectual beings (vernünftige
Wesen) whose noumenal will is
itself the origin of the law
of their actions as members of the "kingdom of ends." Kantian autonomy
on transcendent freedom and not, as in the case of the Aristotelian
reason, as a capability of choosing between what is relatively good for
human agent. It means the capacity of an agent to be the spontaneous
a free action in the noumenal or metaphysical world of intellectual
concept of autonomy is apparently an exclusive property of
human freedom. Kantian philosophy is mostly understood as being
anthropocentric. In fact, the concept of autonomy is not only
humans as intellectual beings (Vernunftwesen) but is the foundation of the
of "every kind of intellectual nature" (Kant
1974b: B 79). This argument addresses the possible existence of other
noumenal agents that are not part of the natural world but of whom we
no theoretical knowledge due to the sensory dependency of human reason
1977a: A 2). This lack of knowledge makes the difference to the
first philosophy dealing with the nature of divine agents. The Kantian
philosophy is only prima facie
anthropocentric as it is usually understood. It is reason centered no
the Aristotelian one. The main difference being that Kant splits the
reason in case of the human agent. Reason (Vernunft) or the
capability of reasoning is a theoretical
capacity that can also be the quality of a natural agent within a
which is the case when humans are seen just as sensory beings (Sinnenwesen) or members
of the animal
species. Kant calls this a being with an intellectual capacity (vernünftiges Wesen) or an
"intellectual natural being" (vernünftiges
Naturwesen) (Kant 1977a:
A 65). This kind of intellect qualifying a natural agent has nothing to
the metaphysical quality of humans as moral agents or "intellectual
beings" (Vernunftwesen) having a
towards themselves as "ends in themselves" (Kant 1977a: A 65) from
call of moral conscience as a categorical imperative originates. Kant
this context the concept of personhood (Persönlichkeit)
as well as of internal
are the characteristics of humans as homo
noumenon. Not only the concept of
human being is thus twofold
but also that of human agents or, more general, of natural and noumenal
In line with
the Kantian speculation about divine but finite
intellectual agents, it is possible to imagine, as Kant does, natural
having the quality of theoretical intelligence as well as potential
non-living (or mechanical) intelligent agents. It is also possible to
artificial living beings as we do today in case of synthetic biology,
science of designing new organisms or biological functions. In both
motivation of their action remains within nature. It is, following the
argument, impossible to create an artificial living or non-living moral
because freedom and autonomy are not a quality of sensory natural
artificial beings. In other words, to create a being that is an end in
is, at least for us finite beings (intellectus
ectypus), a contradiction. We are
not morally responsible
toward them as moral agents or members of the ‘kingdom of ends in
This argument shows the specific characteristics of an artificial agent
The artist or
genius is an agent who is able not only to
follow or reproduce established
rules for creating artificial products (reproduktive
Einbildungskraft) as in case of the
arts, but one who freely creates new rules based on productive
Einbildungskraft) (Kant 1975:
A 67, A 80). The artist is guided by the only ideal of perfection that
found in this world namely humanity in our own person as intelligence
1974: B 56). The primum analogatum of
any aesthetic judgement is the human being as a free moral agent. Kant
this ideal also ‘the undetermined idea of the suprasensual in us’ (die unbestimmte Idee des
Übersinnlichen in uns) (Kant 1974a: B 238).
Aristotle are only at first sight opposite to each other. Extremes meet.
What can and
cannot be owned, according to Kant? Material things outside
of myself (Kant 1977b: A 59) can be owned, but nobody can own other
We are not in an ownership relation with regard to our own body,
although we are
our own masters (Kant 1977b: A 95-96). Kant also
stresses that all human beings are
originally owners of the earth (Kant 1977b: A 84). The
will of another person to do a specific task (Kant 1977b:
A 59) can be owned, which means one can be the owner of the promise of
person regarding a specific performance (Kant 1977b: A. 60).
of another one with regard to myself (Kant 1977b: A 59) cannot
be owned, which means that one cannot say that one owns "a woman or a
a servant" because they belong to one’s house or because one has them
empirically under control. The concept of ownership in this regard is
legal (Kant 1977b: A 61).
regard, Kant is in each case in opposition to Aristotle
particularly concerning the ownership of other human beings as slaves.
philosophy of personhood also denies categorically any justification of
while Aristotle and Plato take into consideration mainly the
and obligations (Cholby 2008).
Kant’s theory of agents is based on a metaphysics of the
subject that draws a sharp line between noumenal and non-noumenal
and/or artificial) agents. Kant stresses that human agents are not just
agents, which are, as such, patients – i.e., subject deterministically
natural laws – but also members of the noumenal world and thus beyond
of what can be owned, changed, or economically evaluated. Human
invaluable and has a dignity not a price. On the other hand, humans can
specific performance of others. They can become owners of any material
including living as well as artificial things.
as well as the Aristotelian theory of agents seem to be
fundamentally challenged by modern ICT and biotechnology, particularly
as they concern
the moral status of (bio-)artificial agents.
biotechnology have brought about new vistas, not only with
regard to digital agents but also in relation to the possibility of the
and creation of new kinds of living beings, as discussed under the
synthetic biology (Balmer & Martin 2008). There is a wide range of
possibilities arising from these technologies, and in combination with
that have a broad economic and societal relevance, as well as an impact
self perception of humans and their relation to nature and technology.
early stage of these breath-taking developments, it is
difficult to give a typology of the new kinds of digital and living
the theoretical and practical challenges arising from them. From a
these challenges are related, on the one hand, to all kinds of robots,
with the so-called softbots (digital robots) as well as to all kinds of
robots – including the (still speculative) nanobots based on
nanotechnology – with
different degree of complexity, including all forms of imitation of
non-human living beings (bionics). On the other hand, there are the
arising from the hybridization between ICT with non-human as well as
agents, for instance. ICT, or other technologies, can become part of
organisms, for instance as implants (EGE 2005), or vice versa. In this
humans become (or have already become) "cyborgs" (Hayles 1999).
synthetic biology allows the artificial construction of new as well as
genetic modification of living beings (EGE 2009; Karafyllis 2003).
What moves a
robot? Usually a battery and a programme in a microprocessor
related to more or less well-defined situations and goals in the
Hybrids, i.e., either living beings with ICT components, or robots
incorporating (parts of) living beings are moved consequently by a
of, as Aristotle would say, striving natural forces (orexis) with
artificial ones, including "enhanced" sensory
and/or intellectual capabilities. It is difficult to imagine how
consciousness can arise, for instance, through the creation of new
species. The programming of a moral code in a robot is a
morality or ethos, no less than
of ethical reflection and phronesis.
Obviously, the digital networking of all (or part of) human beings’
intellectual and moral capabilities brings about fundamental changes
not only the range of their actions but also of their "passions," i.e.,
situations in which they can lose partly or completely the power and
responsibility over their actions (akrasia) as
an individual, or even as a society.
The notion of
autonomy with regard to robots usually refers to the
capacity of artefacts to do what the programmer wants them to do
what the programmer wants them to learn), but without having a direct
connection to them. Robots might be able to choose among different
possibilities of action also on the basis of sensory feed-back
can be easily seen, this terminology is anthropomorphic. The concepts
autonomy, learning, decision etc. are analogies of the human agent,
its historical, political, societal, bodily, and existential
is nothing at the moment in the field of robotics that can be compared
capabilities of the human agent or even with the capabilities of much
complex natural beings. This will not basically change with top-down
programming, as the history of artificial intelligence of the last,
years, clearly shows. A bottom-up approach, according to the insight
matter matters (!), might produce new useful knowledge and practical
applications, but the main question with regard to the nature of the
concerns its materiality that conditions its (potential) beliefs,
desires. An "implanted" morality in the form of a moral code programmed
microprocessor has nothing in common with the capacity of practical
even in case there is a feedback that mimics (human) theoretical
practical reason. The evaluation and decisions coming out of such
remain lastly dependent on the programmers themselves. I consider the
of the moral autonomy of future artificial or artificially produced
as purely speculative, at least at this stage of technical evolution.
cynical to speculate, and to spend public funds, on the supposed
artificial agents towards whom we would be morally (and legally)
(and vice versa) given the present situation of some six billion human
on this planet and the lack of such responsibility towards them.
the question of what kind of transformation is being
operated in human societies when billions of
beings interact in digital networks that are interwoven with their
highly relevant today and in the future. As Don Ihde writes:
We are our
bodies – but in that very basic notion one also discovers
that our bodies have an amazing plasticity and polymorphism that is
brought out precisely in our relations with technologies. We are bodies
We can also
say that technologies are more and more in our bodies. The
way we perceive reality is shaped hermeneutically by our technologies,
versa, our technologies are adapted to the ways we perceive and
reality, otherwise they will be useless and, in the worst case,
in a way that is more fundamental than the applications of artificial
or on the human body, it is the concept itself of the human body that
when perceived as digital data. We can even enlarge this realm of the
to the whole of reality in which case I speak of digital ontology
2006, Capurro 1999, Eldred 2001). In
fact, as Andrew Feenberg remarks, we are "active and passive bodies"
2003). Our lives are written by ourselves but not just by ourselves.
also that our history is written by as well as in our bodies and that
bodies have a cultural and historical dimension.
ontology refers not simply to the creation of
digital beings but also to the interpretation of all beings or, more
of Being itself, understood as the horizon with regard to which we
beings as digital. George Berkeley’s formulation concerning the nature
objects of knowledge, namely "Their esse is percipi"
1965: 62) should be reformulated into "to be is to be digital" or
is computari." This utterance does not necessarily mean that
conceived as made out of binary digits, but rather that we believe we
them when we interpret them from a digital perspective. In case this
perspective of Being and beings is taken as the only true one, we get a
kind of digital Pythagoreism or digital
metaphysics. Digital ontology means, in contrast, an opportunity for
the metaphysical ambitions of digital technology (Vattimo 1985).
Kang rightly states, there is a difference between
body and embodiment (Kang 2011). In German, we use two different words
correspond to this difference, namely Körper
Our bodily existence is
not identical with the mere
physical presence of the body (Körper).
Our spatiotemporal existence makes possible an expansion of the limits of bodily (körperlich) existence
to what was, is and can be in the world-openness. Following
Katherine Hayles (1999) Kang writes:
represents human contextual and temporal experience, which never
coincides exactly with the body, but is enacted by human consciousness'
interaction with social processes. Hayle's understanding of embodiment
stipulates an oscillating unity between the norm and corporeal
experience, which has the effect of folding the environment into the
integral constitution of the body itself, rather than positing a
separation between them.
phenomenology of human existence is an example of a
view of the human body (Körper)
and of the human being as an object – and of a subject "within" an
separated from the so-called "outside world" (Heidegger 1976). The
this criticism of the Cartesian split is well known, namely
(In-der-Welt-sein). It goes
beyond the Aristotelian view of the agent based on a metaphysics of
as well as beyond modern subjectivity originally isolated from a
does not really belong to his true noumenal nature. There is a specific
opacity of the human body, arising
materiality and its own natural forces. This opacity of the body (Leib) throws
back, not only in case of so-called
physical illness, into the pure facticity of the here and now
(Holzhey-Kunz 2001). In other words,
human bodily existence is ambiguous.
artificial and/or natural agents that are being created on the basis
of ICT and biotechnology blur the difference between the human and the
artificial, as well as between the human and the natural, as conceived
Aristotle’s metaphysics of substance and by Kant’s metaphysics of the
From this perspective, they are an antidote that "weakens" (Vattimo
Zabala 2007) the ambitions of both theories, as well as their
concerning personhood and ownership. They weaken the Kantian dichotomy
the noumenal and the natural, no less than the Aristotelian hierarchy
based on their substances and potential qualities. But it is not less
I think, that the development of new artificial and natural agents
based on ICT
and biotechnology is ontologically and morally ambivalent, as it can
into a techno-metaphysics, such as so-called transhumanisms. This
is clearly perceived by Kang when she oscillates between body and
It is also clear with regard to ICT as a, say, user friendly
that transforms the lives of millions of human beings but which may in
function as the unquestioned horizon that I call digital metaphysics.
the ownership and patentability of the human body? Is it
the metaphysical character of the intellectual substance (nous), as
Aristotle argues? Or is it the
noumenal nature of human dignity, as Kant suggests? Or is it the
opaque nature of embodiment? We are beyond what we are
and what we
produce, particularly when this production concerns what we believe to
true nature. This "being beyond our own nature" in and through
experienced as a non-metaphysical source of self-esteem – i.e.,
we should not give up or use for the sake of anything else that we
use. Aristotle and Kant looked for this source and provided different
foundations. Our bodily existence as embodiment in a common world
natural and artificial beings is, in itself, a weaker but may be today
plausible foundation for an ethics of care and for respect towards
non-human agents than of the foundations of Aristotelian and Kantian
A theory of
agents based on their embodiment in the world that
underlines commonalities and mutual relationships is more difficult to
translate into clear delimitations with regard to, for instance,
ownership and patentability. It resists the primacy of economy as far
would imply that everything is being understood under the perspective
physical production (poiesis)
for the sole use of human well-being. The production of artificial
beings includes a dimension of use value in as far as any living being
a work of nature. There is a common ground for all living beings, a
to Kant, we are originally
owners of the common earth. This ownership can be reversed: natural
artificial living beings are owned originally by nature. Nature owns
is the reason why there cannot be a clear distinction of what kind of
artificial living beings can and cannot be patented. The question of
draw the line remains open to ethical and legal judgement (EGE 2009).
the Aristotelian hierarchy between actuality (energeia) and
potentiality (dynamis) by opening
nature and humanity to a common possible future,
without binding it to fixed goals – either metaphysical,
anthropological – engaging in an interplay
with nature and technology (Capurro and Holgate 2011).
author thanks Mireille
Hildebrandt (Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands) and Herman
Tavani (Rivier College,
for their constructive
criticisms and their assistance in polishing this text.
(1) A resonance of the
distinction between human action as guided by reflection in opposition
human actions that we share with other living beings deprived of
reason can be
found in Thomas Aquinas difference between actus humanus understood as rational action
originated in the deliberating will (‘actionum quae ab homine aguntur,
solae dicuntur humanae proprie quae sunt a voluntate deliberata’) and actus hominis as a non-reflective and unwilling
movement (Thomas Aquinas 1922: I-2, I,I,
intellectual knowledge includes know how (empeiria), theoretical knowledge (episteme) and knowledge of the objects of
first philosophy. See for instance (Aristotle 1974: 427 b 26-27;
1962: 1139 b 16-17; Capurro 2004). The formation or education of human
is developed by Aristotle in his theory of virtues (arete) which are either capacities or potentialities
of reason (dianoia) – such as techne, empeiria,
phronesis, and sophia
– or of character (ethike) such as friendship (philia),
courage (andreia), self-control (sophrosyne), magnanimity (eleutheriotes), justice (dikaiosyne), and pleasure (hedone).
The last ones are dealt with in
the Nicomachean Ethics.
Ihde states, following Michael
Heim, that "erasability" is "an essential feature" of
"new media." But he and Heim forget that Google never forgets.
These are bad news for "the rabbis," as quoted by Ihde following
Heim, who would apparently join Heidegger concerning "authentic
(hand writing) as something that cannot be erased – but there is
the question of erasability in Heidegger's text – and that therefore
Internet as a "new medium" would be appropriate in order to write but
also to erase the name of God.
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