are we at the beginning of the 21st
century? We are a globalized humanity driven by science and technology
than a tribalized humanity cannibalized by all kinds of conflicts and
based on oil, religion, and mutual exploitation. Who is the ‘we’ in
question? In whose name and by whom is this question stated? Based on
whose values and interests? What is the self-understanding of humanity
time? Whose time? Facing what challenges?
know today that the hominisation (anthropogenesis)
goes back up to more than 6 million years ago through various
Our family tree shows a deep and complex genetic intertwinement not
other primates but with all living beings.  The
natural evolution of the human race or hominisation
and the cultural evolution or humanisation are related
but of different order. The distinction
between nature and culture has become blurred nowadays not only because
learnt to transform nature according to our needs and desires, but also
we are able to manipulate, change and even produce new kinds of living
We are in a process of transforming ourselves after having learnt – or
believing we have learnt – to dominate, but in fact often to destroy
the name of man, placing ourselves at the center of reality.
of the crisis of humanisms that have a long history recently addressed
Charles Taylor in his monumental book ”Secular Age” (Taylor 2007). What
do we as ethicists give to this challenge that ”calls for thinking”
1971) today? I consider this question to be at the core of information
as far as it concerns our dwelling or ‘ethos’
in a shared world shaped by information and communication technology.
a way of interpreting and transforming our being-in-the-world . I
call a comparative ethical reflexion focused on information and
communication technologies in different historical and cultural
intercultural information ethics (Capurro 2008). Do we need a new kind
humanism facing the challenges of the information society? What is the
difference between present and past humanisms? What is behind the
trans- and posthumanisms? What is the place of humans with regard to
living, artificial and hybrid beings? These are far-reaching questions
need a broad historical and systematic analysis. This paper is a small
contribution to the issue addressed by this conference concerning ”the
first part, I present a short history of
Western humanisms. As far as these humanisms rest on a fixation of the ‘humanum’ they are metaphysical, although
they might radically differ from each other. In the second part I point
present debate on trans- and posthumanism in the context of some
developments in science and technology. I explain how angeletics, a
messengers and messages, can give an answer to the leading question of
paper, namely: ‘what does it mean to go beyond humanisms?'  The
conclusion deals with an ethics of hospitality and care from an
HISTORY OF WESTERN HUMANISMS
begin this short history of Western humanisms with
Socrates’ critique of the poets that I interpret as the birth of
based on turning over the communicational or angeletic relationship
human and the divine. After some hints on Christianity and Renaissance,
as an example Pico della Mirandola, I deal with Descartes’ humanism.
humanism” of the 18th century culminates with the
the Enlightenment and particularly with Kant (Menze 1974) whose
humanism I briefly analyze. The critique of humanisms becomes
virulent with the social-critical and anti- or postmetaphysical
the 19th and 20th
century, particularly with Karl Marx, Ludwig Feuerbach, Friedrich
Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, Louis Althusser, Martin Heidegger,
Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Claude Levi-Strauss, Albert
Jacques Lacan (Romberg 1974; Pape 1974).
At the beginning of the ”Phaedrus” Plato tells how
Socrates and Phaedrus leave the city walking without sandals along the
Ilissus – it was a hot day but, in fact, Socrates apparently never
sandals – looking for a quiet place under a plane-tree where ”there are
and gentle breezes, and grass on which we may either sit or lie down”
229 b). Socrates praises the beauty of the place and points to the
related to it dealing with hippocentaurs, chimeras, Pegasus, and the
All these stories could be considered, according to Socrates, from the
viewpoint of their probability (”to eikós”) in which case we need ”a sort of rural wisdom” (”agroíko tina
sophía”) as well as a great deal of time (”scholé”). But
he, Socrates, has no
leisure for such enquiries. Why? Because, as he says, he must first
himself following the Delphian inscription. And he adds:
a monster more complicated and
swollen with passion than the serpent Typho, or a creature of a gentler
simpler sort, to whom Nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny?”
other words, Socrates rejects being a mere receiver
and believer of mythical messages and divine messengers. He also
messages coming from nature. He says:
a lover of knowledge, and the
men who dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the
Though I do indeed believe that you have found a spell with which to
out of the city into the country, like a hungry cow before whom a bough
bunch of fruit is waved. For only hold up before me in like manner a
(”biblíois”), and you may lead me all round Attica,
and over the wide world. And now having arrived, I intend to lie down,
should choose any posture in which you can read best.” (Phaidr. 230 d-e)
provokes the following astonishing comment by
an incomprehensible being
(”atopótatos”) you are, Socrates: when you are in the country,
as you say, you
really are like some stranger who is led about by a guide. Do you ever
the border? I rather think that you never venture even outside the
(Phaidr. 230 b-d)
dialogue "Ion” Socrates explains his critique
of the myths as transmitted by poets and rhapsodes, particularly by the
Homerides. Poets transmit messages coming from the god who is ”the one
really speaks” (Ion 534 d). They are just hermeneuticists (‘hermenés’)
or interpreters of the god(s)
and the muses ”getting inspired and possessed by them” (Ion 534 e),
their messages through the rhapsodes. Socrates opposes ‘knowledge’ (‘téchne’) acquired through a horizontal
and critical dialogue to vertical message transmission performed by the
guided not by reason (‘nous’) but by
divine inspiration (‘theia moira’).
The messengers of the gods do not have knowledge of the matters they
and they are not free, that is to say, they are possessed by the gods,
being in their right mind and being able to produce similar effects ”on
the spectators” (Ion 535 d). He compares them with a magnetic stone:
stone not only attracts iron
rings, but also imparts to them a similar power of attracting other
sometimes you may see a number of pieces of iron and rings suspended
another so as to form a quite long chain: and all of them derive their
suspension from the original stone.” (Ion 533 d)
praises the horizontal and bottom-up ‘logos’ of
philosophy opposing it to the
god-inspired vertical message transmission. Plato avoids in most of his
dialogues the word ‘angelía’ – except
in its colloquial use – that as a terminus
technicus was deeply rooted in the contexts of myth, poetry, and
power (Capurro 2008a). It is through dialogical reason, particularly in
oral form (‘logos’) – the ”Phaidros”
provides with the myth of the Egyptian god Theuth, the inventor of
its Greek equivalent Hermes, the first media critique of Western
(Phaidr. 274c-275b – that humans can go beyond
their mortal condition and not by way of the myths and their
Socrates’ humanism is a bottom-up theocentrism. Contrary to mythical
theocentrism, god is a higher intellect and not a magnet force that
souls of men in any direction” (Ion 536 a). The
vertical, heteronomic, top-down poetic practice is
substituted by a
horizontal bottom-up dialogue guided by reason. The philosopher is a
passes on (‘dia’) ideas through the
medium of the critical and autonomous ‘logos’
instead of proclaiming a mythical truth coming from above. Philosophy
out of this angeletic turn concerning the relation between sender,
message and receiver. It implies a new information ethics based on
reasoning striving beyond nature towards the metaphysical divine. It is
combined paradoxically the heteronomic
concept of message (‘angelía’) as the
‘good news’ (‘euangelion’) coming
from above with the autonomous ‘logos’
of philosophy by turning the latter into an instrument for
distributing the holy message (Capurro 1978, pp. 46-49; 1995, p. 99).
eventually possible because of the double nature, divine and human, of
messenger, Jesus, who is the ‘good news’ – without being himself an
angel – and
the Logos. The Roman Catholic Church
claims to be the only legitimate messenger and interpreter of the ‘good
claim was questioned by Martin Luther (1483-1546). The
the Christian believer a theoretical and practical angeletic autonomy
thanks to the translation of the Bible into German – vernacular
had been done already, for instance, of the Hebrew Bible into Greek by
Septuaginta (LXX) or into Latin with the Vulgata – but also by
autonomy of the individual receiver and believer as a legitimate
the ‘good news.’ The believer and receiver of the Christian message
critical sender. At the same time, Christian humanisms keep and
movement beyond the human towards the divine. They are religious
autonomy of the religious receiver has also political implications by
the legitimacy for questioning any message and messenger coming from
claiming absolute truth without allowing critical and autonomous
self-reflection as well as the possibility of becoming a sender.
Humanisms in Renaissance
in the 15th and 16th
century looked back to the Greek and Roman tradition. In his ”Oration
Dignity of Man” (”De hominis dignitate”) Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
(1463-1494) answers the question about humanity’s place in the ”chain
(Lovejoy 1964) by stating
that man is the intermediary
between creatures (”creaturarum internuntium”), that he is the familiar
gods above him as he is the lord of the beings beneath him; that, by
acuteness of his senses, the inquiry of his reason and the light of his
intelligence, he is the interpreter of nature, set midway between
(”interstitium”) the timeless unchanging and the flux of time; the
(as the Persians say), the very marriage hymn of the world, and, by
testimony but little lower than the angels.” (Pico 1990, p. 2)
Pico, human dignity is based on this metaphysical
beyond from where the true messages come that we as intermediaries
not even yield place to them, the highest of the
angelic orders, and not be content with a lower place, imitate them in
their glory and dignity (”et dignitatem et gloriam aemulemur”). If we
to, we will not be second to them in anything.” (Pico
1990, p. 10).
answer to the question of how to achieve an
”angelic life” is a Christian and Socratic one, namely through the
philosophy and the practical emulation of this angelic ideal. Our
consists in this capacity of self-transformation through liberal arts
sermocinalem sive rationariam”), that leads us beyond earthly life.
intellectual activity makes the big difference between the blind
the poetic messengers criticized by Socrates and the intellectual
nature of the
angels traversing in ascensions and descents the ladder of Jacob
12ss) (Pico 1990, 14). Humans are located between animals and angels.
This is a
classic philosophical and theological topos. It was used by humanists
Herder as well as by authors like Pascal, Montaigne, and Paul
1995, 78). It comes back today within a technological framework with
of a super-intelligent computer in the 1970s as well as in some
speculations. Humans are then in-between animals and an artificial
(Capurro 1995, pp, 78-92).
in Renaissance and Reformation humanisms are
mostly theocentric, modern humanisms like the ones of Descartes and
anthropocentric or, more precisely, reason-centered.
René Descartes (1596-1650) was educated at
the Jesuit school
of La Flèche.
1619 when he was in the German city of Ulm
he had a dream dealing with the question: ”Which kind of life shall I
(”Quod vitae sectabor iter?”) (Descates 1986, X, pp.179ss),
a quotation from the Latin poet
Ausonius (ca. 310-393). This ethical question is typical of the
Exercises” of Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuit
Descartes performs a secular twisting of the religious practices of the
Jesuits. Descartes’ ”Rules for the Direction of the Mind” (”Regulae ad
directionem ingenii”) are the basis of his scientific methodology. They
the education of the scientific spirit in a similar way as Ignatius of
developed his ”Rules for the Discernment of Spirits” in the ”Spiritual
Exercises” based on a religious ”Principle and Foundation” that states:
”Man is created to praise, reverence, and
serve God our
Lord, and by this means to save his soul." (Loyola 1913).
three rules read:
I The aim of our studies must
be the direction of our mind so that it may form solid and true
whatever matters arise.
II We must occupy ourselves
only with those objects that our intellectual powers appear competent
certainly and indubitably.
III As regards any subject we
propose to investigate, we must inquire not what other people have
what we ourselves conjecture, but what we can clearly and manifestly
by intuition or deduce with certainty. For there is no other way of
knowledge.” (Descartes 1954)
method is based on intuition and deduction.
His methodological skepticism leads him to doubt the truth of all
the trustfulness of all messengers, particularly those coming from the
including from someone ”very powerful” (”potentissimum”) and ”malign”
(”malignum”) who would be willing to deceive him. In the second
tells how he found a firm foundation (”quod certum sit &
inconcussum”) in a
”knowledge” (”notitiam”) – the French text says: ”cette notion &
connaissance” (Descartes 1996, IX, p. 22) – coming from himself that he
”speaks out” (”a me profertur”), namely ”Ego sum, ego existo”
VII, pp. 24-27). All this is the product of a lonely meditation, a
practice closed as well as opposite to the Ignatian ”Spiritual
their meditation technologies. At the beginning of the first meditation
then, since I have
opportunely freed my mind from all cares [and am happily disturbed by
passions], and since I am in the secure possession of leisure in a
retirement, I will at length apply myself earnestly and freely to the
overthrow of all my former opinions.” (Descartes 2010)
methodological mistrust finds its end when
he discovers in his own subjectivity the only messenger upon whom he
eventually rely, namely his own thinking in the process of thinking
The sender of this message is his own being as thinking substance.
subjectivity as ”res cogitans” becomes thus separated from the body as
from the world as ”res extensa.” Both are the ‘beyond’ over which the
cogitans” strives to be the master.
treaty ”Passions of the soul,” dedicated
to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia,
he underlines that there is no soul that ”if well managed, cannot
absolute power over its passions” (”estant bien conduite, acquerir un
absolu sur ses passions”) (Descartes 1996, XI, Art. L, p. 368). In the
”Discourse on Method” he opposes ”speculative philosophy” (”Philosophie
speculatiue”) to scientific knowledge as the only ”kind of practice”
pratique”) that allows us to become ”masters and owners of nature”
& possesseurs de la Nature”) (Descartes 1996, VI, p. 61-62). There
is ”the law” (”la loy”), he writes, that prohibits us from keeping
that can be used ”for the welfare of everybody” (”le bien general de
hommes”), including personal health and ”other goods of this life”
biens de cete vie”) (ibid. p. 61). ”Even the spirit depends strongly on
the temperament and the organization of the bodily organs” (”mesme
l'esprit depend sifort du
& de la disposition des organes du corps”) in such a way that ”if
anything that makes human beings more wise and practical” (”s’il est
de trouver quelque moyen, qui rende communement les hommes plus sages
plus habiles qu’ilst n’ont esté iusques icy”) then it is
Medecine”) and not ”moralities” (”les meurs”) or ”speculative sciences”
(”sciences speculatives”) (ibid.).
to Descartes that she cannot understand how an ”immaterial being” (”un
immateriel”) can move a body and be moved by it if it is not itself
(”par information”) by the intelligence, that is to say, if the soul is
itself something material, a possibility that Descartes excludes. It is
difficult to understand, adds Princess Elisabeth, how the soul can be
”governed” (”regie”) by the body, having nothing in common with it
1996, III, 685). Princess Elisabeth argues from an Aristotelian
where the soul ”informs” the body building a unity with it. Descartes
same word, namely ”inform,” when referring to the, as I would call it,
angeletic relation between the ideas and the intellect. In this case
inform’ it means that the ideas communicate (”informant”) something to
intellect when the intellect turns its attention to the pictures
located on bodily imagination (”phantasia corporea”). Such pictures,
adds, are not to be called ideas at all because ideas are ”forms of
(”cogitationis formam”) and they are not ”pictured” (”depictae”) in
of the brain (Descartes 1996, VII, pp. 160-161). This remark is against
Aristotelian theory of the forming or ‘in-formation’ of the senses as
of the intellect that abstracts the ideas out of such ‘pictures’ or ‘phantasmata’ (Capurro 1978, p. 153).
According to Descartes, the mind communicates directly with the ideas,
turn with the brain without any kind of substantial ‘in-formational’
(Descartes 1996, VII, pp. 160-161).
his answer to Princess
Elisabeth, Descartes distinguishes between three kinds of ideas, one
dealing with the soul that can be grasped only by the ”pure intellect,”
kind dealing with the body that can be grasped by the intellect with
of imagination, and finally those ideas concerning the unity of body
which remain problematic for the intellect and even for the imagination
be grasped ”very clearly” (”tres-clairement”), as Descartes ironically
by the senses. This is the reason why people ”who never philosophize”
qui ne philosophent iamais”) have no doubt about how the soul moves the
as they remain at the level of the senses where there is no such
between soul and body (Descartes 1996, III, pp. 691-692). But, in fact,
soul is like a ”well-digger” who manages the pipes of the well
XI, p. 131) communicating with them through the ideas in his mind. As
"doctrine of ideas," developed initially by Descartes, was central to
early modern philosophy, both rationalist and empiricist. Abandoning
"direct perception" of the scholastics — the immediate communion of
Intellect and Nature — Descartes interposed "ideas" between the two.
An "idea" was something present to the mind, an image, copy, or
representation, with a problematic relation to real things in the
empiricists (like Locke), the stream of ideas was the raw material from
genuine knowledge could be built; for rationalists (like Descartes), it
veil of illusion, to be pierced by logic and reason.” (Peters 1988, 13;
also Peters 1999, p. 82.
substituted the Aristotelian hylemorphism
with an angeletic model using the communicational meaning of the
information that originally, that is to say, in its Latin root (‘informatio’), meant ‘giving a (substantial)
form to matter’ as well as ‘moulding the mind’ or ‘communicating
(new) to somebody’ (Capurro 1978). Modernity retained only this last
(Capurro and Hjørland 2003, pp. 353ff). Descartes’ humanism is
The sender of the ideas or (!) messages which the mind can eventually
the human mind itself based on the trust on its own existence. What is
the being of the thinking subject? No more and no less than the world
Descartes’ humanism is, as Heidegger remarks, worldless (Heidegger
Immanuel Kant human beings have two natures. On
the one hand, they are natural beings or ”homo
phaenomenon” subject to natural determinism and, on the other hand,
are of ”noumenal” nature or ”homo
noumenon,” that is to say, they belong to a transcendent or
community of ”intellectual beings” (”vernünftige Wesen”) (Kant
1977, A65, p.
550) which build the ”kingdom of ends in themselves” (”Reich der
considers such a kingdom ”a useful and acceptable idea as an aid to
reasonable belief”, although we cannot know anything theoretically
(Kant 1974, BA 125, p. 100). In the ”Foundations of the Metaphysics of
he stresses several times that humans are not the only ”intellectual
”persons” that have a ”dignity” (”Würde”) based on their autonomy
and not a
”price” (”Preis”) (Kant 1974, B78, p. 68). All natural beings are
or subject to laws imposed on them, whereas ”intellectual beings” are
by autonomy, that is to say, by the capacity to act on the basis of
independently of any kind of (sensory) object of the will that would
kind of external influence on it.
means that freedom itself cannot be explained as
if it were a natural phenomenon, for this would contradict its essence.
is a basic dualism between natural laws and the autonomy of freedom.
law is the message that humans receive from their other nature or their
self” (”das eigentliche Selbst”) commanding them to respect humanity in
own person (Kant 1974, BA118, p. 95). The moral law says what natural
namely, to make being possible. Because humans belong to two separate
the form of the moral law, namely ”ought” (”das Sollen”), is not the
for other ”divine” beings who, due to the perfection of their will, do
the (categorical) imperative: ”The will in itself is necessarily in
with the law.” (Kant 1974, BA40, p. 43). In other words, we are as
”intelligible beings” the origin or sender of this message that ”raises
beyond themselves (as parts of the sensory world” (”was den Menschen
selbst (als einen Teil der Sinnenwelt) erhebt”) (Kant 1974, A154, p.
Kant’s humanism is not anthropocentric but reason-centered as far as
not the only kind of ”intellectual beings” of which there might be
ones” (Kant 1977, A 3, p. 508). Being ourselves an ”intellectual
being,” there might be, we can infer, intellectual artificial beings or
artificial agents, as we usually call them today. But from a Kantian
perspective such agents can never become moral beings or members of the
noumenal world (Capuro 2010a).
are autonomous and heteronomous beings at the
same time. As natural beings they are confronted with the fact of the
or the call of moral conscience coming from their ”true self.” This
as well as its message are practically unconditional but theoretically
problematic because we can have no theoretical knowledge about them.
law comes from beyond the sensory nature, but it does not come from a
comes from the ”noumenal” nature of humans. This ‘beyond’ is ‘inside’
ourselves. The ”moral law within me” (”das moralische Gesetz in mir”)
as ”the starry heaven above me” incite Kant’s great admiration (Kant
p. 300). Both are immediately related to his consciousness and his
being in and
beyond this world, without being ”shrouded in obscurity or rapture”
”starry heaven” decenters our natural being while the moral law
whole ”sensory world” (”Sinnenwelt”) (ibid.). Kant’s practical defence
autonomy is metaphysical. The laws of morality are grounded in human
but human reason is beyond nature. We are senders and receivers of our
freedom but this ‘we’ is not identical with our natural ‘we.’ Its
of a completely different kind from the ones coming from the natural
determine us as natural beings. The sender of such messages is within
beyond us as natural beings. Thanks to this hybrid nature as
free beings, we can intervene in natural processes, including our own
Charles Taylor summarizes the duality of Kantian anthropology as
have the power as rational
agency to make the laws by which we live.This is something so greatly
to the force of mere nature in us, in the form of desire, that when we
contemplate it without distortion, we cannot but feel reverence
this power. The place of fullness is where we manage finally to give
full reign, and so to live by it. We have a feeling of receptivity,
our full sense of our own fragility and pathos as desiring beings, we
look up to
the power of law-giving with admiration and awe. But this doesn’t in
mean that there is any reception from outside; the power is within; and
more we realize this power, the more we become aware that it is within,
morality must be autonomous and not heteronomous.” (Taylor 2007, p. 8)
introduction to ”Anthropology from a Pragmatic
Point of View”, Kant distinguishes between physiological and pragmatic
anthropology. Physiological anthropology deals with ”what nature makes
humans”, while pragmatic anthropology considers humans as free actors
with what ”they make, or what they can and should make out of
er, als freihandelndes Wesen, aus sich selber macht, oder machen kann
soll”) (Kant 1975, BA III, p. 399). Kant is skeptical about the
of physiological anthropology. He writes:
who ponders natural causes, for
example, the ones the faculty of memory may rest on, can speculate back
forth (in Cartesian style) about the traces of impressions remaining in
brain, but in doing so he must admit that in this play of his
he is a mere observer and must let nature run its course, for he does
the cranial nerves and fibers, nor does he understand how to put them
to use for
his purposes. Therefore all theoretical speculation about this is a
of time. (Kant 1975, BA III, p. 399, my translation)
two hundred years, things have changed. This
quotation takes us with a big leap into the present debate.
Donna Haraway’s ”A Cyborg Manifesto” (Haraway 1985)
and Katherine Hayles’ ”How we Became Posthuman” (Hayles 1999) are
the early discussions dealing with the potential changes of human
self-manipulation brought about by modern science and technology such
digital technology, nanotechnology, brain research, and molecular
name just a few. The question about the humanness of the human and its
is not any more concerned with the relationship between the human and
divine as was the case with the classical humanisms in Antiquity,
and Reformation, nor with the self-introspection of the subject as in
Modernity, but with the hybridization of the human, particularly
digital medium as well as through the possibilities to change the
substrate of the human species. A common buzz-word for these issues is
to Nick Bostrom, one of the main propagators
of transhumanism through ‘human enhancement,’ the word ”transhumanism”
to have been used for the first time by
Aldous Huxley’s brother, Julian
Huxley, a distinguished biologist (who was also the first director general
of UNESCO and a founder of
the World Wildlife Fund). In Religion Without Revelation (1927), he
wrote : The
human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself – not just
individual here in one way, an individual there in another way – but in
entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps
will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing
possibilities of and for his human nature.” (Bostrom 2005, p. 7)
famous writers of scientific humanism in the 20th
century were Herbert G. Wells (1866-1946), Julian Huxley
Desmond Bernal (1901-1971), and J.B.S. (John Burdon Sanderson) Haldane
(1892-1964). Haldane inspired
Wiener and such famous science-fiction authors as Arthur C. Clarke
(1971-2008), and Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)
2010; Heil 2010; Gammel 2010).
introduction to a recent book on human
enhancement, Bostrom and Savulescu write:
we good enough? If not, how may
we improve ourselves? Must we restrict ourselves to traditional methods
study and training? Or should we also use science to enhance some of
and physical capacities more directly?” (Bostrom and Savulescu 2009,
possibilities do not come from ‘above’ or (not
solely) from ‘inside’ ourselves, but from scientific knowledge and the
technologies intertwined with it. According to Bostrom and Savulescu,
the ethical questions that arise are:
what capacity is being
enhanced in what ways? Who has access? Who makes the decisions? Within
cultural and sociopolitical context? At what cost to competing
what externalities? Justifiable ethical verdicts may only be attainable
following a specification of these and other similarly contextual
(Bostrom and Savulescu 2009, p. 3)
aims at transforming the human condition
or at least some of its basic capabilities. It is an exaggerated
hyperhumanism. Transhumanists talk about the future of the human
species as a
transhuman species. The rhetoric oversees that, under realistic
is a about some individuals of this species at least as far as such
not genetic. It is about the enhancement of (some) humans. The world
unenhanced. This worldless self-transcendence is deeply rooted in
we have already seen in the case of Descartes. Even considering the
possibilities opened by synthetic biology, the creation of a transhuman
is extremely hypothetical and ethically problematic, to say the least
2009). There is a naive optimism as well as an ideological belief
transhumanist rhetoric that aims at surmounting the fragility and
human existence (Woyke 2010). It also omits to talk not only about
breakdowns of enhancing technologies, as in case of any
technology, but also of their possible turning into human de-enhancement
as described, for instance, in works by Aldous Huxley
Clive S. (Staples)
Lewis (1898-1963), and J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien (1892-1973)
and posthumanism are antithetical. The
posthumanist debate is rooted in cultural critique and systems theory,
particularly in the work of thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Donna
Katherine Hayles, Jacques Derrida, Niklas Luhmann, Bernard Stiegler,
Latour, to mention just a few. Posthumanists do not aim at enhancing
decentering the human subject. As Cary Wolfe in his comprehensive study
is Posthumanism?” remarks:
posthumanism in my sense isn’t
posthuman at all – in the sense of being ”after” our embodiment has
transcended – but is only posthumanist,
in the sense that it opposes the fantasies of disembodiment and
inherited from humanism itself, that Hayles rightly criticizes.” (Wolfe
this line of thinking, Rosi Braidotti makes a stand
for overcoming anthropocentrism by relating the concept of ‘bios’
or human life to the broader one
of ‘zoe’ or ‘life’ (Braidotti 2006).
But Braidotti is aware that the contingency of history and contexts
surveyed and assessed, and that we need a kind of web-like approach of
different situations for the embedded and embodied subject. A
between ‘zoe’ and ‘bios’ does not imply
hierarchy. Advocating that human life (‘bios’)
as embedded beings is linked to all living (and non-living) beings (‘zoe’) does mean to have a commanding
view of the dimensions related to the human self with its unique
historical expressions that deserve care and respect no less than what
to all living beings.
to Bruno Latour ”we have never been modern”,
which means ”we have never left transcendence, that is to say, staying
presence thanks to the mediation of the message” (”nous n’avons jamais
quitté la transcendance,
maintien dans la présence par la médiation de l’envoi”)
(Latour 1994, p, 175,
my translation). There is no opposition between transcendence and
in metaphysics. Both dimensions belong together. Every transcendence is
immanent world-transcendence. Latour writes: ”The world of meaning and
world of being are one and the same world, namely the world of
substitution, delegation, passing on” (”Le monde du sens et le monde de
sont un seul et même monde, celui de la traduction, de la
substitution, de la
délégation, de la passe.”) (Latour 1994, p. 176, my
”Letter on Humanism” from 1946 published in
1947, Heidegger answers Jean Beaufret’s question ”How can we restore
the word ”Humanism” (”Comment redonner un sense au mot ”Humanisme”?”)
remark: ”I wonder whether that is necessary” (”Ich frage mich, ob das
nötig ist.”) (Heidegger 1954,
p. 56). Why? Because of the danger that such a concept implies in case
the ‘humanum’ is conceived as some kind of
perennial essence and this thinking becomes an ”-ism” that, like any
”-ism”, we should mistrust. To go beyond humanism(s) does not mean to
against the ‘humanum’ but against the
fixation of the humanness of the human by failing to see the dimension
allows us to transform ourselves and the world. From this perspective,
Heidegger calls ”fundamental ontology” – in opposition to ”metaphysics”
as to ”ontology” understood within the framework of metaphysics
1954, p. 109) – he proposes to decenter human self-understanding that
fixing essentialistically or existentialistically the humanness of the
forgetting the open and finite dimension of Being.
the relation between
essence and existence, as in Sartre’s ”Existentialism is a Humanism” –
conference held in Paris
in October 1945 and published in 1946 (Sartre 1946) – is still
(Heidegger 1954, p. 68). Thinking beyond humanisms means learning to
true dignity of the human being” (”die eigentliche Würde des
Menschen”) from a
different perspective than that of the dominance of beings, leading to
apparently unquestionability of their being (Heidegger 1954, p. 74).
Beyleveld and Roger Brownsword define human dignity ”as a particular
attitude to be cultivated in the face of human finitude and
concomitantly, the natural and social adversity that characterizes the
condition).” (Beyleveld and Brownsword, 2001, p. 2; EGE 2009, p. 39).
us to see ourselves as being-in-the-world from the perspective of
does not mean, as Thomas Sheehan rightly stresses, the ”Big Being” of
metaphysics, but the finite transcendence of open possibilities ‘as
things can be understood (Sheehan 2001). For a finite transcendence
can never be fully understood. Every interpretation of something ‘as’
implies a retreat of other possibilities. We are as knowers and agents
decentered by the finite givenness of the being of beings, but also
such potentialities as well.
formula for such finite transcendence,
namely ”Dasein” or the ‘here’ of Being, seems at first sight
the interpreter does not perform the anamorphic
switch from what IS to AS what something is being seen. Once this
change of perspective is performed it is possible to see what the
”ontic” perspective oversees, namely Being . A
famous example of such anamorphic blindness is the anamorphic skull
in Hans Holbein’s painting ”The Ambassadors” (Baltrušaitis 2008). Being
uncanny ‘as’ seen from the natural attitude (Kunze 2010). It is the
that decenters the natural anthropocentric attitude of humanisms that
it as noise and conceives humans only and originally as senders and
of messages about beings. From this uncanny perspective, humans ‘are’
messengers of Being and the message they pass on is the world, that is
a possible way in which messages about beings can be interpreted ‘as’
this or that within a framework of understanding. Being
gives us ‘as’ messengers the potentiality to transcend a given ‘as’ of
or a possible world disclosure. An example of this transcendence are
changes in science (Kuhn 1962) when ‘facts’ that are supposed to
prove a theory are re-interpreted from another, unusual perspective
now presuppositions, instruments, institutions, traditions, etc. are
question or ”falsified” (Popper 1979).
possibility of questioning not only a
theory but a world-openness can lead to strong opposition by the
the status quo including the
condemnation and disparagement of the messenger, as in the case of
many others. This opens the question about the ethical criteria for
distinction between a messenger of Being and its opposite, namely a
with all degrees in between. The Socratic criterion for this difficult
task of ”discernment of spirits” (Ignatius of Loyola) – always
manipulation and self-deception – is whether the messenger holds on to
openness of Being or proclaims an absolute truth that eventually turns
political, religious, or (pseudo-) scientific ideology, with all
between. In this case the messenger turns into an almighty sender. This
reason why ”-isms” that veil and unveil such fixation should be
that is to say, ethically mistrusted. If today’s world-openness is
characterized by the horizon of digitizability of beings – which my
the Australian philosopher Michael Eldred, and I call digital ontology
2009; Capurro 2010b and 2006) – then there is the danger that those who
proclaim or follow this call of being might believe that things ‘are’
seen from this perspective. I call this kind of ideology digital
being ‘as’ a being shares the world-openness and
‘is’ a messenger. Humans as messengers of Being allow a hospitality for
to disclose and pass on through the world-openness – Pico’s
internuntium’ –, sharing it in different ways without ever occupying a
in which case the openness turns closed and the dynamic of the ‘as’ is
blocked . After Niklas Luhmann we know that a
(”Mitteilung”) is a meaning-offer and has no definite content until the
receiver makes his/her choices (Luhmann 1987). Cybernetics has taught
every receiver can turn into a sender. Lacanian psychoanalysis
indefinite and indefinable nature of ”the object” addressed in the long
human desire (Lacan 1986; Capurro 2006a). The psychoanalyst ‘as’ a
enables the analysand to take a detour to himself/herself. This
called the transference phenomenon, takes place from both sides (Lacan
”Being and Time” Heidegger calls this relationship
the ”hermeneutic circle” (Heidegger 1976). Following some hints in his
writings (Heidegger 1975), we can say that the ”hermeneutic circle” is
an angeletic circle insofar as it
concerns the relation between senders, messengers, messages and
seen from the uncanny perspective, Being is sender and receiver insofar
world is always a potential perspective for understanding. Heidegger writes: ”The messenger must already
come from the
he must also already have gone towards it” ("Der
Botengänger muß schon von der Botschaft herkommen. Er
muß aber auch schon auf
sie zugegangen sein" Heidegger 1975, 150). The
usual German term for ”messenger” being ”Bote”, ”Botengänger”
to underline the pure dynamic fact of bringing the message. It is the
to the kind of messengers called ambassadors (”Botschafter”). There is
of Being and ”Dasein” or humans as messengers that Heidegger calls
(Heidegger 1983). It means that we cannot fail to interpret the meaning
Being, since our being is being-in-the-world. From the uncanny
live in a heteronomous relation to Being. We are, in Lacanian terms, a
or ”crossed” (”barré”) subject (Lacan 1971, II, 168) or a
by the finitude of its being addressed by the Other (Lacan 1971, 108)
annihilate him/her. Loneliness and anxiety are moods through which we
the truth, that is to say, the finitude of
receive and pass on – and sometimes try to bypass – the message of
are we at the beginning of the 21st century?
We are a message society, that is to say, a humanity linked via various
of communication, particularly through digital networks enabling
various kinds for human inter-plays within and beyond political,
economic and cultural borders and differences, but mostly at war
such borders and differences. At the same time, humanity is at war with
leading to ecological disasters that could end with ecocide (Tamayo
other words, we are a de iure united
humanity, as far as we as political agents belong to common global
such as the United Nations, sign universal declarations and promote
actions. But we are also a de facto
divided humanity. Between these two poles there are not only various
local and global conflicts and collaboration, but also a complex
history that includes our relationship to nature. Nature has brought
biodiversity. We humans have produced cultural diversity reflected in
disciplines we call the humanities.
If we want to avoid the pitfalls of humanisms, we must pay attention to
uncanny potentiality of the ‘as’ coming from Being, beyond a fixation
humanisms, in order to render hospitality to humanities in the double
ethics of universalism can be transformed into one
of openness and situatedness. The autonomy of the subject can become
capacity of messengers to pass on the message of finitude that in the
tradition is called compassion. Instead of an ethics of moral
coming from within and beyond the individual, we can develop an ethics
hospitality and care coming from in-between the plurality of humanities
articulated in the ‘here’ of a shared world. Instead of looking for
of fleeing or mastering the world, it is up to us to take care of it
utilitarian calculations. Such an ethics is not about universal laws,
messages of hope. In short, it is not primarily about us but about a
world. We are called to make sense of Being. It is an uncanny call and,
as we know, it is our call – beyond humanisms.
eleven papers in the October 2, 2009 Special
Edition of Science on Ardipithecus Ramidus.
 See my first
steps on these questions
with regard to the information age (Capurro 1995).
 My interest in
‚angeletics’ or theory of
messengers/messages goes back to my PhD on the concept of information
1978, 46-49) followed by several contributions particularly in the last
years (Capurro 2003, 2010; Capurro and
fact, Huxley wrote this in an essay on transhumanism in the late 1950s,
was only then that he started to use the word “transhumanism,” probably
inspired by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Afterwords it also
in revised editions of “Religion without Revelation.” (I thank
Coenen for this critical note, RC).
 I owe this
insight about the anamorphic
view of Being
to John Holgate M.A. (lit), M.A (information science) Director of
Services St. George Hospital, Sydney,
 For a
resonance of this approach in the Japanese tradition see (Capurro and
2011). The criticism of humanism and the ‘non-blocking’ perspective are
to the Taoist tradition (Xianglong 2010; Froese 2006; Jullien 2005;
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