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What is posthumanism? And should you worry about it?

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Daniel Esparza - published on 11/06/23

The ongoing dialogue between posthumanism and religious traditions, Catholicism included, offers a relatively new terrain for thoughtful reflection and discourse that needs to be walked attentively and carefully.

Posthumanism is a still-developing intellectual contemporary movement that challenges traditionally held philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and ethical notions of what it means to be human. It emerged in the last decades of the past century, drawing from various fields, including philosophy, science, literature, and art. Consequently, it encompasses a broad range of interdisciplinary perspectives and has gained significant attention in recent years – although it is still far from being the “dominant” philosophical contemporary perspective.

As a philosophical and cultural movement, posthumanism seeks to examine the evolving relationship between humans and technology – its purported benefits as much as its threatening abuse. By so doing, it questions the established boundaries of human identity. Some of the core tenets of posthumanism include:

  • Transhumanism: Transhumanism can be conceived as a subfield of posthumanism that explores the enhancement of human capabilities through technology. Proponents of transhumanism believe in the potential for humans to transcend biological “limitations” through advancements in fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
  • Post-anthropocentrism: Posthumanism challenges the anthropocentric view that places humans at the center of the universe. It suggests that humans should not dominate other species or ecosystems, advocating for a different ethical framework.
  • Cyborg Theory: Drawing from Donna Haraway’sCyborg Manifesto, posthumanism recognizes the increasing integration of humans and machines, leading to the emergence of cyborgs ­– for good or for ill. This theory explores the blurring boundaries between human and machine, thereby challenging a biology-oriented understanding of human identity.
  • Critique of Dualism: Posthumanism sometimes rejects the typically dualistic, Cartesian thinking that separates the mind and body, but also the human from the non-human, and the organic from the artificial.

Implications of posthumanism

Obviously enough, posthumanist theories can have profound implications for society, ethics, and the future of humanity as a whole. Some of these implications might include:

  • Ethical Dilemmas: Posthumanism raises questions about the moral implications of human enhancement, the rights of non-human entities, and the consequences of technological interventions in our lives.
  • Identity and Authenticity: It challenges the concept of authentic human identity as we increasingly merge with technology, leading to questions about the nature of self and individuality – who, or what, gets to be human?
  • Environmentalism: Posthumanism sometimes encourages a more environmentally conscious approach, promoting the idea that humans should be more considerate of their impact on the natural world.
  • Social and Political Transformation: Finally, posthumanism also calls for reevaluating social and political structures in light of evolving technology, addressing issues such as privacy, surveillance, and the distribution of resources.

A (broad) Catholic perspective on posthumanism

From a Catholic perspective, posthumanism surely raises important theological and ethical concerns. While the Catholic Church has always been open to scientific progress and technological advancements, it emphasizes the importance of moral and ethical guidelines. Some key considerations include:

  • Human Dignity: Catholicism holds that every human being possesses inherent dignity and worth as they are made in the image and likeness of God. Posthumanist ideas that challenge the sanctity of human life through excessive (or unnecessary) technological intervention should be viewed, at the very least, with caution.
  • Ethical Responsibility: The Church emphasizes the responsibility to use technology for the betterment of humanity and to protect the vulnerable. All ethical concerns related to human enhancement on the one hand, and the rights of non-human entities on the other, should be approached with care.
  • Environmental Stewardship: The Catholic theological and philosophical tradition supports the stewardship of the Earth and emphasizes our responsibility regarding God’s Creation. Pope Francis’ documents Laudato Siand Laudate Deum are all about this fundamental concern. Some of the basic tenets of posthumanism’s call for environmental awareness aligns with this perspective.

To sum it up, posthumanism is not a homogeneous school of thought. On the contrary, it is a multifaceted movement that explores the evolving relationship between humans and technology. It has implications for ethics, society, and the environment. A Catholic perspective emphasizes the importance of human dignity, ethical responsibility, and environmental stewardship in the face of these developments. Ultimately, the ongoing dialogue between posthumanism and religious traditions, Catholicism included, offers a relatively new terrain for thoughtful reflection and discourse that needs to be walked attentively and carefully.

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