Transhumanism: Symptom of a decadence or remedy?

Publié le 4 Nov, 2015

In a world in which technique projects the future of a connected, repaired or augmented man, Emmanuel Brochier, conference master in Philosophy at the “Institut de Philosophie Comprarée” (Paris), was led to decipher the question of transhumanism. He has been working and teaching philosophy of nature for 15 years now. He answers the questions of Généthique.


You have initiated a series of conferences on transhumanism. Why?


Transhumanism is at the crossroads between anthropology, the theory of evolution and philosophy of nature. It is a subject that brings together my entire work of the past 15 years, object of my teaching. It also happens to be a topical subject. Indeed, having cast aside all interiority, the thoughts of our contemporaries no longer have anything to do with life: people compare themselves to artificial intelligence, and are surprised in realising they fear them. Transhumanism is both the symptom of a decadence and its remedy. It is what makes both the decadence and the greatness of man. Because man, through his capacity to think is infinitely greater than the machine! When Socrates wished to compare himself, he turned towards God. He turned towards Wisdom. He recognised that man is the being that desires Wisdom, i.e., something greater than himself, something that comes before him, something that was not manmade. That is what makes man so great. That is what transhumanism pulls us away from, by making us dream of an ideal placed in interconnected artificial intelligences, big data processing.

One is often afraid of any new technique, a fear that should be overcome through analysis. One thus realises that transhumanism can also be presented as a remedy because the deep fear that pushes people towards these technologies, is the fear of death, and not only that of a personal death: some books make it sound plausible that the extinction of humanity is relatively close[2]. An extinction that seems all the more threatening, according to certain transhumanists, as natural selection can no longer do its work because of technical progress. Thus, if humanity wants to last, it is thought that one should engage in new technologies, (NBIC) because the conditions that used to enable our existence no longer exist. One would have to commit oneself now to save the future generations. The problem is that the remedy could be worse than the evil. Because by doing this, man is thus reduced to a machine, transhumanists wanting to free us of the distinction there is between the natural and the artefact.


How can we oppose this vision of the future of mankind?


Facing them, those who come from a more classical culture, who in one way or another became the people they are today by using their humanity, spontaneously suggest a whole series of arguments, some stronger than others, and whose relevance needs to be assessed.

The first of these arguments consists in saying « we’ll never manage ». For example, it will never be possible to take away ageing. But this remains very difficult to predict: was it not said also that we would never manage to map the genome? Or go to the moon?

The second most common argument is an ethical one; it consists in reacting in the name of a badly understood human nature. Some superimpose it with genetics[3], but nature is of a different order. Others believe that man is integrated into and constituted by history. They thus denounce a certain shame, that is that man would not be the fruit of rationality, but rather the fruit of evolution[4]. The problem of these opponents to transhumanism is that they refuse to see that man also has a nature.

To get passed these spontaneous arguments, and truly answers the issues brought up by transhumanism, it is important to rediscover the meaning of nature that, unfortunately, is nowadays considered as a simple reservoir of unexploited resources, sometimes also by the opponents to transhumanism. We find it difficult to see more in nature than simply an endless material to exploit, available for our every desire, including when it comes to the human body (cells…),

In modern mentalities, nature is good only because it is the object of our desires, and seems to become bad as soon as it turns into an obstacle to our freedom. Transhumanists do not think otherwise. Thus, in order to answer the challenges set by transhumanism, one must try and rediscover the human nature again, that is good and shows us what is good for us. The best is often the enemy of the good


 What “kind” of man are we heading towards?


There are several levels in transhumanism.

First of all, the one which corresponds to the increase of one’s capabilities. Zurich’s Cybathlon is a good example. This competition aims towards showing that the real disability is nature, and that with a prosthesis, i.e., by adding an apparatus to our biological body, one can acquire a better performance.

The second level consists in ameliorating our human nature; even though it is still considered to be speculation and hypothesis, incredible amounts of money have already been invested in research programs that look into replacing, on a molecular level, the biological by Nano technological materials, which will turn man into an interconnected being. This evolution of nature should be dealt with by men straight away. The scientific concept called cyborg developed by Kine and Clynes in 1960, and largely reproduced by science fiction, has changed the paradigm: it is no longer about enabling man to live in the space around him but about adapting man to the space around him, and therefore transforming the nature of man, adapting it to new challenges.

Finally, the last level is that of the improvement of the “feeling”.


How should one react?


Faced with these great challenges, it is not so much about condemning transhumanism, but about not being naïve concerning everything that is at stake. To say things a bit rapidly, the augmented man that is being proposed is a very sophisticated robot, in other terms a slave (it is the meaning of the word robot in Czech)… But even a very sophisticated robot is still less than the smallest of men’s children, including a child living with a serious disability. Because, speaking as Pascal Blaise would, man passes man. But one should take the time to understand mankind. Thus, the time has come to rediscover the deep meaning of mankind.

Every generation has a challenge to take up, we are not simply heirs. If the roots of transhumanism seem so deep, maybe it is because some challenges were ignored. But they can be taken up now! Let us believe it possible!

For this, one needs to recognise the relevance of the issues to which transhumanists wish to answer, in other words, that man is not a being made for death, that he longs for life and must answer this aspiration. It does not change the fact that the solutions proposed are problematic. By trying to understand why, and by asking oneself “why do we feel it cannot be otherwise”, it will become possible for us to exercise our responsibilities towards the generations to come. This is precisely the object of my ongoing work.



[1]Y a-t-il de bonnes raisons de s’opposer aux transhumanismes ?  (Are there any good reasons to be opposed to transhumanism?) From 3rd November to 1st December at the IPC, Paris. Access the entire program online.

[2] Example: Christian Godin, La fin de l’humanité (The end of Humanity), Seyssel, 2003.

[3] Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, Picador edition.

[4] Jean-Michel Besnier, Demain les posthumains : le futur a-t-il encore besoin de nous ? (Tomorrow posthumans: Does the future still need us?), Edition Hachette Littérature, Collection Haute tension.

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