Posthumanism or post-humanism (meaning "after humanism" or "beyond humanism") is an idea in continental philosophy and critical theory responding to the presence of anthropocentrism in 21st-century thought.[1] Posthumanization comprises "those processes by which a society comes to include members other than 'natural' biological human beings who, in one way or another, contribute to the structures, dynamics, or meaning of the society."[2]

It encompasses a wide variety of branches, including:

Philosophical posthumanism

Philosopher Theodore Schatzki suggests there are two varieties of posthumanism of the philosophical kind:[18]

One, which he calls "objectivism", tries to counter the overemphasis of the subjective, or intersubjective, that pervades humanism, and emphasises the role of the nonhuman agents, whether they be animals and plants, or computers or other things, because "Humans and nonhumans, it [objectivism] proclaims, codetermine one another", and also claims "independence of (some) objects from human activity and conceptualization".[18]

A second posthumanist agenda is "the prioritization of practices over individuals (or individual subjects)", which, they say, constitute the individual.[18]

There may be a third kind of posthumanism, propounded by the philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. Though he did not label it "posthumanism", he made an immanent critique of humanism, and then constructed a philosophy that presupposed neither humanist, nor scholastic, nor Greek thought but started with a different religious ground motive.[19] Dooyeweerd prioritized law and meaningfulness as that which enables humanity and all else to exist, behave, live, occur, etc. "Meaning is the being of all that has been created", Dooyeweerd wrote, "and the nature even of our selfhood".[20] Both human and nonhuman alike function subject to a common law-side, which is diverse, composed of a number of distinct law-spheres or aspects.[21] The temporal being of both human and non-human is multi-aspectual; for example, both plants and humans are bodies, functioning in the biotic aspect, and both computers and humans function in the formative and lingual aspect, but humans function in the aesthetic, juridical, ethical and faith aspects too. The Dooyeweerdian version is able to incorporate and integrate both the objectivist version and the practices version, because it allows nonhuman agents their own subject-functioning in various aspects and places emphasis on aspectual functioning.[22]

Emergence of philosophical posthumanism

Ihab Hassan, theorist in the academic study of literature, once stated: "Humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something one must helplessly call posthumanism."[23] This view predates most currents of posthumanism which have developed over the late 20th century in somewhat diverse, but complementary, domains of thought and practice. For example, Hassan is a known scholar whose theoretical writings expressly address postmodernity in society.[24] Beyond postmodernist studies, posthumanism has been developed and deployed by various cultural theorists, often in reaction to problematic inherent assumptions within humanistic and enlightenment thought.[5]

Theorists who both complement and contrast Hassan include Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, cyberneticists such as Gregory Bateson, Warren McCullouch, Norbert Wiener, Bruno Latour, Cary Wolfe, Elaine Graham, N. Katherine Hayles, Benjamin H. Bratton, Donna Haraway, Peter Sloterdijk, Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, Evan Thompson, Francisco Varela, Humberto Maturana, Timothy Morton, and Douglas Kellner. Among the theorists are philosophers, such as Robert Pepperell, who have written about a "posthuman condition", which is often substituted for the term posthumanism.[6][9]

Posthumanism differs from classical humanism by relegating humanity back to one of many natural species, thereby rejecting any claims founded on anthropocentric dominance.[25] According to this claim, humans have no inherent rights to destroy nature or set themselves above it in ethical considerations a priori. Human knowledge is also reduced to a less controlling position, previously seen as the defining aspect of the world. Human rights exist on a spectrum with animal rights and posthuman rights.[26] The limitations and fallibility of human intelligence are confessed, even though it does not imply abandoning the rational tradition of humanism.[27]

Proponents of a posthuman discourse, suggest that innovative advancements and emerging technologies have transcended the traditional model of the human, as proposed by Descartes among others associated with philosophy of the Enlightenment period.[28] Posthumanistic views were also found in the works of Shakespeare.[29] In contrast to humanism, the discourse of posthumanism seeks to redefine the boundaries surrounding modern philosophical understanding of the human. Posthumanism represents an evolution of thought beyond that of the contemporary social boundaries and is predicated on the seeking of truth within a postmodern context. In so doing, it rejects previous attempts to establish "anthropological universals" that are imbued with anthropocentric assumptions.[25] Recently, critics have sought to describe the emergence of posthumanism as a critical moment in modernity, arguing for the origins of key posthuman ideas in modern fiction,[30] in Nietzsche,[31] or in a modernist response to the crisis of historicity.[32]

Although Nietzsche's philosophy has been characterized as posthumanist,[33][34][35] Foucault placed posthumanism within a context that differentiated humanism from Enlightenment thought. According to Foucault, the two existed in a state of tension: as humanism sought to establish norms while Enlightenment thought attempted to transcend all that is material, including the boundaries that are constructed by humanistic thought.[25] Drawing on the Enlightenment's challenges to the boundaries of humanism, posthumanism rejects the various assumptions of human dogmas (anthropological, political, scientific) and takes the next step by attempting to change the nature of thought about what it means to be human. This requires not only decentering the human in multiple discourses (evolutionary, ecological and technological) but also examining those discourses to uncover inherent humanistic, anthropocentric, normative notions of humanness and the concept of the human.

Contemporary posthuman discourse

Posthumanistic discourse aims to open up spaces to examine what it means to be human and critically question the concept of "the human" in light of current cultural and historical contexts.[5] In her book How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles, writes about the struggle between different versions of the posthuman as it continually co-evolves alongside intelligent machines.[36] Such coevolution, according to some strands of the posthuman discourse, allows one to extend their subjective understandings of real experiences beyond the boundaries of embodied existence. According to Hayles's view of posthuman, often referred to as "technological posthumanism", visual perception and digital representations thus paradoxically become ever more salient. Even as one seeks to extend knowledge by deconstructing perceived boundaries, it is these same boundaries that make knowledge acquisition possible. The use of technology in a contemporary society is thought to complicate this relationship.[37]

Hayles discusses the translation of human bodies into information (as suggested by Hans Moravec) in order to illuminate how the boundaries of our embodied reality have been compromised in the current age and how narrow definitions of humanness no longer apply. Because of this, according to Hayles, posthumanism is characterized by a loss of subjectivity based on bodily boundaries.[5] This strand of posthumanism, including the changing notion of subjectivity and the disruption of ideas concerning what it means to be human, is often associated with Donna Haraway's concept of the cyborg.[5] However, Haraway has distanced herself from posthumanistic discourse due to other theorists' use of the term to promote utopian views of technological innovation to extend the human biological capacity[38] (even though these notions would more correctly fall into the realm of transhumanism[5]).

While posthumanism is a broad and complex ideology, it has relevant implications today and for the future. It attempts to redefine social structures without inherently humanly or even biological origins, but rather in terms of social and psychological systems where consciousness and communication could potentially exist as unique disembodied entities. Questions subsequently emerge with respect to the current use and the future of technology in shaping human existence,[25] as do new concerns with regards to language, symbolism, subjectivity, phenomenology, ethics, justice and creativity.

Technological versus non-technological

Posthumanism can be divided into non-technological and technological forms.[39][40]

Non-technological posthumanism

While posthumanization has links with the scholarly methodologies of posthumanism, it is a distinct phenomenon. The rise of explicit posthumanism as a scholarly approach is relatively recent, occurring since the late 1970s;[1][41] however, some of the processes of posthumanization that it studies are ancient. For example, the dynamics of non-technological posthumanization have existed historically in all societies in which animals were incorporated into families as household pets or in which ghosts, monsters, angels, or semidivine heroes were considered to play some role in the world.[42][41][40]

Such non-technological posthumanization has been manifested not only in mythological and literary works but also in the construction of temples, cemeteries, zoos, or other physical structures that were considered to be inhabited or used by quasi- or para-human beings who were not natural, living, biological human beings but who nevertheless played some role within a given society,[41][40] to the extent that, according to philosopher Francesca Ferrando: "the notion of spirituality dramatically broadens our understanding of the posthuman, allowing us to investigate not only technical technologies (robotics, cybernetics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, among others), but also, technologies of existence."[43]

Technological posthumanism

Some forms of technological posthumanization involve efforts to directly alter the social, psychological, or physical structures and behaviors of the human being through the development and application of technologies relating to genetic engineering or neurocybernetic augmentation; such forms of posthumanization are studied, e.g., by cyborg theory.[44] Other forms of technological posthumanization indirectly "posthumanize" human society through the deployment of social robots or attempts to develop artificial general intelligences, sentient networks, or other entities that can collaborate and interact with human beings as members of posthumanized societies.

The dynamics of technological posthumanization have long been an important element of science fiction; genres such as cyberpunk take them as a central focus. In recent decades, technological posthumanization has also become the subject of increasing attention by scholars and policymakers. The expanding and accelerating forces of technological posthumanization have generated diverse and conflicting responses, with some researchers viewing the processes of posthumanization as opening the door to a more meaningful and advanced transhumanist future for humanity,[45][46][47] while other bioconservative critiques warn that such processes may lead to a fragmentation of human society, loss of meaning, and subjugation to the forces of technology.[48]

Common features

Processes of technological and non-technological posthumanization both tend to result in a partial "de-anthropocentrization" of human society, as its circle of membership is expanded to include other types of entities and the position of human beings is decentered. A common theme of posthumanist study is the way in which processes of posthumanization challenge or blur simple binaries, such as those of "human versus non-human", "natural versus artificial", "alive versus non-alive", and "biological versus mechanical".[49][41]

Relationship with transhumanism

Sociologist James Hughes comments that there is considerable confusion between the two terms.[50][51] In the introduction to their book on post- and transhumanism, Robert Ranisch and Stefan Sorgner address the source of this confusion, stating that posthumanism is often used as an umbrella term that includes both transhumanism and critical posthumanism.[50]

Although both subjects relate to the future of humanity, they differ in their view of anthropocentrism.[52] Pramod Nayar, author of Posthumanism, states that posthumanism has two main branches: ontological and critical.[53] Ontological posthumanism is synonymous with transhumanism. The subject is regarded as "an intensification of humanism".[54] Transhumanist thought suggests that humans are not post human yet, but that human enhancement, often through technological advancement and application, is the passage of becoming post human.[55] Transhumanism retains humanism's focus on the Homo sapiens as the center of the world but also considers technology to be an integral aid to human progression. Critical posthumanism, however, is opposed to these views.[56] Critical posthumanism "rejects both human exceptionalism (the idea that humans are unique creatures) and human instrumentalism (that humans have a right to control the natural world)".[53] These contrasting views on the importance of human beings are the main distinctions between the two subjects.[57]

Transhumanism is also more ingrained in popular culture than critical posthumanism, especially in science fiction. The term is referred to by Pramod Nayar as "the pop posthumanism of cinema and pop culture".[53]


Some critics have argued that all forms of posthumanism, including transhumanism, have more in common than their respective proponents realize.[58] Linking these different approaches, Paul James suggests that 'the key political problem is that, in effect, the position allows the human as a category of being to flow down the plughole of history':

This is ontologically critical. Unlike the naming of 'postmodernism' where the 'post' does not infer the end of what it previously meant to be human (just the passing of the dominance of the modern) the posthumanists are playing a serious game where the human, in all its ontological variability, disappears in the name of saving something unspecified about us as merely a motley co-location of individuals and communities.[59]

However, some posthumanists in the humanities and the arts are critical of transhumanism (the brunt of James's criticism), in part, because they argue that it incorporates and extends many of the values of Enlightenment humanism and classical liberalism, namely scientism, according to performance philosopher Shannon Bell:[60]

Altruism, mutualism, humanism are the soft and slimy virtues that underpin liberal capitalism. Humanism has always been integrated into discourses of exploitation: colonialism, imperialism, neoimperialism, democracy, and of course, American democratization. One of the serious flaws in transhumanism is the importation of liberal-human values to the biotechno enhancement of the human. Posthumanism has a much stronger critical edge attempting to develop through enactment new understandings of the self and others, essence, consciousness, intelligence, reason, agency, intimacy, life, embodiment, identity and the body.[60]

While many modern leaders of thought are accepting of nature of ideologies described by posthumanism, some are more skeptical of the term. Haraway, the author of A Cyborg Manifesto, has outspokenly rejected the term, though acknowledges a philosophical alignment with posthumanism. Haraway opts instead for the term of companion species, referring to nonhuman entities with which humans coexist.[38]

Questions of race, some argue, are suspiciously elided within the "turn" to posthumanism. Noting that the terms "post" and "human" are already loaded with racial meaning, critical theorist Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues that the impulse to move "beyond" the human within posthumanism too often ignores "praxes of humanity and critiques produced by black people",[61] including Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, Hortense Spillers and Fred Moten.[61] Interrogating the conceptual grounds in which such a mode of "beyond" is rendered legible and viable, Jackson argues that it is important to observe that "blackness conditions and constitutes the very nonhuman disruption and/or disruption" which posthumanists invite.[61] In other words, given that race in general and blackness in particular constitute the very terms through which human-nonhuman distinctions are made, for example in enduring legacies of scientific racism, a gesture toward a "beyond" actually "returns us to a Eurocentric transcendentalism long challenged".[62] Posthumanist scholarship, due to characteristic rhetorical techniques, is also frequently subject to the same critiques commonly made of postmodernist scholarship in the 1980s and 1990s.

See also


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  2. ^ Gladden, Matthew (2018). Sapient Circuits and Digitalized Flesh: The Organization as Locus of Technological Posthumanization (PDF) (second ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Defragmenter Media. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-944373-21-4. Retrieved March 14, 2018. Elsewhere (p. 35) in the same text Gladden proposes a longer definition, stating that "The processes of posthumanization are those dynamics by which a society comes to include members other than 'natural' biological human beings who, in one way or another, contribute to the structures, activities, or meaning of the society. In this way, a society comes to incorporate a diverse range of intelligent human, non-human, and para-human social actors who seek to perceive, interpret, and influence their shared environment and who create knowledge and meaning through their networks and interactions."
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  8. ^ Morton, Timothy, 1968 (9 March 2018). Being ecological. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 978-0-262-03804-1. OCLC 1004183444.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
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Works cited