After flying between myriad conferences on Ethics and Transhumanism, Dr. Stefan Sorgner caught up with me recently here at Sentient Potential to discuss “Metahumanism,” transhuman philosophy, and ethical considerations regarding human enhancement. Currently teaching medical ethics at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Dr. Sorgner is on the board of directors for the Beyond Humanism Network, in addition with the IEET and other organizations.
What is Metahumanism?
Dr Sorgner is known as a “Metahumanist,” and I figured that one of my first topics of discussion should be unpacking that concept for my readers.
From Sorgner’s perspective, Metahumanism is a was of bridging the gap between the transhumanist scholars and the posthumanist scholars. The Greek term “meta,” Sorgner explains, implies both “beyond” and “in between.”
At a conference in 2008 / 2007, during a conference in Jena (Germany) – Sorgner was able to catch up with Nick Bostram, Julian Savulescu, and Anders Sanderberg, and as their ideas percilated, Sorgner’s conception of “Metahumanism” become more clear. His entire manifesto can he found online at http://www.metahumanism.eu/index.htm.
The Philosophical Contributions to the Development of Humanity
Being trained exclusively as a philosopher and in the philosophical tradition, Dr. Sorgner is very much interested in the contributions of past and present philosophical concerns to the ethical considerations of an “enhanced” humanity. Thinkers like Bacon, Plato and Aristotle all had lines of thought relating deeply to what we might now call “bioethics” or other more modern philosophical terms – and though “older” thought may not be “better” in some objective sense, it gives us a lineage to trace the lines of modern thought, and adds to the tapestry of thought on modern concerns.
I asked Dr. Sorgner about his own explorations in the works of Nietzsche, knowing that one of his papers on this topic is still talked about to this day (“Nietzsche, the Overhuman, and Transhumanism”).
He explained that the time of Nietzsche was a time of tremendous paradigm shift in modern thinking. Most of philosophy, from Plato onwards, assumed a dualist perspective, taking for granted the idea of an immaterial soul and a material body. This still conceptually continues in Kantian thinking. In most western laws, only humans are given the rights of personhood, and animals are not. We are the only ones who go beyond the natural world to this kind of “soul.”
Darwin and Nietzsche moved away from this line of thinking to the idea that we are only somewhat different from great apes of others animals… that we are just a kind of further developed animal. In philosophical circles today, philosophers of mind continue to discuss how topics like consciousness can come about by means of evolutionary processes. Many thinkers today no longer share the perspective that humanity has an innate kind of essence that other creatures somehow lack.
In light of transhumanist thinking, human beings are natural entities which are part of the natural world – and like our ancestors a million years ago, we are works in process actively moving forward in our development. There is no part of the human entity which is not subject to change. There is no immaterial, floating “self” in another world which has a special kind of sanctity. We came about from evolutionary processes, which makes it seem absurd to assume that we are the “end,” that there will be no further development.
Sorgner believes by an informed, contemporary debate of these issues involves not only an un-to-date knowledge of the technological innovations that are and will be in existence – but also involves an understanding of the philosophical and ethical lines of thinking with relation to how issues might be resolved or opportunities might be sought out.
Negative Freedom – It’s Wonders and Dangers
Dr. Sorgner sees negative freedom as one of the core values for which he stands, and an important idea to carry toward into our future. “Native Freedom” being freedom from coercion or harm of others, and it’s certainly a “modern” development in the course of human history, though it’s so easily taken for granted for those born into situations of stable democratic governments.
Though I am also congenial with the notion of negative freedom given my present human experience (with autonomy and safety as nearly undeniable facets of human fulfillment), I have little certainty that a trans or post-human existence wouldn’t be better without negative freedom. From my given perspective and faculties, this discernment seems impossible to make. Dr. Sorgner agrees that believing something to be important in our present circumstances isn’t any reason to rest on it in the future without critical analysis.
His optimism (though he repeatedly acknowledged the possibility of various, serious risk) lies in a belief that, in general, an era of cognitive enhancement will ring in an era of moral enhancement as well – bringing us to a higher level of practical wisdom and moral insight and action. I certainly hope that this will be the case.
He believes that there is a chance that even transhuman and posthuman individuals will not claim a kind of moral superiority to rule over “normal” humanity or mistreat the un-enhanced population. I posed that it seems hard to guess, and assuming a posthuman wisdom, creativity and moral sense is to man’s present faculties what as man is to a beetle, it seems dangerous to believe we’ll be on some kind of level ground with posthuman godliness, or that we’d be treated too much better than beetles are treated today. Dr. Sorgner agrees the future is dicey, but that our best work for today is to keep informed conversation alive and vigilantly move forward towards to best future we can create.
Little is certain on my end other than the fact that much vigilance will indeed be required.