January 26, 2005

Benko: Ethics, Technology, and Posthuman Communities

Check out this neat article in Humboldt College's Essays in Philosophy journal: Ethics, Technology, and Posthuman Communities.

Humanist philosophy, argues Steven Benko, is now in the position of having to respond to technological developments that bolster the posthuman claim that technology is an integral part of identity. He also notes that all's not well in modern humanist thought:
The response by humanists has been to suggest a human nature that is entirely at odds with technology or a human nature primed for hybridity and interfaces. In both perspectives, the ethicality of technology is based on how it enhances or diminishes human nature and the social relationships and responsibilities that emerge from it. The singular focus on how technology affects human nature has resulted in little attention being paid to the (un)ethical uses of technology. Even less attention is paid to the notion that technology is a site of protest against interpretations that alienate and marginalize those who either do not have access to technology, use technology to surpass the limitations imposed by the body, reconstruct or augment an undeveloped or damaged part of their brain or body, or use technology to challenge humanist notions of the good of human nature. In humanist treatments of the ethicality of technology, human nature is treated as a given constant and remains unquestioned. The result has been uncritical investigations about the meaning of technology. Though they employ ethical language, humanist critiques of technology have less to do with technology and ethics than they do with restating their view of human nature in an ethical language so as determine who can and cannot be a member of the moral—and therefore human—community. When this happens, ethics becomes identity politics and fails to give an adequate accounting of technological (ab)use. Most confusing of all is that while humanists agree that there is a shared human nature, they do not agree as to its content, prompting widely divergent humanist reactions to technology.
At the same time, Benko is also unsatisfied with the sentiments coming out of both the academic and technological posthumanist camps:
That idea has been further developed by technological posthumanists such as Kurzweil (1999), Moravec (1988), and Paul and Cox (1996), who each argue that in the absence of a human nature, there are no restrictions or limitations on how humans can configure themselves. The only limitation humans have to overcome is the organic body. Technological posthumanists rush to embrace technology as that which saves us from humanism and frees understandings of what it means to be human from humanism’s essentializing and normativizing grip. They imagine a future where the human body has been left behind and humans are free to configure and augment themselves however they see fit. In doing so, posthumanism has not articulated a comprehensive ethics for how individuals should respond to technology or how these digital people should interact with one another and those who remain carbon-based. Contrasted with humanism, technology is always a moral good because it allows the individual to escape humanism’s transcendent sameness.
Ultimately, what Benko feels is needed--if there is to be a critical theory of technology--is a posthumanism that articulates the best of humanism—reason, individuality, and respect for others—without requiring belief in a shared human nature that marginalizes and alienates others.

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