Is there any ethical standard that tells us what "improvement on the human condition" might be? Who decides what traits should be eliminated through genetic manipulation? Is it OK to tamper with death and the natural order of things?
There are so many ethical considerations to elements of the transhumanist philosophy. Many have likened parts of transhumanism to the eugenics movement, which sought to selectively sterilize the genetically "unfit" and encourage breeding of the genetically "superior." Transhumanists, however, claim no relationship between their philosophy and eugenics. They say that parents should be allowed to choose for themselves how to reproduce and whether to use any technology like embryonic screening or genetic manipulation. Their argument is that since people will choose for themselves the "type" of child they want, there will be a natural diversity in the children that are born – some with musical ability, some with athleticism, but certainly none with fatal or crippling diseases.
Is it OK to create "better" people? Transhumanists might argue that the ethical question at hand is really, "Is it OK to not create 'better' people if we are capable?" In fact, they say, aren't we already well on our way to a transhumanist society anyhow? For centuries, we have been developing medicines to treat illness, prolonging our life spans. With prosthetics and implants commonplace, aren't we already a world full of cyborgs? Haven't we created computers that outsmart humans? Perhaps the ideas of transhumanism seem far-fetched, but look around. Maybe we're already become them.
Author's Note: How Transhumanism Works
In some of the reading I did for this article, I saw references to people with implants – even something as simple as contact lenses – as cyborgs. I never thought of myself as a cyborg before. Cool.
It's interesting to think of the evolution of this philosophy. Right now, I think parts of it are absurd. But had the philosophy been described centuries ago, I think we'd already qualify as living a transhuman existence. Fast-forward 100 years and maybe these ideas won't seem silly at all.
- Alcor Life Extension Foundation. "Complete List of Alcor Cryopreservations." Dec. 19, 2014. (Jan. 28, 2015) http://www.alcor.org/cases.html
- Alcor Life Extenstion Foundation. "Frequently Asked Questions." (Jan. 30, 2015) http://www.alcor.org/FAQs/faq01.html#cost
- Anissimov, Michael. "Top Ten Transhumanist Technologies." Lifeboat Foundation. (Jan. 22, 2015) http://lifeboat.com/ex/transhumanist.technologies
- Bostrom, Nick. "What is Transhumanism?" World Transhumanist Association. (Jan. 22, 2015) http://www.transhumanism.org/resources/transhumanism.htm
- British Institute of Posthuman Studies. "PostHuman: An Introduction to Transhumanism." Nov. 5, 2013. (Jan. 22, 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTMS9y8OVuY
- Cryonics Institute. "The Cryonics Institute's 128th Patient." Jan. 14, 2015. (Jan. 28, 2015) http://www.cryonics.org/case-reports/
- Humanity+. "Transhumanist FAQ." (Jan. 27, 2015) http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-faq/#top