IEET > Rights > Fellows > Russell Blackford
The future of sex, and God, and everything else
Apr 25, 2007  

Russell Blackford reports: My big project has gradually evolved towards this title: Wrestling with Proteus: A Naturalistic Approach to Morality, Law, and the Prospects of Human Enhancement. It may continue to change, but for now I’m laying claim to it before someone else comes up with anything similar. I also have, for now, a concise summary of what I want to demonstrate: “In developing public policy on human enhancement technologies, we should examine a plurality of natural human interests and avoid any overreaching moralism.” That’s not really as concise as I’d like, but it will have to do; the idea isn’t easy to sloganise.

While taking a short breather from actually working on this, I have a chance to reflect on how it started off with a fairly narrow focus on issues to do with distributive justice in access to enhancement technologies - which will now be just one chapter - and has turned into a much more comprehensive, integrated philosophical statement, grounded in metaphysical naturalism, but ultimately applying it to questions about our human, or posthuman, future.

The immediate aim - still - is to reject or defuse a lot of the standard arguments against enhancement of our physical and cognitive capacities, but the same thinking that underpins the conclusions on that topic could be extended to cover the future of many other things. It’s not just the extent to which we should use technology to alter ourselves; there’s also the future of love, sex, religion, art and literature, law, and all the other central human institutions and experiences. If we’re thinking about the future, we need to bring in the whole box and dice of it.

I have some mixed ideas about how my approach relates to transhumanism. On the one hand, I believe that I can integrate my moderately transhumanist views with a much broader, and (I believe) attractive, philosophical position. We need more work that attempts to do something like this. On the other hand, I’m very conscious that a lot of people whom I consider allies - more or less - on the topic of human enhancement technologies would reject my overall worldview and base their support of transformational technologies on quite different grounds. On the gripping hand, there’s no way that I am not going to pursue my broad agenda, so it’s largely a matter of just getting on with it.

Perhaps I have a vested interest, as one of the few people I know of who are attempting to develop a comprehensive worldview that includes a position on transformational technologies, and potentially a view about many other issues of how - if at all - we should try to shape our collective future. I’ll be fascinated to see more attempts to develop large-scale, transhumanism-friendly philosophical positions. I’m sure that there are other folks out there attempting to do just that, even if I can’t yet name them. We’ll probably see, as their work starts getting published, that there is no single transhumanist view of the world, but rather a rich diversity of viewpoints that each give support to some aspects of the transhumanist project - as long as they don’t somehow cancel out, which is always possible.

Surely more people will take on this task, as human enhancement looms larger on the radar for philosophers and other commentators of various kinds. I’m expecting to see some fascinating books hitting the shelves in the next few years. Intellectually, as in so many other ways, this is an exciting time to be alive.

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