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The Edge of Human? The Problem with the Posthuman as the ‘Beyond’

Lookup NU author(s): David Lawrence



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This article asks whether enhancement can truly lead to something beyond humanity, or whether it is, itself, an inherently human act. The ‘posthuman’ is an uncertain proposition. What, exactly, would one be? Many commentators suggest it to be an endpoint for the use of enhancement technologies, yet few choose to codify the term outright; which frequently leads to unnecessary confusion. Characterizing and contextualizing the term, particularly its more novel uses, is therefore a valuable enterprise. The abuse of the term ‘Human’, especially in the context of the enhancement debate and the myriad meanings ascribed to it, could give ‘posthuman’ very different slants depending on one's assumptions. There are perhaps three main senses in which the term ‘human’ is employed: the biological, the moral, and the self-idealizing. In the first of these, ‘human’ is often conflated with Homo sapiens, and used interchangeably to denote species; in the second, ‘human’ (or ‘humanity’) generally refers to a community of beings which qualify as having a certain moral value; and the third, the self-idealizing sense, is more descriptive; a label denoting the qualities that make us who we are as beings, or ‘what matters about those who matter’. So, what might enhancement make us? A novel species or genus of hominid? Or, perhaps, a morally more valuable being than a regular human? Of course, there's a third option: that a posthuman is a being which embodies our self-ideal more successfully than we do ourselves – one ‘more human than human’. Which to choose?

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lawrence DR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Bioethics

Year: 2017

Volume: 31

Issue: 3

Pages: 171-179

Print publication date: 01/03/2017

Online publication date: 23/12/2016

Acceptance date: 06/09/2016

Date deposited: 19/01/2017

ISSN (print): 0269-9702

ISSN (electronic): 1467-8519

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12318


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