Prof Michael Hauskeller

Head of Department Philosophy

Research

Transhumanism and the Philosophy of Human Enhancement

Since 2007 I have been looking into current transhumanist philosophies, their key ideas, and the history of these ideas. Key transhumanist ideas are human self-design, the elimination of all suffering, the achievement of perfection and immortality, and the complete defeat of (human) nature. In order to understand these ideas better and to be able to evaluate them properly I have looked into their history, followed their development and identified their mythological status. The object was to gain clarity about what we as human beings are, what we want to, or ought to, become, and what technological advances are worth striving for. This strand of my research resulted in more than 15 papers and four books, 'Better Humans? Understanding the Enhancement Project' (2013), 'Sex and the Posthuman Condition' (2014), 'The Palgrave Handbook of Posthumanism in Film and Television' (ed., 2015), and 'Mythologies of Transhumanism' (2016).

Death and Meaning

I recently started with this new project, which follows up on some of the ideas that I developed in the context of the human enhancement debate. It has been argued that death undercuts meaning, in the sense that as long as our lives will have to end someday our lives cannot be meaningful. That certainly plays a part in why death is often perceived as the greatest evil: not merely because it sets an end to our life, but because it renders all we do meaningless. It is for this reason that we need to do everything in our power to stop the presently inevitable decline of our bodies and to extend human lifespan indefinitely. Yet there is also the opposite view that, far from taking the meaning out of life, death, or mortality, is a precondition of a meaningful life, so that an immortal life would necessarily be devoid of meaning. Now obviously death cannot be both a precondition of a meaningful life and an obstacle to it. So which is it? In order to find out, we need to answer several questions, beginning with what exactly we mean when we talk about meaning, but also in what way the fact that we have to die can be thought to undercut meaning. But we must also ask whether life will inevitably become meaningless in an indefinitely extended life. Can we see the value in things only if they are fragile and bound to perish? Why should it be necessary for life to have not only a beginning, but also an end? Would that imply that for the world as a whole to have meaning, it too will have to end one day? And why should we need a final purpose, instead of an open-ended sequence of purposes to find meaning in life? The project intends to answer these questions. Currently I am working on my first book on the topic, which is an exploration of the ideas of 12 philosophers and writers who have all, in one way or another, wrestled with the problem of finding a meaning in a mortal world. There will be chapters on Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Melville, William James, Camus, Proust, Samuel Beckett, and Wittgenstein. The book is scheduled to be published by Bloomsbury in 2019.