Possibility or Potency?: Medieval theology, transhumanism, and human identity

“It’s easy to write transhumanism off as a fringe phenomenon of science fantasy. But this is a mistake, for elements of it are already engulfing us.”

— Mark Shiffman, “Humanity 4.5,” First Things, November 2015

Associate professor of humanities, Mark Shiffman, teaches classes in classical studies, social and political theory, and philosophy at Villanova University. He has written on such figures as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, William of Ockham, and John Locke. To hear Shiffman discuss his recent article for First Things titled “Humanity 4.5,” scroll down. If you would like more information on Shiffman's work and research interests, you can visit his website.

Mark Shiffman on the origins of transhumanism

In its November 2015 issue, First Things featured an article by Villanova University professor, Mark Shiffman, entitled “Humanity 4.5.” In this essay, Shiffman discusses both modern and premodern theological and philosophical origins of the new quasi-religious movement called “transhumanism.” According to this collection of beliefs, what sets us apart as human is our very capacity to transcend ourselves—particularly our bodies—in favor of ever expanding possibilities for self-creation. As Shiffman explains, this particularly modern view of the self as a transgressor of limits finds its logical foothold in late medieval theology among the heated debates about how we talk about God and understand Creation. However, the early Christian understanding of human freedom is not primarily that of transcending human limits to extrinsic possibilities (which is ultimately a mechanical understanding of the Creation), but rather, of growing into the organic potencies latent within human identity.

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Gilbert Meilaender on anti-aging research

In this archive release from Volume 118, ethicist Gilbert Meilaender explains why anti-aging research cannot be a metaphysically neutral topic, and argues against the utopianism of escaping the body.  Included in the interview, is an audio clip of Ray Kurzweil (now an employee of Google), describing a future in which our bodies are completely disposable. Meilaender points out why this futuristic hope is both unlikely and unwise. He discusses how the desire to leave the body is ideologically entangled in the modern liberal tradition, which is frequently concerned more with possessing, versus being, a body.

Listen to this archive release