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How does posthumanism differ from transhumanism?

Specifically, what are the major points of disagreement and regions of overlap between the two movements/schools of thought?

Some critics treat the terms as synonymous, but I have seen others insist upon a distinction. How might ideas from each work together? Are there any specific thinkers who might be considered part of both?

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  • Would you mind explaining why you think the history of philosophy tag is warranted? So far as I am aware, post- and transhumanism are concepts of very recent vintage and, while an account of yesterday is a historical account, I think that there is a standard to the discipline understanding that 'history' doesn't cover the contemporary but involves the mighty dead. (I might have just removed the tag but as yet I lack edit power.) – vanden Jul 2 '11 at 5:39
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    Hmm, this is another one of those questions that's going to be difficult to answer because it's impossible to nail down a good working definition of "posthumanism" (much like the similarly named "postmodernism"). It's not a homogeneous camp. But a good question nevertheless; I'd be interested in others' take on this. – Cody Gray Jul 2 '11 at 12:05
  • @Vanden, have removed the tag -- and please feel free to suggest the edit, someone with rep will certainly approve it if it's an improvement – Joseph Weissman Jul 2 '11 at 15:51
  • @Joseph: Thanks. I thought to doing so, but on the one hand it seemed minor and on the other didn't want to be unilateral as case not 100% clear. (I forgot I do have retag powers, though :-) – vanden Jul 2 '11 at 17:31
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From the standpoint of most critics of these philosophies, there is no difference. An analogous situation is the diversity of thought that falls under the umbrella of Marxism: communism, socialism, Leninism, Bolshevism, Trotskyism, Maoism, and even state monopoly capitalism. To a critic, all of those categories are meaningless since they reject at some level or another the principles of capitalistic economic theory. They are distinctions of no import to a critic.

Obviously, a proponent of one of these subphilosophies (hierarchically speaking) would make many distinctions between their positions and others which from outside seem similar. It's the nature of the beast.

As someone wholly outside, it seems to me that the difference is whether the goal is to alter humanity to some specific endpoint (posthumanism) or whether simple improvement is in view (transhumanism). It seems likely that the later used term is a correction, expansion, or clarification of the earlier term. (This seems to be the pattern: Platonists are followed by neo-Platonists. Marxism is followed by Marxist–Leninism.)

According to Wikipedia, "transhumanism" was coined in 1957. The original definition of transhuman according to Julian Huxley:

The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself —not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but trans­cending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.

"Post-Human" was coined no later than 1988. Here's Robert Pepperell's definition:

2.12. First we had God, Humans and Nature. The Rationalists dispensed with God leaving Humans in perpetual conflict with Nature. The Post_Humanists dispense with Humans leaving only Nature. The distinction between God, Nature and Humanity does not represent any eternal truth about the human condition. It merely reflects the prejudices of the societies which maintained the distinction.

So the general idea of humanity pulling itself to some transcended state seems to be a common thread, but whether the result is still human seems to be at issue. If I've got the order of coinage correct, all posthumanists owe their philosophical heritage to transhumanism, but not the other way around.

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The axes of research and intervention on man are of interest – the manner techno science changes our image and modifies our body. In itself, there is no need to be "posthuman", "transhumanist" or something else to feel like making a genetical test on your embryo, to follow a cellular therapy, operate aesthetical modifications and so forth; yet, it’s this sum of small things in all sorts of domains that people start to create by need or desire that gradually diverge human evolution.

For the sake of answering your question:

Transhuman is a process, a transitional state.

Posthuman is a result.

Etymology suffices to clarify the difference between "trans" and "post": transhumanism aims the improvement of man, whereas posthumanism seeks to surpass it.

The transhuman process position might be aimed towards a clear goal (maybe a posthumanism), or a sort of shifting where we accumulate and test, often with negative and positive restrictions in some directions, typical of pragmatical positions that pretend to be without ideology in adapting the one of the moment.

Obviously, I object this position that pretends to be disideologized and that details very rarely what it means by a certain foundational concept.

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