Transhumanism is a movement that aims to change humankind by using technical means. This change is intended be a change for the better. So transhumanism includes human enhancement, but that is not enough. Human nature, as we know it today, shall be overcome through technology. In a nutshell: Transhumanism aims at transcending the human towards post-human beings.
It is characteristic for transhumanism that it is designed to be highly interdisciplinary. The British-born philosopher and founder of the Extropy Institute, Max More, describes transhumanism as a life philosophy, a broad intellectual and cultural movement (More 2013). This movement includes various scientific disciplines, such as the so-called NBIC technologies (nanotechnology, biotechnology, IT and cognitive sciences). Of course, the social sciences also play an important role, as well as mathematicians and economists are actors in the transhumanist movement (Vinge 2013, Hansen 2013).
However, pedagogy seems to play no role in the transhumanist movement – not even a critical one. This fact is noteworthy, because if we look at history, we can see that transhumanism and pedagogy have the same roots. In the following, I would like to point out these common roots. I will then outline where there are similarities, in my view, between transhumanistic and educational objectives.
Following Max More, the philosophical roots of transhumanism are in Enlightenment humanism (More 2013). Basically, the Age of the Enlightenment is characterized by emancipation. Man emancipates himself from a fixed order, which is declared as God-given. He begins to question more and more social and religious rules by using reason. Reason is that property which every person has, whether he is rich or poor, prince or peasant, man or woman. At the same time, reason is a necessary condition for the development of science and technology. In addition to reason, science and technology are the key means to initiate liberation from naturally given dependencies.
If that is indeed the case, then reason plays a key role. For without reason, there will be no emancipation of social, religious and natural conditions. Surely reason is indeed a gift, which – as already mentioned – every man has by nature. However, this does not necessarily mean that he can also apply reason. Rather, we should understand the application of reason as an outcome for which we all have potential, and to which we should all strive. Many years must pass before a man is able to engage in rational thought and action. But this goal can only be achieved if a man is led to the use of reason by way of practice, guidance and encouragement. In short, it is the task of pedagogy to lead man to reason.
When we speak of education, we mean approximately the period from the 16th – 18th Centuries. The 18th Century is called the “Pedagogical Century” (Sesink 2007). During this time, many Enlightenment philosophers grappled with questions concerning rational education. They were aware that humanity could not liberate itself, until education, based on reason, was brought to the masses.
One of the most famous philosophers and educators was Immanuel Kant. Kant lived from 1724 to 1804. In 1776, he gave his first lecture on pedagogy. The script was published shortly before his death under the title “Kant on Education” (Kant 1803/1906). His concept of education basically consists of four phases. The first phase is the “disciplining“. This means the following: On one hand, every child has a potential reason. On the other hand there is the child´s nature. The child can not yet control its nature. To do that, it would need a developed and realized reason. The nature of the child is wild and the child is dominated by emotions, which can not be controlled. Anyone who has ever read William Golding’s dystopian novel “Lord of the Flies” knows what children are capable of when they are left to themselves. The child does not have sufficient control over its natural feelings, so it needs the external control of the adult. In other words: Discipline aims to use a third-party, external reason (the reason of adults) as a substitute for the reason which the child has not yet developed.
If the “disciplining“ succeeds the “cultivation“ follows. In this phase, the child is familiar with the culture´s techniques, which it needs in order to participate in the society. In our culture, traditional culture techniques are reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. At the present time, the use of computers is also a cultural technique.
The next phase is the “civilization“. The child should learn the rules of the society in which it lives. This means for example what common rules, norms and behaviors mean. At the same time, it should be enabled to realize their own goals within the society by using different culture techniques. This is a form of self-determination.
Kant was convinced that humanity is currently in the phase of “civilization“. His goal was to encourage people to moral action. „Moralization“ is the fourth and final phase of his educational program. Man should be encouraged to act ethically based on the categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” (Kant 1795/1993). For reasons of space I will not dwell on the phase of moralization.
Both transhumanism and pedagogy have their roots in the Enlightenment. Both are convinced that man must be freed of dependencies by using his reason. In this way he can live his life according to his own standards. If our society today, over 200 years after Kant, is still in the stage of civilization, when the phase of moralization is not yet reached, it means the following: We humans are able to free ourselves from dependencies. Freeing is done by using technical means in such a way as each of us wants and thinks is right. So the individual has himself in mind and not humanity as a whole. Basically, this is a neo-liberal paradigm.
The ways to emancipate ourselves from natural dependencies are enormously increased by the developments in the NBIC sciences. We can directly influence our state of mind through neuropharmacological enhancement. Smart drugs with the active ingredient methylphenidate help us to improve ours and our children’s attention span. In my view, neuroenhancement emphasizes the close links between transhumanism and pedagogy. Education aimed at self-determination and emancipation from heteronomy could use neuroenhancement as a very useful tool. This form of human enhancement offers new enormous possibilities of self-formation, free from the bonds of nature.
However, if education is still aiming at morality, when the core of pedagogy is ethical, the question arises: to what extent is human enhancement, which aims to overcome the human condition, according to the categorical imperative actually moral? The answer to this question is crucial in determining whether pedagogy can be part of the transhumanist movement or not.