Posthumanism provides a radical critique of humanism and a new way of conceiving the human subject. Traditional humanism is no longer believed to be an appropriate way of viewing human beings, closely linked as they are to everything around them, whether that means other living beings, the environment, or technology. Posthumanism comprises ontology, because it represents a particular way of understanding reality. And it also entails epistemology, because, in line with this specific way of viewing reality, it is also committed to a particular understanding of how knowledge is accessed. And lastly, posthumanism also implies a certain ethical positioning.
The humanities will need to be re-examined and redefined; one could even say they need to overcome the humanist thinking from which they have emerged. Posthumanism constitutes a response to the so-called crisis in the humanities and its consequent loss of relevance (Braidotti, 2015). And it represents an important epistemological challenge for the social and human sciences because of the alternative schemes of thought it entails.
Posthumanism should not be confused with transhumanism. Although both perspectives are associated with what has been called “the posthuman condition”, posthumanism is based on a deconstructionist critique of humanist ontology and values, while transhumanism is a philosophy that advocates the use of new technologies to overcome the biological limitations of human beings. They are not at all the same thing, since transhumanism continues to be imbued with the old humanist values that consider human beings to be autonomous, fully conscious, and intentional actors who are endowed with an innate superiority that places them at the centre of creation. When we speak of the “posthuman condition” we often think of the figure of the cyborg, and it is true that posthumanism is also about the implications of humans’ relationships with new technologies, but the posthuman condition is not only that, nor is it the most important characteristic or example. What is really important is our awareness that we are not what humanism believed we were. We are not autonomous actors, nor are we fully conscious and intentional, while Protagoras’ maxim that the human being is the measure of all things is considered to be a thing of the past.
Posthumanism is extremely critical of the idea of understanding humanity in anthropocentric and essentialist terms, or as maintained in rational Cartesian thinking. Posthumanist approaches entail a profound transformation of our view of what it is to be human. Within the non-dualistic ontology that characterises posthumanism, relationships are given greater importance than entities. Entities and basic categories are not seen to establish relations; they are constituted from relations. We are not essences; we are the result of an infinite play of relations. Entities are specific instances in an ongoing flow that is constructed within a complex space of relations. Rather than being discrete and disconnected units, Posthumanism helps us to view ourselves as being completely interrelated and part of a continuum with everything around us.
- Braidotti, Rosi, Lo posthumano, Barcelona: Gedisa, 2015