Posthumanism has three basic features:
II. Non-dualistic ontology
Posthumanism involves the convergence of a number of ideas linked to earlier lines of philosophical inquiry that have gradually developed over time, particularly over the last few decades. It embraces the monistic worldview of Baruch Spinoza, for whom there is only one substance in the universe—God, or nature—an idea that is also at the basis of Deleuze and Guattari’s materialism. It is also linked to the critique of humanism expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw it as a secular version of theism. Lastly, it also adopts many of the critiques of the humanism expressed by postcolonialist writers, and philosophers such as Heidegger and Althusser.
Drawing on the postmodernist and poststructuralist thinking of theorists such as Derrida and Foucault, the decentred subject is one of the main foundations of posthumanism, which groups together a number of currents derived from the ontological turn in the humanities. These include non-representational theories (Thrift, 2007); the affective turn (Clough and Halley, 2007); theoretical proposals as diverse as actor-network theory (Latour, 2008) and perspectivism (Viveiros de Castro, 2010); contributions from the philosophy of technology (Verbeek, 2011); the philosophical current of object-oriented ontology (Harman, 2018); inter-species studies (Kirksey and Helmreich, 2010; Livingston and Puar, 2011) and feminist theories on new materialisms (Coole and Frost, 2010).
Post-anthropocentrism. Are human beings the lords of creation? During the course of the history of the humanities, we have had to deepen our awareness of everything that prevents us from seeking to understand the “other”. The first great challenge in this regard was to overcome ethnocentrism. Later, as we became aware of androcentrism, both in society in general and in science in particular, we learned it was necessary to break through the thick androcentric crust in order to achieve a more accurate understanding of what human beings really are. And now, while neither ethnocentrism nor androcentrism can be considered to be completely superseded, posthumanism asks us to go even further. We know that what has to change is our anthropocentric way of understanding life and reality in general.
Today we know that we need to change our anthropocentric way of understanding life and reality in general. Anthropocentrism is a view of human beings as the measure and centre of all things. Traditional humanism produces structures of subjectification that imply that human beings are ontologically different and eternally superior, a view that can be used to justify domination and exploitation. This has important consequences.
The first consequence: the temptation to adopt a speciesist approach, which is based on the principle of human exceptionalism and considers human beings to be the only species subject to moral consideration.
The second consequence: the construction of an idealised model of a human being: white, male, educated, healthy, neither young nor old, on a sound financial footing, etc. History has taught us that those who do not fit into this scheme are undervalued and this has resulted in slavery, oppression of women, ethnocide, eugenic crimes, etc.
The third consequence: the view that a human being is an autonomous agent is a way of masking reality, because, like any other element of the cosmos, human beings are only comprehensible within a complex network of relationships.
The idea of agency. One of the main consequences of going beyond an anthropocentric approach is freedom from the idea of agency. From a humanist perspective, agency is understood as an innate characteristic of an intentional and free subject. In posthumanism, however, no absolute distinctions are made between humans and non-humans where agency is concerned. Reference is made rather to distributive agency, the idea that the capacity for exercising agency should not be limited to its traditional bearers—humans—but understood as a property pertaining to all bodies, both organic and inorganic.
Non-dualism. Humanism is defined by being based on a dualistic ontology, what we have come to know through Cartesian or Kantian dualism. It sees the world as consisting of radically different categories: material/immaterial, subject/object, mind/body, culture/nature, man/woman, and so on. Dualism entails the idea that experience consists of two ingredients, mind and matter, a part that knows and a part that is known. And it involves the belief in a rigid separation between observer and observed. Andrew Pickering (2008) calls this dualist ontology the ontology of domination and claims it has been used to justify the exploitation of the planet, animals and other human beings. Posthumanist thought seeks to transcend this dualism.
Thinking in terms of opposites, typical of any type of dualism, causes everything that lies between the two poles of the dichotomies to disappear. Moreover, thinking in this way is not a mere taxonomic exercise, but very often involves value judgements. If one thinks of relational oppositions such as bottom/top, right/left, more/less, as well as more concrete oppositions such as tall/short, white/black, male/female, native/foreigner, etc., one can see that they can be effortlessly and automatically matched to value oppositions such as superior/inferior, good/bad, and better/worse.
From the non-dualist perspective of posthumanism, object and subject are considered to determine each other because they emerge simultaneously, while due importance is given to the in-between, the space left between the polarised categories. This helps to break down the solid hierarchies derived from humanist binarism, which, aside from other consequences, have given rise to ideologies fraught with sexism, racism, and speciesism.
Relationality. In posthumanism, relations come before entities. There are no essences, entities, or basic categories that precede relations. Things do not enter into relations with one another, but evolve through relations. This implies that what distinguishes one subject from another, or one subject from the object, or one object from another object, are the mutual relations they maintain with one another rather than their essence or nature. Thus, we are not essences but the result of an infinite play of relations.
- Clough, Patricia Ticineto and Halley, Jean (eds.), The affective turn: Theorizing the social, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007
- Coole, Diana and Frost, Samantha (eds.), New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Durkham & London: Duke University Press Books, 2010
- Harman, Graham, Object-oriented ontology. A new theory of everything, London: Penguin Books, 2018
- Kirksey, S. Eben and Stefan Helmreich, “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography”, Cultural Anthropology 25/4, 2010, pp. 545-576
- Latour, Bruno, Reensamblar lo social, Buenos Aires: Manantia, 2008
- Livingston, Julie and Jasbir K. Puar, “Interspecies”, Social Text 29 1/106, 2011, pp. 3-14
- Pickering, Andrew, “New Ontologies”, in A. Pickering and K. Guzik (eds.), The mangle in practice: science, society, and becoming, Durham, Duke University Pres, 2008, pp. 1-14
- Thrift, Nigel, Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect, London and New York: Routledge, 2007
- Verbeek, Peter-Paul, Moralizing technology: Understanding and designing the morality of things, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2011
- Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, Metafisicas canibales: Lineas de antropologia postestructural, Buenos Aires: Katz, 2010.