Transhumanism: Evolutionary Logic, Rhetoric, and the Future

Open Access
Author:
Pilsch, Andrew
Graduate Program:
English
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
December 13, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Richard Doyle, Dissertation Advisor
  • Richard Doyle, Committee Chair
  • Jeffrey Nealon, Committee Member
  • Mark Stewart Morrisson, Committee Member
  • Robert Anderson Yarber Jr., Committee Member
Keywords:
  • rhetoric
  • science studies
  • transhumanism
  • cybernetics
Abstract:
This project traces the discursive formation called “transhumanism” through vari- ous incarnations in twentieth century science, philosophy, and science fiction. While subject to no single, clear definition, I follow most of the major thinkers in the topic by defining transhumanism as a discourse surrounding the view of human beings as subject to ongoing evolutionary processes. Humanism, from Descartes forward, has histori- cally viewed the human as stable; transhumanism, instead, views humans as constantly evolving and changing, whether through technological or cultural means. The degree of change, the direction of said change, and the shape the species will take in the distant future, however, are all topics upon which there is little consensus in transhuman circles. In tracing this discourse, I accomplish a number of things. First, previously dis- parate zones of academic inquiry–poststructural philosophy, science studies, literary modernism and postmodernism, etc.–are shown to be united by a common vocabulary when viewed from the perspective of the “evolutionary futurism” suggested by tran- shuman thinkers. Second, I provide a window on the rhetorically strategies and philo- sophical features of an increasingly pervasive cultural discourse around contemporary transhumanists such as Ray Kurzweil and his politically influential followers. Third, I recover the works of several forgotten transhuman thinkers who have much to contribute to an ongoing and vibrant conversation about the future of humanity. Ultimately, my project provides a framework for thinking about the rhetorical arguments being made about the future of humanity during the 20th and 21st centuries while also arguing for the construction of the future as a rhetorical act itself. In this capacity, my dissertation can be thought of as a toolbox for scholars interested in further exploring the various topics covered by transhuman discourse.