Re: Definitions for Transhumanism

Nick Bostrom (
Mon, 13 Apr 1998 02:02:23 +0000

Max More wrote:

> There's no point in creating a new definition unless some shortcoming is
> found with the original. In that spirit, here, again, is my definition:
> TRANSHUMANISM: Any philosophy of life (such as extropian philosophy) that
> seeks the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent
> life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of
> science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.
> [Max More, 1990]
> You might replace "evolution" by "development"

I'm not suggesting we change any definition, I'm just asking what
short explanation people give when they are asked what is
transhumanism. The above statement is quite good IMHO, but it might
not be the best possible response to give. The following are the
disadvantages I see:

1. It's a little too long.

2. As Max suggests, evolution should be replaced with "development".

3. "the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human
form" almost sounds as if it presupposes that intelligent life has
not already evolved beyond its currently human form. However, there
might be very advanced extraterrestrial species.

4. "life-promoting principles and values". I don't know anybody who
would say of his own values and principles that they are *not*
"life-promoting". It sounds like either empty rethoric or, worse,
like a commitment to the anti-abortion, anti-euthanesia stance.

5. "by means of science and technology" could perhaps be misconstrued
in a too narrow sense. Anders tends to stress that not only science
and technology, but also, e.g., psychological techniques and
institution building, are part of the transhumanists' tool box.
Natasha might add that developing artistic creativity is a
transhumanist way of extending our minds and enriching our lives.

Okay, I'm really struggling to come up with difficulties here. We
can hardly expect any definition/explanation to say everything we
think is important in just a few words.

That doesn't mean we can't try :-) Building on Anders' version, I
suggest the following:

"Transhumanism is the idea that the human condition will
be dramatically transformed by technology and that it is a good thing
to use rational methods to overcome our biological limitations."

(Actually, we might need more than one explanation, depending on whom
we are trying to explan it to.)

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics