Re: "Post-humanism": The right term?

Nick Bostrom (
Sat, 14 Aug 1999 18:51:03 +0000

Brian Manning Delaney wrote:

> That's not a lot to chew on, but that sums it up pretty well. To put my
> objections to both "post-" and "trans-humanism" somewhat turgidly: The "human"
> itself is already the permanent "self-post-ing" of what we are (the
> "self-overcoming beast," to sound Nietzschean and/or Aristotelian). To be
> post-human would thus amount almost to being "post-post-human" -- not something
> I want to be (assuming no state of perfection is possible). "Trans-human" would
> mean moving towards adding that second "post-." Who needs it?

I'm not convinced about the need to uproot our terminology just when it has begun to get settled.

Maybe humans are essentially a "self-overcoming beast" but that doesn't mean that all such beasts need to be humans. For example, there could be non-human extraterrestrials who are also essentially self-overcoming beasts. So why no posthumans who can also overcome themselves (and become more advanced posthumans, and maybe when they are sufficiently more advanced then it might be useful to invent a new term for what they are then).

Think about it like this: An egg, let us say, is something whose nature it is to overcome itself and become a chicken. Does that mean that the egg is not really an egg or that the chicken is strictly speaking an egg? Of course not. And yet it is in the chicken's nature to "overcome itself" and become a full-blown bird, somthing that is different from the chicken. Still, egg, chicken and full-blown bird are all different.

The egg is the human or the transhuman
The chicken is the posthuman.
The full-blown bird is a more advanced posthuman.

Also note that there is no implication that posthumans must replace humans. In nature, there are eggs, chickens and full-blown birds, and some of our own evolutionary ancestors are still around (though, as it happens, not our immediate ancestors).

> So, again, I wonder: why not "human," and "humanism," or some ratcheting up of
> the same: like "neo-humanism," or "ultra-humanism"?

"ultra-humanism" seems to mean almost exactly the same as transhumanism (though with somewhat tackier overtones IMHO), so why not stick with transhumanism? The term "posthumanism" is not very well established so if you don't like it, don't use it. As for "posthumans", well, I quite like the term. As Technotranscendence said, it makes people think. If some people get the erroneous impression that being posthuman entails giving up some things we treasure about being human, let's explain to them why that need not be the case. However, we could use the term "ultrahuman" as a synonym to posthuman, and see what catches on.

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