RE: A Bioethical Foundation for Human Rights

From: William John (
Date: Wed Oct 31 2001 - 08:53:30 MST

Transhumanists and Extropians,

Like Aristotle and Joseph Fletcher, I accept only a "cognitive criterion
of humanhood" (the name of a Fletcher essay). In Aristotle's Biology,
he observes that the _only_ thing that separates humans from others in
the animal kingdom is the ability of reason. Aristotle coined the word
biology and the word physics and is considered the "Father of Science"
by professors in the humanities. (I have a B.S. in Biology and
Philosophy - that's where this perspective comes from.)

As noted in my bioethics class, US society seems to have an intuitive
acceptance of this. Those that are too young, senile or mentally
handicapped (e.g. Down's Syndrome, trisomy 21), are granted fewer
rights than others. Likewise, those demonstrated by a US court of law
to be criminals (and therefore irrational), have their life's freedom
greatly restricted or eliminated entirely.

Similarly, it seems that transhumans are defined by cognitive criteria
though posthumans are physically defined by genetic or cybernetic
enhancements in the future.

Those that behave in a criminal and irrational, uncivilized manner can
not be defined as human, transhuman and certainly not posthuman. At
best, they can be called "prehuman".

What constitutes "human rights"? Since genetically our taxonomic,
cladistic, genetic similarities are so striking to other species
such as chimpanzees and esp. the Bonobo chimps, I think that human
rights must be defined cognitively by rational behavior. The issue of
"animal rights" only reaches a threshold in rare cases such as that of
chimpanzees and dolphins possibly whales that show signs of intelligence,
organized behavior and maybe even a sense of ethics. No other animals
have any right to exist except at our human, transhuman or posthuman
pleasure. This is also found in the concept of sentience as found in
many thoughtful science fiction and in notions such as the Prime
Directive of Star Trek.

This background explains why terrorists need not be actively dehumanized
because they have done that themselves. It is also why their
extermination is no worse than killing a rabid dog in the streets of any

William Web.

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