4th Edition: Human Nature
22 – 30 September 2018
“Human Nature” is an expression whose meaning appears today divided between the idea of a harmony that has to be preserved – maybe an ancient one – and another, more recent idea, of a tension to radicalize.
Over the last decade, if not longer, the concept of human nature, if not also the fact of it, has seemed to many philosophers and scholars in the humanities like something to be overcome. The human is understood to have proven itself – distinguished itself ontologically – as an offense to nature, so much so that we now regularly regard human effort as the distinguishing feature of periodization. That is, we are all now living – we hear – in the Anthropocene, in an era that is defined historically as a division in time, a division that nevertheless finds its origin in how we regard ourselves as human actors in the present.
One way of restating this scenario would be to say that the problem of other minds – of how it is that we can understand one another as we uniquely are – has been solved technologically; that is, by communicative technologies that now have a history which has been written as an unbroken string of solutions. To put matters in this way is also to tell ourselves not just that we can know each other – indeed, that we know what human nature is – but that we do know and that we have known what it is. After all, the problem of other minds has long involved a supposition of ontological difference, if not the correlation of ontology and epistemology itself. Therefore in knowing such things, we no longer see the human as something, someone, to be distinguished from things.
The contemporary zeal for object-oriented ontology, in which relationality and correlationism are understood as arrogant, delusional acts – not to mention our generally critical relation to the Anthropocene – is hard to distinguish from the fantasy of the human as something that has been sufficiently historicized. But if that is so, how will we understand the need that we face today to intervene in nature? To be not only a part of how nature is sustained, but also to be included in what is sustained in and as nature. How will we intervene in human nature, if what human nature implies is an understanding of the human as the being who attempts to dominate, and thus separate himself from, nature? If a human being is not, strictly speaking, subject to ocular proof, and if we regard the human as an extension of nature, then what could the seamlessness of history truly imply?
To discuss the subject of human nature means to think again about the kinds of philosophical dilemmas that lie at the core of the history of thought: the dichotomies between soul and body, rationality and sensibility, nature and culture, man and god. Can one science consider the totality of our “being natural”? How is our activity on Earth shaping nature itself? It looks like our world is sending us signals of distress and danger. Nature is our mother and provides us nurture, but is also the realm of danger, and the dimension where our own existence is put into question.
Questions about cloning, digital death, artificial intelligence, transfer of consciousness and the uses of biomechanics are essential to these considerations, and they occupy a significant space in our cultural debates. The empowerment of our species seems to be a very important issue to explore if we hope to understand how future generations, in their own present position, can develop, and if they have to take distance from a “technological nature” which pushes them away from nature itself. We often consider technology as a synonym for intelligence and thus as a sign of our supremacy to other species that live on this earth. Technology has thus been substituted for the images of nature and God, and human beings seem to take this substitution as the only chance one has to save their future. Technology represents a nucleum of infinite possibilities to share. But can we manage all the problems we are facing through the advent of technology?
Can we think of progress in communications, medicine and artificial intelligence without considering a safe use of it? Will someone announce the death of technology as it happened for God? And will we need to imagine such a death for real progress?
If we consider philosophical currents as Posthumanism and Transhumanism, in which human being is portrayed as a hybrid, we must reconsider the ontological question: do we need to overcome limits of time and space and matter? Will human being reach a superior intelligence through biotechnology? How much does “our” nature, human nature, coincide with the totality of what we can call “natural”? And if there is no identity, how does nature’s resistance to our will to shape it manifest itself? How well can we understand the human position in the flux of nasci as a privileged one, at once from an ontological, epistemological and ethical point of view? What is our image of nature in general? What does it mean, today, to ask ourselves about the sense of “naturalism”? How does philosophy think about physis in our contemporary scenario, where what we call “physics” proceeds without any apparent need for philosophical support?
This edition of the Festival aims to maintain continuity with the previous topics – relations, values, and the nature and meaning of philosophy. This year, however, a particular accent will be put on the relationship between philosophy and natural sciences, and on the need to rethink the relation between humanities and so-called “hard sciences”.