The question of values and norms within the Nietzsche and transhumanism comparison is a tricky one and one I have not yet considered in its appropriate depth. The following remark from Babich’s text made it clear to me that some further clarifications concerning this topic are needed.
Beyond what he calls “ontological dynamics,” (ibid., 32), Sorgner discovers additional parallels on the level of values, the same level so important for Bostrom as he for his own part argues for a normative appreciation of the transhuman, i.e., and in terms of what it ought be.
Babich did not criticise me in this phrase. However, I must point out that there are not only parallels but there can also be differences between the two philosophies in question, e.g. the methods of how transhumanists and how Nietzsche argues for the relevance of the development beyond human beings differs in some cases.
Nietzsche does not put forward universal norms. He is a rigid critic of norms. I explained his critique of norms in detail in my most recent Nietzsche monograph Menschenwürde nach Nietzsche.Nietzsche associates norms with slave moralities, which he criticizes. He, on the other hand, puts forward values, as it is done within a master morality, which implies that he does not claim that his values are universally valid. Nietzsche merely puts forward reasons to advertise a certain position concerning the good, and he employs this method also with respect to the overhuman by putting forward the suggestion that the overhuman is the meaning of the earth.
Some transhumanists use a similar method as Nietzsche, e.g. Bostrom who refers to psychological research to support his claim that a person leads a better life, if he has higher capacities, lives longer and so on.
Thereby, he does not claim that all people lead a better life, if they have higher capacities, but he merely stresses that the psychological research on which he bases his judgment provide us with a reason for holding that some judgments concerning the good life apply to many people. Given that the research shows that a certain value judgment is widely shared within a society, we do have a reason for making such a judgment while one has to be aware that the judgment is not valid for all people at all times.
Other transhumanists and quite a few bioliberal thinkers put forward stronger positions concerning the good and the moral life, namely that we have a moral duty to use enhancement technologies to promote the good life. In contrast to the above position, here the focus lies on the question of the right whereby it gets connected with a universally valid concept of the good.
Hence, such a position assumes that there is a universally valid concept of the good, and also that we ought to promote it whereby the “ought” is based upon a utilitarian foundation. This position differs from the above concepts, because the above position includes that there is no universally valid concept of the good. In addition, this Utilitarian position demands that the good ought to be promoted from which follows a universal moral imperative to act in a certain manner.
The most prominent exponent of this position is the Oxford philosopher Julian Savulescu who is a bio-liberal pupil of Peter Singer but not a transhumanist. Still, he often puts forward positions, which are close to the ones transhumanists affirm. In two influential articles6 he argues in favour of a moralduty to select the child with the best chance of the best life. Savulescu does not advertise the use of enhancement technologies but claims that there is a moral duty to use enhancement technologies to select the child with the best chance of the best life, which is a much stronger claim than the aforementioned one. This view is also supported by some transhumanists.
It needs to be stressed that on a political level both Savulescu and transhumanists (in contrast to Nietzsche) affirm the relevance of the norm of negative freedom, which implies that even though there might be the moral duty to select a certain child, Savulescu would not regard it as appropriate that this moral duty gets politically enforced. Hence, on a political level transhumanists and bio-liberals are liberal thinkers. Still, a wide spectrum of liberal positions can be found among transhumanists in between the libertarian Max More and the liberal social democrat James Hughes.
It was important for me to stress that Nietzsche does not put forward a theory of the good, which he regards as universally valid. He merely puts forward reasons for regarding his position as a plausible one. Bostrom argues analogously with respect to the question of the good whereby he draws upon psychological research to support his point of view. I regard both methods as appropriate ones.
This judgment does not apply to Savulescu’s position, which claims that there are universally valid judgments concerning the good; this is his reason for upholding some universal moral obligations. Even though these obligations are merely pro tanto obligations, they are seen as universally valid obligations. Due to my doubt concerning the possibility of grasping a universally valid concept of the good, I regard his position as problematic. I also think that Savulescu’sposition has some morally problematic consequences (it might have totalitarian implications), if one applies them in a practical context.