In this section I make some further remarks about this topic by considering the role of Nietzsche within the German bioethics debates.
Babich criticises me for not considering sufficiently Sloterdijk in the articles in question. (“as he also excludes Peter Sloterdijk”) She is right that Sloterdijk deserves detailed attention concerning this topic but not with respect to the work she has in mind:
Sorgner could do worse than to turn to Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason.
I already published two articles in English in which I considered Sloterdijk’s philosophy, and one of them was an in depth treatment of the Critique of Cynical Reason.However, I regard his infamous speech Rules for the Human Zoo as far more important in this context, because it was responsible for starting a bigger public debate concerning the moral challenges of biotechnologies and enhancement techniques, it dealt with Nietzsche and it was referred to by Habermas in his little monograph on liberal eugenics.
In one section of his treatise The Future of Human Nature Habermas mentions a bunch of mad intellectuals who develop further a very German ideology by putting forward a naturalist type of posthumanism.
He also stresses that luckily this position, which comes along with Nietzschean type of breeding fantasies, has not yet gained broader support by the public according to him. By referring to a naturalist type of posthumanism he means transhumanism in whose context he sees Sloterdijk, because he cites passages from Sloterdijk’s rules for the human zoo speech without mentioning Slotersdijk’s name. This paragraph is particularly interesting because it reveals several problematic intuitions and false claims. I will point out three challenges related to the passages.
Firstly, it needs to be mentioned that the procedures he deals with are not posthumanist ones but transhumanist ones. Whereas posthumanism is embedded in the tradition of continental philosophy, transhumanism is mainly part of the Anglo-American bioethics scene. This does not mean that the two movements have nothing in common. However, the relationship between them is a complex one, and it will be dealt with in detail in the forthcoming collection Post- and Transhumanism: An Introduction, which will be edited by Robert Ranisch and myself and which will come out in my book series Beyond Humanism: Trans- and Posthumanism
Secondly, in his speech Rules for the Human Zoo Sloterdijk merely stresses the relevance of dealing ethically with questions concerning biotechnologies. He did not make any strong normative claims in this context. In a later speech on human perfection which he gave on December 6th, 2005 at the University of Tübingen, he made clear that concerning normative judgments he is in agreement with Habermas’ position by regarding gene technologies as morally appropriate for therapeutic purposes but morally problematic for enhancement ones. Hence, Sloterdijk clearly is not a transhumanist.
What was seen as problematic concerning Sloterdijk’s text on the human zoo and, which was also responsible for it to cause such a massive public debate in Germany, was the fact that he referred to Plato, Nietzsche and Heidegger, who are still seen as defenders of a totalitarian state system from the perspective of many Germans and also a lot of German intellectuals today. In addition, he employed a terminology (human zoo, breeding etc.) which did not help bring about a different impression on the reader either. Hence, it was mostly his rhetoric and style, which was responsible for bringing about the famous Habermas-Sloterdijk-debate rather than the content of the text.
In the context of the Nietzsche and transhumanism debate this fact is interesting. Just by referring to Nietzsche, Sloterdijk was regarded as a transhumanist by Habermas. Habermas also identifies transhumanism with Nietzschean breeding fantasies. The transhumanist Bostrom, on the other hand, does not regard Nietzsche as an ancestor of transhumanism.
Hence, it becomes clear why many thinkers do not wish to play with poor Freddy because he is widely regarded as a morally problematic or even dangerous thinker by many educated people today.
Thirdly, Habermas’ remark needs to get criticized because he thinks that transhumanism has not yet gained a broader intellectual support. This might be a correct judgment with regard to Germany but it definitely has to get challenged with respect to many other cultures of the world, at least concerning the current state of affairs.
Transhumanist publications dominate the Anglo-American academic debate in the field of bioethics and medical ethics, leading transhumanists teach and have permanent posts at some of the best universities of the English speaking world (e.g. University of Oxford), and an intense consideration of transhumanist reflections has taken place in various artisticand cultural realms. Here, I am merely referring to some selected examples: Films: Gattaca; Music: Facing Goya by Michael Nyman; Literature: The Elementary Particles and an immense amount of science fiction literature; Fine Arts: Patricia Piccini’s Still Life with Stem Cells and Alba the fluorescent rabbit by Edouardo Kac. This short overview hints at the broad public awareness and engagement with transhumanist positions, which also shows that Habermas’s judgment can be seen as implausible.
Given the central relevance and presence of Nietzsche with respect to the German bioethical debates concerning genetic enhancement, or as it has been referred to by Habermas “liberal eugenics”, and the dubious reputation Nietzsche still has in many intellectual circles, it becomes clear why many intellectuals do not wish to be associated with him. However, there are similarities between Nietzsche and transhumanism, and I think that one can employ this insight for gaining further knowledge and for making new and more complex reflections on the problematic relationship between human beings and emerging technologies