Exposing Humanism: Prudence, Ingenium, and the Politics of the Posthuman

Authors

  • Timothy D. Harfield

    doctoral candidate in philosophy (ABD)
    1. Emory University in Atlanta, GA
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    • The research for this paper was funded by the Laney Graduate School at Emory University and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship. I would like to thank Professors Donald Phillip Verene, Ann Hartle, Cynthia Willett, and Debolina Roy, as well as the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and encouragement on earlier drafts of this article. Lastly, thank you to Samuel Timme, Sarita Alami, and Stephen Harfield for their helpful comments in the final stages of this manuscript's preparation.

Abstract

This article examines posthumanism and its relationship to humanism. First, it is argued that the term “posthumanism” relies upon an incomplete conception of humanism, and in a way that forecloses the possibility of looking to the humanist tradition for support. Addressing Foucault's often quoted comments about the recent invention and imminent demise of man, it is argued that Foucault is not anti-humanist, but is rather critical of the use of humanism as an axis of reflection. Second, the posthumanist perspective is summarized as attending to a set of interrelated ethical and epistemological concerns. Calling into question the boundary between human and nonhuman animals, posthumanism also challenges the primacy of empirico-deductive reasoning and advocates a re-legitimization of rhetoric as a mode of thought. Lastly, using Ernesto Grassi's interpretation of the early Italian humanists, this article demonstrates not only the compatibility of Renaissance humanism with posthumanist concerns, but also the fruitfulness of this tradition as a conceptual resource. Although the Renaissance notion of ingenium, the ability to adapt and make concrete situations meaningful without also affirming strong ontological commitments, is absent from posthumanist discourse, it is a concept that has the power to enrich the posthumanist project. Consequently, posthumanism is not actually at odds with the humanist tradition in general, but rather only with a very limited and relatively recent conception.

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