Meeting – November 11th

The next meeting of the Being Non/Human discussion group  will take place on Monday, November 11th at 6:30pm – 8pm at King’s College London, Strand campus, room S2.39.

Please join us for two interesting papers that examine the limits of the human:

Sam Curtis (PhD student, University of Hull) – ‘Life without a Soul and Bodies without Life’

Abstract: As scientific research and technology have advanced it has thrown into question at which point humanity originated and therefore how to distinguish between what is human and what is not. Within myth and religious narratives the creation of humanity is highly influential in providing an explanation for precisely what it is that makes us human. While these stories are no longer generally considered to be factual the story of creating life has continued to be a have a powerful hold over the human imagination, seen in the prevalence of stories about robots, androids, artificial intelligences and monstrosities made in laboratories. I will argue in this paper that artificial creations, formed in the shape of humans, have provided an ‘other’ with which to create and police the parameters of what it is and what it means to be human. By briefly exploring the nineteenth century stories of the golem; a Jewish legend of a man created from the earth by a Rabbi and the narrative of Frankenstein, I hope to demonstrate that these stories depict a physically and mentally inferior version of humanity which can highlight more precisely than a comparison with other animals and machines what is and is not human. While these stories have long been noted as early examples of the machine story, it is their emotional responses and similarity to humanity which are the driving forces of the narratives. I would then go on to summarise how these flawed creations were influential in the formation of the modern robot in the Carpeck play R.U.R, where the term originated. I would conclude by highlighting how other texts have developed from this notion.

Sam Curtis is a second year PhD student whose thesis is provisionally titled ‘Making Bodies and Becoming Human’. This thesis is focused on comparative readings of stories that feature artificial creation, which Sam has been exploring using a variety of approaches (predominately disability, gender and genre).

Ben Davies (PhD student, King’s College London) – ‘Living Longer, Staying Human’

Abstract: Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey argues in favour of research into physical ageing, so that we can greatly extend human life spans and end physical senescence. Nicholas Agar counters that individuals who became ‘negligibly senescent’ would effectively remove themselves from the human species, and would become alienated from distinctive human goods. He offers a theory of value that is ‘species relativist’: central goods are valuable for you only as a member of a particular species; you should refuse any intervention that would remove you from that species, even if you would have even more valuable experiences post-change. Agar concludes that we should avoid radical life extension, even if its benefits are objectively greater than its losses. I argue that 1) Agar fails to show that negligibly senescent persons would leave the human species, and 2) even if species-relativism about value is true, the negligibly senescent person does not lose contact with human values in the right way. 1) Agar suggests that species are delineated by reproductive barriers. He extends the ordinary biological understanding of this theory to include psychological barriers to reproduction. I argue that even if psychological barriers can contribute to our species categorisations, a freely chosen capacity such as extended life cannot contribute to species separation. 2) Agar’s species-relativist argument depends on the idea that we will stop valuing certain things, such as our personal relationships, and even that we will come to regard them negatively. I argue that his description of a negligibly senescent life only shows that we will choose not to pursue these things, not that we will stop valuing them. As such, even if Agar’s description reveals serious costs to life extension, we should not give extra weight to the goods we will lose on the basis of a species-relativist argument.

Ben Davies is in his second year of a PhD in philosophy at King’s College London, working on the ethics of extending lives by manipulating the ageing process. His interests are in bioethics (particularly human enhancement), concepts around death and dying, and political justice.


About beingnonhuman

Being Non/Human is an interdisciplinary discussion group aimed at postgraduates and early career researchers. The group was set up and is run by Sophia Wilson and Lydia Zeldenrust. Our group is funded by the English departments of King’s College London and Queen Mary, University of London. View all posts by beingnonhuman

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