Humans at their limits

Science fiction and fantasy allow us to think about humans from their margins. Through a gallery of twelve characters, T. Hoquet exhumes the philosophy, and the issues, both political and ethical.

Philosopher, Thierry Hoquet is one of the great contemporary specialists in Darwin, Buffon and more generally in evolutionism, to which he has devoted ten books, including his translations and his anthologies. This work made her interested in virility and the question of gender equality. broadening his thinking to technology, he signed ten years ago Cyborg philosophy. Thinking against dualisms (Hiccup 2011). The Almost Humans fits into this perspective, by integrating a new domain: science fiction and fantasy. This gives an original work, a philosophy of fiction or pop philosophy anchored in biology with a view to building a moral anthropology.

The human on the margins

Fiction serves as material for thought experiments, an exploration of the limits of the human. The almost-human, explains Thierry Hoquet, is the stranger who bursts in, but it is also us, to the extent that we risk being fallen. We are all potentially almost-humans, capable of emerging from common humanity. The “question is no longer to know who is human and who is not, but to take into account the number of characters who can be qualified as almost-human » (pp. 34-35). This question is political as much as epistemological, because to be stripped of one's humanity is to be able to be mistreated, exploited or exterminated. To define the human is to exclude. Conversely, being human becomes an ethical task consisting of including, “bringing down one by one all the discriminatory barriers that prevent humans from being the authentic universal to which they claim” (p. 126). As the title of the conclusion indicates, “Humanizing ourselves” (p. 369), humanity is a requirement, since almost-humanity is a state as much ours as that of others and an incessant risk.

The work is divided into two parts. The first explores human prefixes: post-, pr-, trans-, so many ways of surpassing the human, by excess or by default. If biology multiplies prehumans (the first chapters are devoted to this discipline), the idea of ​​human nature is also contested by technology. Two figures emerge, according to Thierry Hoquet: transhumans, who inherit evolution and extend it, and posthumans, who reject biological material perceived as obsolete. When he proposed the term “transhumanism” in 1957, Julian Huxley envisaged an artificial evolution of humans, thanks to a eugenics “positive (creator of differences) rather than negative (eliminatory)” (p. 144). Posthumanism, for its part, retains from evolution only its result, namely the production of intelligent beings, of which the body is only an indifferent support, advantageously replaced by mechanical and electronic organs. In a way, this process began with cell phones, which make us exohumans and tlhuman, subjectivizing us at the same time as they subject us.

Typology of almost-humans

It is in the second part of the book that we truly enter the philosophy of fiction, seen as an aid to thinking about reality. Thierry Hoquet proceeds according to what he calls “tabular thinking” (according to the title of the chapter VIII, p. 231). It draws on the works of science fiction and fantasy of the characters Alien, Zombie, Robot, etc. each of which crystallizes a lack of humanity: rigidity, predation, insensitivity More than a simple catalog, these characters complement and arrange each other to form a table, the image of the table of categories of the Critique of pure reason. There is a somewhat artificial gesture: the author recognizes that he runs the risk of sacrificing too much “the pure passion that the intellect nourishes for paintings” (p. 367), and Kant specialists will no doubt find this connection undue. Regardless, the process is very suggestive. Each category corresponds to an almost-human character, typed according to their character and dynamics. And as with Kant, the categories fall into four classes: vitality (which answers the question of quantity: how many are we?), means (quality: are we free or determined?), ends (relationship : who made us?) and becoming (modality: what are we becoming?).

Quantity. Representing the raw power of life, the Aliens reintegrate humanity into the fundamental biological cycle, according to three logics. Predatory, Ghoul is devouring impulse and destructive hatred. M only by his appetite, Zombie wanders, body without consciousness. Symbiont represents a very widespread mechanism in life: the fusion of two othernesses, which become partners in the exchange.

Quality. Almost human in excess, the teams show that being human requires relying on technical means that appear both natural and artificial, superfluous and essential. A mobile cabin, Mca is without organs, like a brain in a vat. Modified to live in other environments, Cyborg integrates his tools like organs. Organorg, “reconciled version of the tooled organism” (p. 295), uses its tools like organs without being confused with them.

Relationship. Created to serve humans, Golems aspire to be their own ends. A monomaniacal machine, Robot is the insensitive one who mechanically follows his end. Sensitive and rebellious, Clone refuses to be considered a machine. A mimetic, Androde seeks to integrate into human society and questions us: how can we make a selfless relationship possible?

Modality Trans people express the fact that humans are in perpetual evolution. Fallen following a proof, Snape wants to replace the existing order with another, where he is elected. Defined by fluidity, Avatar is queer, at the risk of losing its identity. Representing the inventiveness of life, Mutant “embodies the general model of liberal individualism: every difference is valued as a promise for the entire species” (p. 329-330).

Thierry Hoquet does not just list these twelve ideal types, he makes them dynamic, in a vein that evokes Hegel more than Kant. In each of the groups, the first term (Ghoul, Mca, Robot, Rogue) represents the exclusive domination of one pole. The second term (Zombie, Cyborg, Clone, Avatar) is the moment of liberation. The third term (Symbionte, Organorg, Androde, Mutant) signs the reconciliation of opposites.

This table of categories forms a system of almost-humans, that is to say ways of missing humanity, by default or by excess. It is an “orientation table” (p. 367) which helps us think about our political and ethical reality, and act to become fully human.

Reviews and lodge

The main criticism that can be made of this Almost human is that it gives the impression of forming two books in a single volume: on the one hand an ethical reflection on the biological and technical margins of the human, on the other hand the presentation of a picture of the fictions of the almost-human. It is difficult to understand the articulation of the two parts: is it a simple juxtaposition of two different methods for approaching the almost human, or is there a common thread running through the whole, but which one? At times, we have almost the impression that the author had accumulated the notes and that he wanted to integrate all his preparatory work into the work. So it is with film summaries. The fly, Otto And THERE Zombie (p. 360-367), which do not add much. Likewise, the chapter on the cell phone would look like a excursion if he did not come to evoke one of the almost underground underlying reasons which motivated the writing of the book: in his conclusion, Thierry Hoquet reveals that this work is a dialogue post mortem with her grandmother, struck by Alzheimer's disease and become almost human, a ghost (p. 373). However, the ghost is not part of the table of almost-human characters and there is no in-depth analysis of this figure, apart from brief allusions in the study of the cell phone, which the author says is used to let in ghosts (p. 164). It is curious that the analysis of this “hauntology” (p. 175) is itself ghostly.

The chapter on transhumanism and posthumanism provokes discussion. The distinction between genetic transhumanism and robotic posthumanism leaves something to be desired, because in reality, for the actors of these two currents, whatever the means, the essential thing is the improvement of the human and the affirmation of libertarian individualism. Furthermore, making posthumanism a gnostic movement is a widespread idea, but globally false to our knowledge, only one author defends a position that can be described as gnostic (Goffi, 2021) because unlike the gnostics, the posthumanists do not want to escape from the world, but transform it (Deprez 2019). We can also criticize the author for not having seen that transhumanists and posthumanists eliminate the gap between nature and technology: in their eyes, nature is a technique and technology is natural, so that the body is a tool and the tool is an organ. Consequently, there is no reason to oppose transhumanism and posthumanism, nor to maintain that hybridizing the body and technology amounts to distorting the body. On the other hand, Thierry Hoquet perfectly understood that “transhumanism is a mission which is now entrusted to us, due to the stage of our technical development. We did not seek it: we were put up against the wall, and it is this necessity that we must make virtue of” (p. 134-135). It is recognizing that transhumanism, whatever one thinks of it, is produced by the state of our civilization.

On the typology of almost-humans, on the other hand, we can only be appreciative, the author having succeeded in going beyond his objectives. Going beyond the philosophy of fiction, the table of twelve categories is an anthropology by default and by excess, tracing the contours of the human. There is a very impressive tool, capable of being used in other fields, for example in history and ethnology. Do excesses and shortages vary according to culture? or in clinical psychology it would be interesting to cross this typology with the work of Frdric Tordo on prostheses and orthoses (Tordo 2019). If we must keep a Kantian reference, it is perhaps less appropriate Critique of pure reason whatAnthropology from a pragmatic point of view that The Almost Humans makes you think.