Was Dante a transhumanist?

Dante is not a figure who is often invoked as a forerunner of transhumanism, the movement to accelerate man’s evolution with technology and genetic engineering. However, Fabrice Hadjadj, a French philosopher, recently delivered an extremely interesting lecture in the Paris offices of UNESCO. He was making a contribution to the Vatican’s outreach to the secular world.

We can borrow a word invented by Dante and say that man is made to "trasumanar." But how does he "trasumanar"? And how should "transhumanism" be understood? This word must echo in a special way within these walls. Because the substantive, "transhumanism," was coined in 1957 by the biologist Julian Huxley, who was the first director general of UNESCO…

If, in 1957, this first director general of UNESCO invented the substantive "transhumanism," he did it in order to avoid talking further about "eugenics," a word that had become difficult to use after Nazi eugenics. Nonetheless, the same thing is intended: the redemption of man through technology. I cite the 1957 text that invented the term; it presents this "new principle": "[The] quality of people, not mere quantity, is what we must aim at, and therefore that a concerted policy is required to prevent the present flood of population-increase from wrecking all our hopes for a better world."

You understand that it is the very definition of man that is at stake in our encounter. And therefore the very future of man. Man is seeking something beyond. He is transhuman by nature. But how is the "trans" of the transhuman realized? With culture and openness to the transcendent? Or with technology and genetic manipulation? [...]

So then, here is my simple question: should we take Julian Huxley as our guide, or should we take Dante? Is the greatness of man in the technical facility to live? Or is it in this laceration, in this openness that is like a cry to Heaven, in this appeal to what really transcends us? [...] ~ Chiesa, April 1


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