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abrams | Richard Rorty | Pragmatism

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Human Studies 27: 241–258, 2004. C 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. 241 Pragmatism, Artificial Intelligence, and Posthuman Bioethics: Shusterman, Rorty, Foucault JEROLD J. ABRAMS Department of Philosophy, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, USA (E-mail: abramsjj@creighton.edu) Abstract. Michel Foucault’s early works criticize the development of modern democratic institutions as creating a “surveillance society,” which functions to control bodies by making them fe
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  241  Human Studies 27: 241–258, 2004. C  2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. Pragmatism, Artificial Intelligence, and Posthuman Bioethics:Shusterman, Rorty, Foucault JEROLD J. ABRAMS  Department of Philosophy, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, USA(E-mail: abramsjj@creighton.edu) Abstract. Michel Foucault’s early works criticize the development of modern democratic in-stitutions as creating a “surveillance society,” which functions to control bodies by makingthem feel watched and monitored full time. His later works attempt to recover private space by exploring subversive techniques of the body and language. Following Foucault, pragmatistslike Richard Shusterman and Richard Rorty have also developed very rich approaches to this project, extending it deeper into the literary and somatic dimensions of self-stylizing. Yet, for a debate centered on the re-creation of the vision of the self, these discussions have yet to fullyengage – even while they set the conditions for this engagement with – issues of posthumantechnologies, such as AI, robotics, and genetic engineering. These certainly will constitute the primary engine of public institutional surveillance in the years to come. With this surveillance,thetwospheresofprivateself-fashioningandpublicinstitutionswillcontinuetoevolveinrela-tiontooneanother.Astheydoso,democraticsocietywillchangeconsiderably.PerhapsRorty’sown normative and linguistic ideal of conversational maintenance may provide something of ademocratic limit case on any future posthuman self-fashioning. Since Nietzsche (1928), several philosophers have developed a rich philo-sophical approach to ethics and aesthetics, commonly referred to as the aes-thetics of self-fashioning, and sometimes as the art of living. In the pastcentury, several major thinkers have developed their own unique strands of  Nietzsche’s aesthetics of self-stylizing. These philosophers include MichelFoucault (1986, 1989, 1994), Richard Rorty (1995), Alexander Nehamas(2000), Stanley Cavell (1990, 1994), Richard Shusterman (1999), and Shan-non Sullivan (2001). Yet, while historically the debate has often been moti-vatedasaresponsetotechnology,ithasnotadequatelyincorporatedadvancesin AI and biotechnology, in pursuit of a new form of self-fashioning. Thesenew technologies will be used to alter the basic biological and cognitive formof humanity. This alteration is commonly called “Posthumanism,” and, ac-cording to Francis Fukuyama in Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of  the Biotechnology Revolution (2002), it represents a new phase of historyin which the traditional forms of self-redescription through narrative (Rorty, Nehamas, Cavell, Shusterman) and bodily artistic experience (Shustermanagain) will give way to the most radical form of self-fashioning yet. Asthis new form of self-fashioning emerges, it will produce strong problems  242 JEROLD J. ABRAMS for the contemporary cosmopolitan democratic culture which produced it.Pushing self-fashioning to its ultimate limit, and articulating a normative and democratic view for handling inegalitarian scenarios, are the subjects of thisessay. Postmodernity and Self-Fashioning: Foucault Foucault really sets the debate. His first phase of work reveals a paranoid and voyeuristicsociety,arisingfromthevariousinstitutionsofmodernity,e.g.,the prison, the school, sexuality, and the social sciences. Rather than liberation,these create a very anxious society, which Foucault calls a “surveillance so-ciety,” in which everyone is watching everyone else. The idea is captured byFoucault’s conception of the Panopticon (Jeremy Bentham’s prison model),which Foucault sees as society in general (Foucault, 1994, pp. 223–251). ThePanopticon is a circular prison, with a hollow middle. All cells face inward toward a giant light, which shines day and night. Prisoners cannot see eachother, and assume they are being watched full time, objectified always. Ulti-mately, they begin to distort and monitor their own behavior, feeling they arenever safe from objectification. Foucault (1980, p. 147) applies the model toour present voyeuristic, social science-based culture. We are all watching and controllingeachotherallthetimethroughthegazeofpsychoanalysis(privatesessions as well as on the street and in every institution), different forms of video cameras, the Internet, the gaze of teachers, of creditors, medical doc-tors, and law enforcement. Society today feels always watched and exposed.In response to this nihilistic social ontology, Foucault’s later work developsan aesthetics and ethics of self-fashioning, in order to recover private spacefrom the panopticon of society. This involves seeking out new experiences of languageandbodywhicharesubversive,intense,andraw,andwhichcanhelpto recover lost experiences of the human form. Foucault himself prescribed techniques that included practices with hard drugs, sexual sadomasochism,deep asceticism, and experiments with subversive and self-enlarging writing.And it is precisely here, with subversive writing, that the debate is picked up by Richard Rorty. Here grand personas are forged: the self is remade and super-enhanced through the lenses of philosophy and the novel. Nietzscheis not the bedridden invalid, but the magnificent Zarathustra; Rorty becomes “Neopragmatism”; Shakespeare IS Hamlet; and Hegel is the dynamicallyunfolding dialectical logic of Absolute Mind (Rorty, 1995, p. 79). Indeed,one should not, Rorty thinks, distinguish between character and author, thetwo being fused through the ironist perspective of the author – this is literaryself-fashioningwritlarge,theattempttoplaceagrandcharacterontheShake-spearean world historical stage of time. Authors play with their experienceand define Man for Ages to come – as Whitehead put it, no one worth hismettle wants to be another ridiculous footnote to Plato, or to Shakespeare, or   PRAGMATISM, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, AND BIOETHICS 243to Proust: the bugle call calls for new Selves, rather than feeble commenta-tors on the masters of worlds past. Rather than be enslaved by another man’ssystem, as the poet says, he or she must make a character, a world, a Hamletof his or her own. Rorty’s view is a post-Kantian Literary Cartesianism. Self-fashioningisnowakindofCogito,emptiedofitsepistemologicalcontent,and re-infused with the romantic literary imagination. Still the issue is the self inthegrandsense,butnolongerintermsoftheselfastheintuited“I,”orunityof apperception. For Rorty it is a new kind of spontaneous, non-transcendental, literary unity of apperception.And if Rorty’s approach is more literary, Shusterman has developed indepth a rich discipline of the aesthetics of the body (which also includes so-cial experiences). Shusterman calls his pragmatic approach “Somaesthetics,”and defines it as follows: “Somaesthetics can be provisionally defined as thecritical, meliorative study of the experience of and use of one’s body as a lo-cus of sensory-aesthetic appreciation (aithesis) and creative self-fashioning”(Shusterman, 1999, p. 302). In addition to what Foucault calls “self-writing,”Shusterman focuses on the history of techniques used for exploring the body.These include the Feldenkrais Method (Moshe Feldenkrais), yoga, bioener-gentics, calisthenics, meditation, the Alexander Technique (F.M. Alexander),and several others. Response to the Critique of Atomistic Subjectivity – A ReasonableCritique But to many, all of this sounds simply too Cartesian, too atomistic, too out-dated. 1 There is a growing literature which argues that the body-self is medi-ated through social and political networks of language. Not merely an atomic primate shape, but residue of a collective semiotic imagination – the pointemerges in several works, such as Theodore R. Schatzki and Wolfgang Natter (1996), in The Social and Political Body . They put together diverse readingson precisely this topic (see especially, pp. 207–214). 2 One may also see Jeff Malpas (1999) in Place and Experience , who follows Heidegger on several pointsabouttheimportanceofcontext,language,andthespaceofplaceasbe-ing what is most basic about experiencing even the self (which is secondary):“The grasp of a sense of place is not just important to a grasp of self, nor even to a grasp of the intersubjective realm of others, but also to a grasp of theworlditself”(Malpas,1999,p.186).Similarly,DavidMichaelLevin(1999)in Sites of Vision has put together a collection of essays which call into questionthe traditional Cartesian optical model of objectivity. The eye and the Subjecthavearisentogether;butevenvisionshouldbeunderstoodintermsofculture,sociality, and hermeneutics. Similar points arise in Heidegger, Authenticity,and Modernity: Essays in Honor of Hubert Dreyfus , Vol. 1 (Wrathall and Malpas, 2000). And in the same vein, Fred Dallmayr has done excellent work   244 JEROLD J. ABRAMS on post-individualist political society, also relying heavily on Heidegger and the role of language in politics (see 1981, 1984, 1991). In general, the aggre-gate focus of these texts is Heidegger’s philosophical point of view that thesubject is in language and context, and that it is precisely technology whichserves to alienate Dasein from this contextualized experience of Being. In-deed,itwasHeidegger,andPeircebeforehim,whowagedthestrongestattackson Cartesian subjectivity, somatic or cognitive.Butinresponsetosuchaccounts,onecanhaveitbothways.Onecanagreethattheselfisintersubjective(Abrams,2002a,b).Butself-fashioningisaveryrich ethics/aesthetics (Abrams, 2002c). For even if the self/body is sociallymediated, this is not a sufficient argument against reconstructing it. At a very practical level, the thinker who would oppose the use of technologies of theself would have to show analogously why it is so morally problematic to havetattoos, or artificial hearts, or hip-replacements, or plastic surgery. Certainly,theHeideggerianapproachisareasonableone:itseestechnologyasalienatinghumans from a sense of reality and belonging to Being in General. It cuts usofffromnature.Butevenifthisisthecase,eventheHeideggerianDreyfushasargued that technology, which clearly seems here to stay, may yet be used inthe service of achieving new insights into reality and the nature of humanity.Dreyfus has suggested that at the height of  Gestell  , Gestell  might be used inthe service of overcoming Gestell  . In “Heidegger on the Connexion between Nihilism, Art, Technology, and Politics,” Dreyfus argues that the Woodstock happening put technology in the service of experiencing the sublime momentof Being (Dreyfus, 1993b, p. 311). Following Dreyfus, I’ve argued (Abrams,2003) that other technological media may be able to do the same, and infact pursue lost feelings for reality – this is what happens in the cathedral-like setting of the cinema. Similarly, if posthuman self-fashioning cannot be stopped, then it is reasonable to hold out Heideggerian hopes that it may provideastrangegatewayfornewexperiencesofthesublimerealityofBeing,language, and context. Shusterman’s “Somaesthetics” Even if one rejects the uneasy Heidegger-technology fusion, self-fashioningreallyisn’tsoatomistictobeginwith,asShustermanhasargued(Shusterman,1992,1997,2000a,b,2002a,b).Contextandculturearethecentersoftheself,and somaesthetics draws on diverse traditions to experience how the body isshaped within these ways of thinking. Somaesthetics studies how the body ismade, and then how it can be reshaped, remade, and re-understood. Amongthediversetechniquescentraltosomaesthetics,ShustermaninvestigatesAsiantechniques of martial arts, yoga, and meditation. He also draws on AfricanAmerican techniques in rap music and dance (sometimes called “hip-hop”).Black culture reveals a novel dimension of the body, having been uniquely
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