Fica thematic panel: transhumanism, democratic inclusion and the human development and capability approach

Khoo, Su-ming (2018). 'FICA Thematic Panel: Transhumanism, democratic inclusion and the human development and capability approach' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The concept of the ‘transhuman’ emerged decades ago in fields that were rather distant from capability theory, such as speculative fiction and futurology. More recently, the themes of transhumanism have become more salient in philosophical, cultural and social theory. How should the human development and capabilities approach engage with perspectives that foreground conditions and entities that technologically and artificially extend the human, combine the human with technology and push ‘beyond’ the human?

This proposed panel engages with the transhuman concept by considering the impact of the transhuman moment on educational inclusion for a plural and diverse world and on the informational context for democratic life, influencing the free exercise of democratic capabilities.

Techno-optimistic transhumanists suggest that the transhuman moment has positive potentials for advancing individuals’ capabilities, making them smarter, stronger, better informed and more mobile. Conversely, techno-pessimists point to the potentially negative impact of the rise of new technologies and ‘algocracy’ leading to the domination of humans by technology. More prosaically, new technologies can be captured by powerful human forces and used to influence individual and collective capabilities to reason, choose and be empowered to participate politically and in collective life. The question of inclusive education begs us to ask deeper questions about what is ‘desirable’, how education might foster reasoned freedom of choice, and how it should extend justice.

The transhuman moment represents a challenge to capability theory's ethical individualism, surfacing buried questions about how we assume individual capabilities and functionings to be evaluated and aggregated in the context of democratic inclusion. It brings to the fore questions about the exercise of democratic rights where individual freedoms may be overshadowed by possibly subtle forms of dominating power in a context of accelerating technological-informational advances and uncertainty about their effects.

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