Philosophical Anthropology, Human Nature and the Digital Culture

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Philosophical Anthropology, Human Nature and the Digital Culture

ABSTRACT: Within contemporary Western philosophy, the issues of human nature and our place in the cosmos have largely been ignored. In the resulting vacuum, the various subcultures that have grown up around the digital computer (the so-called "digital culture") have been actively defining and shaping popular conceptions of what it means to be human and the place of humanity in the digital era. Here one finds an implicit view of human nature that includes recurrent themes such as: an emphasis on mind as information independent of the physical body, the obsolescence of the human body, the elimination of human particularity, the malleability of human nature, and the logic and orderliness of the computer as a metaphor for the cosmos. This view of human nature shares important characteristics with Cartesian and Christian views of human nature long rejected by philosophers. A renewal of the philosophical anthropology movement — devoted to the issues of human nature and humanity's place in the cosmos — permits us to see the inadequacy of the conception of human nature implicit in the digital culture.

What am I that I am a human being? What is my place in the nature of things? At the close of the twentieth century, facing the dawn of a new millennium, the goal of paidea or philosophy educating humanity might best be achieved by philosophy recovering and reaffirming its interest in these two anthropological questions. In this essay I defend this claim through an analysis of the view of human nature implicit in the digital culture. For the past several decades, while philosophers have largely ignored anthropological issues, the sub-cultures swirling around computers and other digital technologies have been busy shaping and defining the way in which human nature will be conceived in the next millennium. More often than not, however, these views of human nature are produced in a philosophical and critical vacuum with little thought given to what we as human beings are and what we might become. Philosophers must address this vacuum by renewing their responsibility to speak to these issues, once again taking up the work of articulating a philosophical anthropology and providing the guidance on these issues that they once did.

Reflection on our nature as human beings and our place in the cosmos has a long tradition in philosophy throughout the world and has surely been a central concern in the history of Western philosophy.

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