In Praise of Pleasure

Geoffrey Harpham, Director, National Humanities Center

When I stumbled upon the future, I was actually looking for the past.

In the 1990s, I was trying to write a book about why the concept of language had so dominated the intellectual history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At some point, it occurred to me

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Final Thoughts of a Disenchanted Naturalist

In Geoffrey Harpham’s first contribution to “On the Human” he wrote,

One of the most striking features of contemporary intellectual life is the fact that questions formerly reserved for the humanities are today being approached by scientists in various disciplines such as cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, robotics, artificial life, behavioral genetics and evolutionary biology.


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The Future of Moral Machines

The prospect of machines capable of following moral principles, let alone understanding them, seems as remote today as the word “robot” is old. Some technologists enthusiastically extrapolate from the observation that computing power doubles every 18 months to predict an imminent “technological singularity” in which a threshold for machines of superhuman intelligence will be suddenly surpassed. Many Singularitarians assume a lot, not the least of which is that intelligence is fundamentally a computational process. The techno-optimists among them also believe that such machines will be essentially friendly to human beings. I am skeptical about the Singularity, and even if “artificial intelligence” is not an oxymoron, “friendly A.I.” will require considerable scientific progress on a number of fronts.

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The Dark Dark Side of the Mind

Mahzarin Banaji

Whatever social changes have occurred that involve race, our children are not different from us in their implicit race attitude. What does this mean, given the change in gender stereotypes by age? Does it mean that in spite of all the changes since civil rights legislation, social change and media change, that a 10 year old and a 70 year old have the same race attitude? Does it mean that racially our lives are still so segregated that that to nudge implicit attitudes we haven’t created the appropriate conditions of contact?

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The Health Impact Fund: a better way to reward new medicines

Thomas Pogge

Thomas Pogge, Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs chair, Yale University

With some of the goods and services we consume, supplying the first unit costs vastly more than the rest. Building a subway line costs billions. The additional cost of making it carry more passengers is minuscule by comparison: pennies per ride for

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Enhancing Moral Status?

The trajectory of the development of emerging enhancement technologies suggests that it is not premature to begin considering ethical issues associated with robust human enhancement—i.e. creation of people with highly augmented or highly novel capacities through technological modification of (or integration with) their biological systems. Robust human enhancement raises justice, equity and access issues; parental rights and child welfare issues; naturalness and species boundary issues; individual and social benefit and risk issues; personal choice and liberty issues; and public policy issues related to regulation and research funding.

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Doing, Feeling, Meaning and Explaining

It is “easy” to explain doing, “hard” to explain feeling. Turing has set the agenda for the easy explanation (though it will be a long time coming). I will try to explain why and how explaining feeling will not only be hard, but impossible. Explaining meaning will prove almost as hard because meaning is a hybrid of know-how and what it feels like to know how.

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A Trans-Species Perspective on Nature

A trans-species perspective is an all-encompassing stance towards nature that embraces the continuity and comparability of all species’ lives. It shapes the way we view ourselves in relation to other animals and involves changing our current model of those relationships from one of separation and condescension to one of communalism and respect. Given the mass extinctions, global destruction of habitat, environmental degradation, and continued mass exploitation of other animals, nothing short of a shift in human psychological perspective is needed to turn things around.

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Morals without God?

I was born in Den Bosch, the city after which Hieronymus Bosch named himself.1 This obviously does not make me an expert on the Dutch painter, but having grown up with his statue on the market square, I have always been fond of his imagery, his symbolism, and how it relates to humanity’s place in

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Humans and Humanists (and Scientists)

Although humanism itself has often been controversial, until recently there has been a fair amount of consensus about the denotation of “human” among practitioners and critics. This consensus has been notably durable. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first three senses of “human” distinguish “mankind” from animals, from “mere objects or events,” and from

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