How can you make me better?
10 Jan 2014

Two upcoming talks at Merve (Berlin) and Staedelschule (Frankfurt), abstracts and details below:

How Can You Make Me Better?

“Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.” -Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Building on a now neglected tradition of philosophy as a discipline for forging questions whose sheer insinuative power does something irreversible to the mind, this discussion entertains the idea of posing a question so extreme it would not leave any room for a neutral attitude. Posed at the intersection of philosophy as an experiment in the ascesis of cognition and ethics as a design of conduct, the inciting and hypothetical dimensions of this question are concealed within the informal demand of an innocent query or solicitation: “How can you make me better?”
Being the central inquiry of a number of ancient programs of ethics such as Cynicism, Stoicism, Confucianism and more recently New Confucianism (Shili, Zongsan, Junyi, et al.), the solicitation for enhancement or the demand for the better is progressively unfolded as an instigation of a project of self-realization. By arguing that these ethical regimen theoretically and practically treat virtues and constructive relationships as functions and motivations as orientations, and in so doing they endow enhancing forms of conduct with a certain functional autonomy, we propose that ethics can be redefined as a functionalist program furnished with a canonical orientation. Closely associated with the philosophical foundations of artificial intelligence, this is functionalism in the sense of abstract realizability of the roles functions play in complex systems so that the multi-state function of a set of practices or abilities can be adequately abstracted for the purpose of re-adaptation in different and broader contexts. By virtue of their abstract realizability, functions enjoy a form of autonomy that enables their extraction and replication, autonomous redeployment in different contexts and autonomous remobilization toward new purposes. The neo-functionalist reimagining of ethics brings about the possibility of understanding the pursuit of the self for the better or self-realization as an autonomous project, in the sense of what functional autonomy is and what the integrating orientation of a project consists of. The project is accordingly construed as a functional organization possessing a global integrity that allows for its characterization as a canonical subjectivity, a constructible self that displays historic and social features of “essentially self-conscious creatures” (Brandom). It is this collaborative or open-source self as a project through which the better – as that which is other than the previous and the current state of the self or even human – commences its self-realization and its destiny. As rooted in a secular enterprise of improvement through engagement with a non-conservable account of the present adapted to the revisionary rather than redemptive forces of the future, ethics highlights the truth and practical dimensions of what intelligence is and how it can be liberated: Intelligence is defined as that which normatively believes what is good for it, it desires it, and committedly acts on how to maintain and enhance the good. To seal the gap between believing what is true and making it true, it devises functions capable of practically elaborating intentional states toward action and realization. Since functions are independent of conditions of constitution, constructing the functional link between intentional states and realization means that intelligence establishes itself as a project that continuously revises what it was supposed to be, it knows itself by disbelieving in its foundations, it attains freedom by reconstituting itself.
Monday, January 13, 2013 7pm
Dürerstr. 10, 60596 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

“Its [New Confucianism] primary purpose is individual and communal self-realization with a view toward Heaven” -Tu Weiming

The Labour of the Inhuman
Inhumanism is the extended practical elaboration of humanism; it is born out of a diligent commitment to the project of humanism. A universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man drawn in sand, inhumanism is a vector of revision, it relentlessly revises what it means to be human by removing its supposed evident characteristics and preserving certain invariances. At the same time, inhumanism registers itself as a demand for construction, to define what it means to be human by treating human as a manipulable and re-orientable hypothesis. Inhumanism is in concrete opposition to any theoretical paradigm that seeks to degrade humanity either in the face of its finitude or against the backdrop of the great outdoors. The force of inhumanism operates as a retroactive deterrence against anti-humanism by understanding humanity historically – in the broadest physico-biological and socio-economical sense of history – as an indispensable runway toward itself. But what is humanism, or precisely speaking, what specific commitment does ‘being human’ represent and how does the full practical elaboration of this commitment to humanity amount to inhumanism?
Sunday, January 12, 2013 7pm
MERVE Verlag, Crellestrasse 22, 10827 Berlin