What do most people live for

Armen Avanessian and Otfried Höffe on the meaning of human beings

“With the human species, a creature emerged from nature at a tiny point in the universe, which at the same time far surpasses nature: with its intelligence, its social, emotional and artistic talents and, above all, its ability to set goals and purposes for itself and to develop ways and means to eventually achieve them.

In the course of its history, man enriches the wealth of nature with an abundance of technology, science and medicine that would be unimaginable without him, with forms of coexistence, with music, literature and art including architecture, with law, justice and solidarity, including religion.

However, only humans have that excess of greed for power, cruelty and destructive power, which both fellow human beings and nature are boundlessly subjugated and exploited. Because as a being of freedom, man is capable of both good and evil. Because man is putting his own long-term well-being at risk with his destructive potential, this madness must be stopped.

Freedom is the outstanding quality of man. The perfection of freedom is morality. It demands that one's own person and the social world must be subjected to unreservedly good laws and that all creativity must be placed in the service of justice and humanity.

So what is the human species for? It exists so that nature may be perfected in a being that is more than mere nature, namely a being of freedom. That is why it bears responsibility for itself and for others, but also for subhuman nature. And in order to reduce the risk of failure, human freedom needs education and a legal system determined by justice for coexistence. "

“This question implies a fundamental ambiguity, it reveals that there is no longer a clearly defined meaning. In the past, such questions were answered with reference to something transcendent, divine. That doesn't make any sense today. This fits in with the insight that the human species as such does not exist, it is constantly evolving. The idea of ​​a community of people who come together almost face to face and discuss what their task could be by the campfire is a premodern fantasy. So instead of looking for a "meaning" that has always been given to our species, which no longer exists today or will no longer exist in the future, we should try to approach the question of "why" - but not with recourse to it The past, but with a view to the future.

A large part of our current uncertainty stems from the key technologies that shape our lives today and change our view of the world: algorithms that influence our choice of partner, our coexistence, our politics. Although we use them as a matter of course, at the same time we fear being subjugated by computers. We fearfully ask: Are we still human or are we already cyborgs?

Instead of looking back, I recommend a radical change of perspective. The future must be considered more intensively, because the assumptions about it are already shaping our present today: Technologies intervene in our lives. Our nature and our society are already being changed algorithmically today. Instead of investigating questions that seek the “why” of people in people themselves, we have to open ourselves to the possibility of post-, trans- or inhumanism. The key is in the technology. Examining and researching them can shed light on what the mission of ever-changing humanity might be.

How and whether we will find any meaning in this remains open. Maybe we will only be able to develop something like a goal again as self-confident cyborg people. And if the community of man and machine pushes for the abolition of the humanistic image of man, then that's the way it is. New technologies have always radically changed what was understood by the term “human”. Instead of promoting a withdrawal from the technological world out of fear, we should be open to the new developments. We will no longer catch up with technology or be able to control it unilaterally: It is now a matter of daring a new human design. "