G. Stolyarov II
September 11, 2013
I am an individualist, but not a relativist. While I have no dispute with individuals determining their own meaning and discovering their own significance (indeed, I embrace this), this self-determination needs to occur within an objective physical universe. This is not an optional condition for any of us. The very existence of the individual relies on absolute, immutable physical and biological laws that can be utilized to give shape to the individual’s desires, but that cannot be ignored or wished away. This is why we cannot simply choose to live indefinitely and have this outcome occur. We need to develop technologies that would use the laws of nature to bring indefinite longevity about.
In other words, I am an ontological absolutist who sees wisdom in Francis Bacon’s famous statement that “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” Individual choice, discovery, and often the construction of personal identity and meaning are projects that I embrace, but they rely on fundamental objective prerequisites of matter, space, time, and causality. Individuals who wish to shape their lives for the better would be wise to take these prerequisites into account (e.g., by developing technologies that overcome the limitations of unaided biology or un-transformed matter). My view is that a transhumanist ethics necessitates an objective metaphysics and a reason-and-evidence-driven epistemology.
This does not, however, preclude an open-endedness to human knowledge and scope of generalization about existence. Even though an absolute reality exists and truth can be objectively known, we humans are still so limited and ignorant that we scarcely know a small fraction of what there is to know. Moreover, each of us has a grasp of different aspects of truth, and therefore there is room for valid differences of perspective, as long as they do not explicitly contradict one another. In other words, it is not possible for both A and non-A to be true, but if there is a disagreement between a person who asserts A and a person who asserts B, it is possible for both A and B to be true, as long as A and B are logically reconcilable. A dogmatic paradigm would tend to erroneously classify too much of the realm of ideas as non-A, if A is true, and hence would falsely reject some valid insights.
These insights illustrate the compatibility of objective physical and biological laws (physicalism) with individual self-determination (volition or free will). There is a similar relationship between ontology and ethics. An objective ontology (based on immutable natural laws) is needed as a foundation for an individualistic ethics of open-ended self-improvement and ceaseless progress.