Vile Sovereigns in Bioethical Debate
Keywords:bioethics, enhancement, Foucault, transhumanism, ableism
In this paper, I critically assess transhumanist philosophy and its influence in bioethics by turning to resources in the work of Michel Foucault. I begin by outlining transhumanism and drawing out some of the primary goals of transhumanist philosophy. In order to do so, I focus on the work of Nick Bostrom and Julian Savulescu, two prominent contributors to this thinking. I then move to explicate Foucault’s work, in the early iterations of the Abnormal lecture series, on the concept of vile sovereignty. Foucault used the concept of vile sovereignty to critique psychiatric witnesses that had been utilized in mid twentieth-century French courts of law. Turning back to transhumanism, I analyze transhumanist discourse on the basis of Foucault’s vile sovereignty. Transhumanists promote human enhancement in a way that rejects the body—especially the disabled body—and pose the question of what lives are worth living, as well as attempt to answer it. I conclude that because of the undeserved influence and ableism of transhumanism, it is important for feminist philosophers, philosophers of disability, and other disability scholars, who collide at the nexus of bioethical debate (especially with regard to reproductive technology and the body), to work together to intervene upon transhumanist discourse.
Keywords: bioethics; enhancement; Foucault; transhumanism; ableism