The Epistemology of the In/Human
The Project "The Epistemology of the In/Human" is a continuation of the CEU Humanities initiative funded project "Topics in the Philosophy of the Humanities and Social Sciences" (ToPHSS).
The aims are to understand how 'being in/human' is and should be studied in contemporary human and social sciences. What are the assumptions (and be they ontological or social) that enter how we study the way humans are and interact with each other in inhumane or humane manners.
- Dehumanization Conference (6-8 April 2016): The international and interdisciplinary conference "Dehumanization: New approaches to understanding the politics of human nature" brings historians, scientists, philosophers and artists together in order to discuss the phenomenon of dehumanization. See event page for details.
- Workshop on dehumanization (Jan 31, 2017) focused on philosophical issues. See event page for details.
- Julie Zahle (University of Copenhagen): Values in Qualitative Research.
- Heather Douglas (University of Waterloo): Jettisoning the Value-Free Ideal: Why do it and where does it leave us?
- Tatjana Buklijas (Senior Thyssen Fellow, CEU IAS/ University of Auckland): What is at stake in the ‘epigenetic revolution’?
- Mihai Surdu (Senior Fellow, CEU IAS): Whose blood, which genes? Narratives and sampling strategies in Roma-related genetic research.
- Rebekka Hufendiek (Basel): The Essentialist Fallacy: Critical Theory and Naturalism.
- David Ludwig (Amsterdam): Why Race is Still Socially Constructed.
- Eszter Timár (Budapest): Celebrating Biodeconstruction.
- Magdalena Smieszek (CEU): The Categorized and the Categorical Human in Human Rights.
- Thomas Brudholm (Copenhagen): Dehumanization as Monstrification.
- Marianna Szczygielska and Zsuzsanna Varga (Budapest): Between Science and Show: Human Zoos in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
- Silvia Sebastiani (Paris): Humanization and Dehumanization within Enlightenment Debates: An Attempt to Contextualizing the Ape/Human Divide.
Podcasts/Videos related to the project can be found at our Youtube-Channel.
- Slam poetry by Peter Molnar (as part of the 2016 Conference). Watch it here.
- Podcast "How we are Human" (discussion of 2017 ToPHSS course lecturer and participants, directed and compiled by Magdalena Smieszek). Listen to it here.
Recently finished research and teaching activities include:
- A pre-study for a project "Mapping dehumanization studies", as part of a new and more focused project under the title "The Epistemology of the In/human". We analyzed the publications available on dehumanization quantitatively (using digital humanities tools). The aim was to map the history and contemporary interconnections of research on dehumanization. (Involved: Perica Jovchevski, research assistant; Maria Kronfeldner, principal investigator).
- A 2017 winter term ToPHSS Seminar, with a series of lectures and a workshop.
Several events of the project took place avant la lettre:
- Film screening of 'Fixed – The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement'
- Talk by Robert Wilson on 'Knowing Agency from the Margins'
- Film screening of 'Surviving Eugenics'
Description of topic
In the first years, the focus was on whether there is really something – in addition to a label such as ‘the human’ – that unites academic concerns regarding humans. Thus, at issue was whether there are shared methodologies or shared ontologies at the foundation of those contemporary academic disciplines concerned with the human, such as history, literary studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, cognitive science, network science, etc. Below are a few lines of research that has been pursued as part of that.
For instance, none of the humanities or social sciences is studying the human (or humans) as such. What they study are rather derivative epistemic objects, such as culture, society, literature, etc. This fragmentation of the human in contemporary humanities, social sciences and natural sciences concerned with humans (i.e., biology, cognitive science, etc.) has led some philosophers to proclaim a radical incommensurability of the knowledge produced in these disciplines. The pluralism is about matters, such as aggression, that are not only of scholarly importance, but also of utmost social and political importance, in the case of aggression also because it is supposed to help explain the inhuman in us.
Second, without ideas such as humanity and human kinds (a term Ian Hacking introduced), kinds within humanity and with a history (e.g. ‘homosexuals’), there would not be any social sciences and humanities studying these kinds. The same holds for what we might call constructed kinds, those things that are made by humans (e.g., artifacts such as money). Yet, philosophers still have difficulties in classifying human kinds and constructed kinds ontologically, since, after all, the philosopher asks: are they really real – given their historicity, constructiveness and reflexivity? Classificatory and explanatory looping effects have been and will be studied as part of that focus of the project.
Third, specific fundamental categories such as human nature, individual or person have also become contested. Take human nature: there is a consensus in philosophy of science that Darwinism means that there is no human nature, no essence of ‘being human,’ to which disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, cognitive science or even history can refer to as disciplinary primitive, as something not studied but assumed as shared between all humans. However, the variety of disciplines just mentioned – basically all those that want to refer to humans in general – simply are in need of some concept of human nature. Finally, the category of the human has a dark side, leading to dehumanization of those conceived as less human. Because of the Darwinian challenge and because of dehumanization, philosophers have suggested that it is better to eliminate the concept of human nature from science and political philosophy. Yet social psychology has collected evidence that the category is so entrenched in our cognitive processes that it is unrealistic to reach elimination. How to resolve these issues is an open question in the field, and the project has resulted in the book "What's left of human nature? A post-essentialist, pluralist and dialectic account of a contested concept" (Kronfeldner 2018). See here for a synopsis.
In the next years, the focus will be on the phenomenon of dehumanization itself, as it has been already in some of the events since 2016. As part of that, a Routledge Handbook on Dehumanization will be published. More soon ...
To reach out to other disciplines, to arts, to the public and to politics, requires much cooperation. Some has started already, mainly locally. Thanks therefore to the Center for Law in Biomedicine (CELAB), the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archive (OSA) and the Center for Arts and Culture (CAC) for joining in for this project and for helping in various ways already.
Further cooperations are planned, at the local and international level.