Values and Technology

Course Description:

What role does technology play in human life? What role should it play? Is the use of technology unnatural, removing us from our true natures? Does expanding technology threaten us morally, socially, or perhaps even metaphysically? Or is the use of technology natural—could it, in fact, be technology that defines us, that makes us human?

These are the (broad, multi-faceted, and perhaps loaded) questions that will concern us this term. We will approach them by focusing on a particular topic: transhumanism. ‘Transhumanism’ means different things to different people, but the term is here used to refer to a wide collection of theories that have in common a shared goal of transforming human beings or human life through the use of technology. Transhumanists hold that the future of the human race can be / will be / should be far different from what we encounter today and, in virtue of these differences, far superior. Transhumanists urge us to plunge into changing the very landscape of human life through technological advancement.

There are three broad sections to this course:

First: A Primer on Transhumanism. In this first section, we will get introduced to the main tenets of transhumanism, the arguments its proponents use to support transhumanist endeavors, and the arguments its opponents use to reject those endeavors.

Second: Smarter, Faster, Stronger—Better? In this section, we will confront the value and significance of human augmentation, through the form of genetic modification, pharmaceuticals, robotic implants, and other means.

Third: Artificial Intelligence—Inevitable or Impossible, Desirable or Immoral? In this final section, we look at the possibility and desirability of developing artificial intelligence. Is technology leading us inevitably to the development of intelligent robots? Will we be replaced by these intelligent robots? Should we want to be replaced by them? Is it morally problematic to create artificial intelligences? Is it a moral necessity?

Prereqs: 60 credit hours

Required Materials:

H plus/minus: Transhumanism and Its Critics, ed. Gregory Hansell and William Grassie, Metanexus.

Gattaca (available through Amazon and Netflix DVD)

Ex Machina (Available through Amazon Instant Video)

…and articles available through Moodle.

Student Learning Outcomes:

It is expected and desired that students will leave this course with a wide body of knowledge related to ethical theory, philosophic analyses of technology, and the transhumanist movement. Furthermore, students will have the opportunity to develop a more robust set of skills associated with critical thinking, the philosophic method, and argumentative writing. Students will develop stronger skills associated with identifying and understanding philosophic argumentation, constructing philosophic arguments, and evaluating them.

Grade Elements:

            There are three basic elements to your final grade:

Exercises: 40%

Essays: 40%

Participation and Attendance: 20%

Exercises: The purpose of the exercises is to allow students the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the texts while also developing critical thinking, writing, and reading skills. To this end, the exercises start out very easy and then grow more difficult. They go up in value throughout the term. Make sure, for each individual exercise, that you read the instructions carefully. See Moodle for more information about individual exercises.

                       Essays: Students will write three essays during the course of the term. More information about each essay will be made available on Moodle.  The dates below are for final drafts of each essay; rough drafts will be due on dates prior to these.

Participation and Attendance: Attendance is mandatory, and participation is expected.  I understand that this class meets at 8am, which is ridiculously and painfully early. Please plan on your mornings accordingly, so that you are awake and alive during our class meetings.

If you miss a day of class, your grade will be negatively affected. However, you can make up the points you miss by completing a make-up assignment. Make-up assignments are designed on a case-by-case basis. You must contact me by e-mail within a week of your absence to be assigned a make-up assignment.

There are certain days of class that cannot be made up completely, as they will focus heavily on interpersonal interaction and group-work.  If you know you will be missing a day of class, it is always a good idea to contact me ahead of time.

Extra Credit: Extra credit is available in this course. See Moodle for more information.

 Class Conduct and Attendance:

You are expected to attend class every day, to arrive promptly, and to stay for the entirety of the class. Arriving late or leaving early is disruptive and rude. If you have an actual need to do either, let me know before class starts. Laptops and tablets (but not smartphones) are permitted in class. You are expected to use such electronic equipment in ways that help your participation in the course. If I suspect for any reason that you are using a laptop or tablet in a distracting or inappropriate way, you will lose the privilege of using that equipment during class time. Students are not permitted to record lectures without my explicit approval beforehand.

This is a class in which your ability to succeed is directly related to your level of participation. You are expected to complete the assigned readings before class and to participate in discussion while in class.

It is expected that students will be able to engage with the material civilly and critically.

Student Conduct Code: Appropriate classroom conduct promotes an environment of academic achievement and integrity.  Disruptive classroom behavior that substantially or repeatedly interrupts either the instructor’s ability to teach, or student learning, is prohibited. Student are expected adhere to Board of Regents Policy: Student Conduct Code:

Teaching & Learning: Instructor and Student Responsibilities: UMD is committed to providing a positive, safe, and inclusive place for all who study and work here.  Instructors and students have mutual responsibility to insure that the environment in all of these settings supports teaching and learning, is respectful of the rights and freedoms of all members, and promotes a civil and open exchange of ideas. To reference the full policy please see:

Electronic Communication:

I encourage students to contact me! You are more than welcome to e-mail me with any

questions, problems, or comments related to the course or philosophy in general. Usually, I am quick to reply, but please allow me 48 hours to respond. If I do not respond within 48 hours, assume I did not receive your e-mail. Just send it again. When you e-mail me, please include your full name, the name of the course, and its meeting time.

Late Policy:

Students are expected to attend all scheduled class meetings.  It is the responsibility of students to plan their schedules to avoid excessive conflict with course requirements. However, there are legitimate and verifiable circumstances that lead to excused student absence from the classroom.  These are subpoenas, jury duty, military duty, religious observances, illness, bereavement for immediate family, and NCAA varsity intercollegiate athletics.  For complete information, please see:

Barring an excused absence, essays may be turned in late for partial credit. If the work is turned in later on the day it is due, the score will be lowered 5%. The day after, the score is lowered 10%. For each subsequent day, the score is lowered 10%.

Students with Disabilities:

            It is the policy and practice of the University of Minnesota Duluth to create inclusive learning environments for all students, including students with disabilities. If there are aspects of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or your ability to meet course requirements—such as time limited exams, inaccessible web content, or the use of non-captioned videos—please notify me as soon as possible. You are also encouraged to contact the Office of Disability Resources to discuss and arrange reasonable accommodations. Please call 218-726-6130 or visit the DR website at for more information.

Academic Dishonesty:

Academic dishonesty tarnishes UMD’s reputation and discredits the accomplishments of students.  Academic dishonesty is regarded as a serious offense by all members of the academic community.  UMD’s Student Academic Integrity Policy can be found at:



Reading List

 “The Transhumanist Declaration”

“Transhumanism”, Fukuyama

“Why I Want to be Posthuman When I Grow Up”, Bostrom

“Engaging Transhumanism”, Tirosh-Samuelson (in book)

“In Defense of Posthuman Dignity”, Bostrom (in book) 

“Of Which Human Are We Post?”, Ihde (in book)

“True Transhumanism: A Reply to Don Ihde”, More (in book)

Movie: Gattaca 

“Constructions of Identity in a Posthuman Future”, Marsen (book)

“Enhancement Technologies…”, DeGrazia

“The Moral Obligation…”, Savulescu and Kahane

“Enhancing Who? Enhancing What?”, Koch

“Social Enhancement”, Cabrera

Movie: Ex Machina “What is a robot?” and “What rights should robots have?”

“Ethics and Consciousness in Artificial Agents”, Torrance,

“Artificial Intelligence and Human Nature”, Rubin,

“Millennialism at the Singularity”, Grassie (In Book)