Archives For proactionary principle

Author Information: Dylan Evans, London School of Economics,

Evans, Dylan. “Review of, and Exchange on, Fuller and Lipińska.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 12 (2014): 84-89.

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Editor’s note: Dylan Evans is a writer and entrepreneur who has written books on evolutionary psychology and the placebo effect. He holds a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics, and has taught at universities in the UK, Ireland, Lebanon and Guatemala. His next book, The Utopia Experiment, will be published by Picador in February 2015.


Image credit: NASA, via flickr

The new book by Steve Fuller and Veronika Lipińska, The Proactionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism (Palgrave 2014), might be a manifesto for the proactionary principle. In contrast to the precautionary principle, which “would have us minimize risk in the name of global survival,” the proactionary principle, they say, is about “embracing risk as constitutive of what it means to be human.” The term was first proposed by the transhumanist Max More in 2004, and according to Fuller and Lipińska the opposition between precautionary and proactionary approaches to regulating new technologies will be more politically illuminating in the twenty first century than the old distinction between Right and Left.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Mark Caine, The Breakthrough Institute,

Caine, Mark. “Social Epistemology, Environmentalism and a Proactionary Human Future: An Interview with Steve Fuller.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 11 (2014) : 106-121.

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Image credit: tanakawho, via flickr

What follows is an interview with Steve Fuller by the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland, California-based think-tank, renown for its ‘eco-modernist’ take on environmental problems. An abridged version of the interview appears on their website in two parts. Mark Caine, the original interviewer, posed the questions. Jenna Mukuno, Senior Editor, edited the version of the interview that appears on the Breakthrough website. We thank the Breakthrough Institute for allowing publication of the original version of this interview.

You’re currently the Chair in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick. What is social Epistemology? Can you describe your current field of study and what background you bring to the position?

‘Social epistemology’ is, as the name suggests, about how the pursuit of knowledge ought to be organized. It is a normative interdisciplinary field, a kind of abstract research and education policy, if you will. The name itself was coined in the 1960s to re-brand library and information science in light of the possibilities opened up by the computer revolution for organizing and accessing knowledge—long before the internet!  When I started the journal and wrote the book called ‘Social Epistemology’ a quarter-century later (now a quarter-century ago), I was ignorant of this precedent, though I have come to embrace it. Originally I had conceived of the field as lying at the intersection of history, philosophy, and sociology of science—the three fields in which I was originally trained. But there has always been also a strong undertow of influence from psychology, economics, and even theology in my thinking. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick,

Fuller, Steve. “Why Superintelligence May Not Help Us Think about Existential Risks—or Transhumanism” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 10 (2014): 47-49.

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Editor’s Note: Steve Fuller’s piece originally appeared on the Lifeboat Foundation’s Safeguarding Humanity Blog.

Risk_Macro Image Credit: India Samarajiva, via flickr

Among transhumanists, Nick Bostrom is well-known for promoting the idea of ‘existential risks’, potential harms which, were they come to pass, would annihilate the human condition altogether. Their probability may be relatively small, but the expected magnitude of their effects are so great, so Bostrom claims, that it is rational to devote some significant resources to safeguarding against them. (Indeed, there are now institutes for the study of existential risks on both sides of the Atlantic.) Moreover, because existential risks are intimately tied to the advancement of science and technology, their probability is likely to grow in the coming years. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, University of Warwick,

Fuller, Steve. “Towards a Proactionary Welfare State.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no.5 (2014): 82-84.

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Please refer to: Pedersen, David Budtz. “Who Should Govern the Welfare State 2.0? A Comment on Fuller.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2, no. 12 (2013): 51-59.

A slightly abridged version of the following piece appears on pages 127-130 of Making Progressive Politics Work: A Handbook of Ideas, published by the Policy Network, a centre-left think-tank headed by Peter Mandelson, a leading architect of ‘New Labour’ in the UK. The book was presented at a conference in Amsterdam on 24-25 April 2014, hosted by the Dutch Labour Party that also included representatives of the similarly minded Washington-based Center for American Progress. It addresses issues triggered initially by David Budtz Pedersen’s considerations on ‘welfare state 2.0’ and which are pursued in more detail in my forthcoming The Proactionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism (co-authored with Veronika Lipinska).

The welfare state has an image problem for which its defenders bear the lion’s share of the blame. It all started when the philosopher John Rawls argued that the welfare state is the form of government best equipped to meet the demands of justice. So far so good. Unfortunately, his case was based on the intuition that if people do not know their exact place in society, they would wish their own fate not to be too bad – even if that means placing limits on how well they and others might turn out.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: David Budtz Pedersen, Aarhus University, SERRC,

Pedersen,David Budtz. “Who Should Govern the Welfare State 2.0? A Comment on Fuller.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2, no. 12 (2013): 51-59.

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In his thought-provoking exploration of the future of humanity, Steve Fuller envisages a new and strengthened role for the welfare state. The future transhumanist society will be inhabited by increasingly segregated classes of biological species, some of which have been successful in enhancing their biological condition beyond evolutionary determination. Others, however, will be trapped in Humanity 1.0 with no hope of getting access to expensive biomedical products or genetic services. Fuller emphasizes the “proactionary principle” as a new welfare model in which the benefits from risky experiments are redistributed to the wider society through taxation and compensation. Still, the basic philosophical question remains: what is the basis of solidarity between Humans 1.0 and Humans 2.0 in a world where citizens no longer will share a common biological condition. Distributive justice is key to Fuller’s proactionary ethics. In this comment, I examine the foundation of justice as outlined by Fuller. I propose a new set of political positions for the post-biological age (i) biolibertarianism, (ii) bioegalitarianism and (iii) bioutilitarianism.

Two modes of government

The basic argument in this paper is as follows: According to Fuller (2011, 2012a, 2013), at some future point in history cognitively and biologically enhanced Humans 2.0 will depart from Humans 1.0. In the future transhumanist society, the role of the welfare state is to stimulate experimentation, distribute positive effects, and compensate negative effects. Traditionally, in Humanity 1.0 redistribution was based on the idea of a “natural lottery” i.e., the biological abilities or disabilities a person has are the product of unintended evolutionary consequences. In Humanity 2.0, however, unintended consequences are turned into intended consequences as an effect of bioengineering and biomedical intervention. The question therefore remains: if the future welfare state is run by Humans 2.0, why should they continue to distribute the benefits of scientific experiments to the remaining Humans 1.0? What is the common ground for inter-species solidarity? Continue Reading…

Author Information: Ryan Cochrane,

Fuller, Steve. 2013. “The Origin and Prospect of a Principled Future: An Interview with Steve Fuller, Ryan Cochrane.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (6): 12-17, 12 May.

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The SERRC thanks Denyse O’Leary, Ryan Cochrane and Steve Fuller for permission to post this slightly expanded version of “TBS interviews sociologist who studies ID—and he isn’t what you might think” from TheBestSchools.Org Blog. [1]

Ryan Cochrane (RC): Why does Darwinism pose a much greater threat to the future of humanity than religion? Isn’t this the exact opposite of what people like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are saying?

Steve Fuller (SF): Yes, it is the exact opposite. Dawkins and Hitchens betray a remarkable sociological ignorance. They treat ‘religion’ as if it were some sort of anti- or pre-scientific ideology, when in fact it is simply the generic name for any complex social organization that is held together over large expanses of space and time without depending on the existence of the nation-state. Not surprisingly, ‘religion’ in this properly broad sense has been responsible for enormous good and evil in the course of history. Once this is kept in mind, it should be clear that there is no specifically ‘religious’ gene or bit of the brain to be found (which then one might treat as a pathology in need of cure).

In particular, religions do not require belief in a deity, let alone one that is transcendent of the natural world. To be sure, belief in a transcendent deity is an interesting thing to explain, and may have an important basis in our genes and brains. However, this belief is not specifically ‘religious’ but is also common to modern science, especially in its quest to acquire what Thomas Nagel has called ‘the view from nowhere’, which is a fair characterisation of the Newtonian project and all its subsequent revisions in the history of physics. Continue Reading…

Author Information: J. Britt Holbrook,, and Adam Briggle,, University of North Texas

Holbrook, J. Britt and Adam Briggle. 2013. “Knowing and acting: The precautionary and proactionary principles in relation to policy making.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (5): 15-37.

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This essay explores the relationship between knowledge (in the form of scientific risk assessment) and action (in the form of technological innovation) as they come together in policy, which itself is both a kind of knowing and acting. It first illustrates the dilemma of timely action in the face of uncertain unintended consequences. It then introduces the precautionary and proactionary principles as different alignments of knowledge and action within the policymaking process. The essay next considers a cynical and a hopeful reading of the role of these principles in public policy debates. We argue that the two principles, despite initial appearances, are not all that different when it comes to formulating public policy. We also suggest that principles in general can be used either to guide our actions, or to determine them for us. We argue that allowing principles to predetermine our actions undermines the sense of autonomy necessary for true action.

Keywords: Precautionary Principle; Proactionary Principle; Policy; Decision Procedure

Knowledge kills action. (Nietzsche)[1]

1. Knowing and acting

How are knowledge and action related? This question is asked less often than another: When do we know enough to justify taking action? In the context of making science and technology policy, the question assumes yet a different form: When do we have sufficient scientific risk assessments about a new technological activity to warrant promoting that activity and embedding it in society? In this paper, we explore how the relation between knowledge and action should be structured in policymaking. Continue Reading…