Meaning in Life and the Future of Humanity (ongoing)
Meaning in Life and the Future of Humanity
Jonathan Knutzen (Co-Applicant: Lukas Meyer)
FWF Lise Meitner-Programm
This is a project in philosophical ethics. The inquiry starts with a basic question: why would it be tragic if the human species went extinct in the near future? Some answers are fairly obvious: it would be tragic because of the loss of future welfare and because much of what we hold dear would come to an end. This project explores some less obvious answers: that the imminent demise of the species would be tragic because of our species’ great untapped potential, and because of our species’ morally compromised history.
Reflecting on humanity’s future is of great practical significance. The prospect of human viability on planet earth is anything but certain. As a species, we face significant challenges to our ongoing survival. At the same time, we face extraordinary and daunting new possibilities, which may fundamentally alter the character of human life in the future, including the creation of advanced artificial intelligence and altering the human genome though genetic engineering. An urgent ethical task is to think carefully about the details of possible policies and identify moral principles which can guide decision-making about these complex matters. Just as importantly, however, it is worth reflecting on why any of this matters. Why does it matter whether humanity survives? What should we hope for as we look toward the future? The latter sorts of questions are much less frequently pursued in contemporary academic discussions. The hope is that the present project stimulates further research and reflection on these kinds of questions.
The project makes a number of distinct contributions. In response to Samuel Scheffler’s question about why it would be so disturbing if the human species went extinct in the near future, the project suggests two novel answers, namely that our species has untapped potential and that out species has a morally compromised history. Both of these answers are explored in detail as well as Kant’s idea that humanity has a moral vocation. The project makes a novel contribution to contemporary ethics. Certain themes are familiar in contemporary discussions: meaning in life, narrative significance, and the role of perfection (i.e., developing human capacity) in human welfare. But these ideas are usually treated in the context of individual human lives, locating meaning, narrative significance, and perfection within the life of persons. The project expands the frame, taking seriously the need many people seem to have to be connected to something larger than themselves, and proposing ways in which the ideas of perfection and narrative structure can be applied to the species in ways that are ethically illuminating and do not commit us to problematic metaphysical or normative claims. The present project explores the fruitfulness of stretching our ethical theorizing in these novel ways.
Link: FWF Project Finder
ContactHead of the section Univ.-Prof. Dr. Lukas Meyer
ContactOffice and project management
please contact for an appointment