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International Political Sociology (2013) 7, 241257

Cosmopolitanism and the End of Humanity:

A Grammatical Reading of Posthumanism1
eronique Pin-Fat
University of Manchester
The academic discipline of International Relations has yet to systematically begin tracing the impact of posthumanism on ethics in global politics. In a context where a humanist picture of the subject is in a state
of crisis that is more acute than ever, and the end of humanity is
being declared by some, the question arises as to whether a moral commitment to liberal cosmopolitanism can be maintained. It arises because
the moral commitments of cosmopolitanism traditionally rest on a
humanist foundation, and posthumanism, at first glance, seems an obvious threat to it. In this article, rather than reading posthumanism as a
threat to humanity, I read humanism as the threat. I propose that, tricky
though it may be, a cosmopolitanism that embraces the end of humanity can be formulated and defended as a moral commitment to humanity: a cosmopolitanism without foundations. This cosmopolitanism
without foundations is, I suggest, one way to overcome the skeptics
fantasy that we are hidden from each other, and with it the belief that
our primary relation to the world is one of knowledge anchored to
foundational promises of certainty. Instead, a life lived in the world with
others is proposed, and with it a cosmopolitan commitment to humanity
as an unavoidable ethical responsibility.

The academic discipline of International Relations (IR) has yet to begin systematically tracing the impact of posthumanism on ethics in global politics. As a
modest beginning to what must surely be a much larger and far-reaching enterprise, I offer a grammatical reading of posthumanism. I do so in order to
suggest that posthumanismthe end of humanityposes a set of distinctive
challenges to the possibility of liberal cosmopolitan moral commitments in
global politics.2
Its tricky being a cosmopolitan these days given that a universal ethical commitment to humanity can no longer be held without a certain degree of anxiety
if indeed it ever could. This anxiety is sufficiently troubling such that it is now

Aspects of this paper were presented at the Politics in the Global Age: Critical Reflections on Sovereignty, Citizenship, Territory, and Nationalism conference at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, India, in
December 2011. I am eternally grateful for the intellectual ferment and excitement provided by Daniele Archibugi,
Sonika Gupta, Madhu Bhalla, Jayashree Vivekanandan, Latha Varadarajan, Rahul Rao, Arvind Sivaramakrishnan,
Anjana Raghavan, Eva Erman, David Chandler, and Garrett Wallace Brown. Thanks also to Jenny Edkins, Simona
Rentea, Erzsebet Strausz, Cristina Masters, Julia Welland, Rebecca Ehata, Andrew Slack, and the generous comments of the anonymous reviewers.
A focus on cosmopolitanism and global ethics can be distinguished from the foci of other academic disciplines,
such as the ethics of enhancing and/or modifying human traits. See, for example, the Special Issue of the Journal
of Medicine and Philosophy which explores the ethics of transhumanism (Bess 2010; Bishop 2010; Bradshaw and Ter
Meulen 2010; Jotterand 2010; Koch 2010; Persson and Savulescu 2010).

Pin-Fat, V
eronique. (2013) Cosmopolitanism and the End of Humanity: A Grammatical Reading of Posthumanism.
International Political Sociology, doi: 10.1111/ips.12021
2013 International Studies Association


End of Humanity

commonplace for critics to highlight three points: the lack of universal agreement on moral values and practices globally; the possibility that cosmopolitanism
may simply universalize a very specific Western, liberal, moral imaginary in a way
that replicates colonial capitalist logics of exploitation; and the fact that the
humanity of which cosmopolitanism speaks is far from being universal, instead
reflecting a very specific masculinist configuration of it. However, if worrying
about the universal and the particular in global politics were not challenge
enough, being a cosmopolitan has become even trickier now that we may be
witnessing the end of humanity, and are facing a crisis in humanism that is
more acute than ever (Badmington 2004:1345; Bruns 2011:11; Ganguly and Jenkins 2011). Further problematizing the cosmopolitans ability to hold on to an
ethical commitment to humanity, then, are developments in areas such as
biotechnology which have introduced the posthuman figure into our deliberations. Indeed, Fukuyama (2002a) has gone so far as to say that the real threat
of biotechnology is the end of the human species as such. In light of the
above, posthumanism generates the question of whether a cosmopolitan moral
commitment to humanity in global politics can still be maintained. Despiteor
perhaps more accurately because ofthese challenges to cosmopolitanism,
I want to argue that it is nonetheless desirable and possible to recover a universal moral commitment to humanity. What this will require is an appreciation
of the ways in which posthumanism offers the possibility, perhaps necessity, of
configuring a non-foundational form of cosmopolitanism.
The necessity of a non-foundational configuration of cosmopolitanism can
be understood as part of what White calls the ontological turn of late
modernity, wherein one of the entities most thrown into question has been
our conception of the human subject (2000:4). This turn, and its problematization of subjectivity, was introduced to the discipline primarily through the
contributions of contemporary French philosophers (often labeled poststructuralist) including Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard, as well as those influenced
by them such as Judith Butler.3 However, as this article demonstrates, the
ontological turn is not, nor need be, solely confined to this intellectual context. The shift away from a strong foundational ontology of subjectivity
(humanism), toward a weak ontology which allows sustained interrogation of
the contestability and radical underdetermination of subjectivity, can be found
in various locations across the contemporary intellectual landscape including,
I propose, the work of Stanley Cavell and Ludwig Wittgenstein in the AngloAmerican analytic tradition (White 2000:5). Accordingly, this article specifically
explores their contribution to weak ontologyan exploration that has hitherto
been absent in IR.4
I now turn to specifying the features of this ontological context for IR as it
appears in the relation between cosmopolitanism and posthumanism. To do so,
I shall focus on a feature of cosmopolitanism that is undertheorized in IR generally, and in international political theory more specifically, namely the impact of

There is a burgeoning and exciting literature in IRtoo vast to list herethat draws on poststructural thought.
Seminal works that introduced poststructuralism to IR include Ashley (1989), Der Derian and Shapiro (1989),
Campbell (1992), Walker (1993), and George (1994), as well as more recent collections such as Edkins, Persram
and Pin-Fat (1997), Edkins and Pin-Fat (2004), Dauphinee and Masters (2007), and Edkins and Vaughan-Williams
(2009). For more recent contributions exploring the limits of the human more generally, see the 2011 Special
Issue of Angelaki (Ganguly and Jenkins 2011). See also Cavells reading of Derrida and Austin in Cavell (1995).
Wittgensteins contribution appears in all my previous work. While it is the case that a non-foundational form
of cosmopolitan commitments is not novel in itself, configuring such a form through a grammatical reading of
posthumanism is. To the best of my knowledge, this grammatical reading of posthumanism constitutes the first
application of Cavells work to IR.

eronique Pin-Fat


skepticism on cosmopolitanisms configuration of humanity.5 Using the work of

the ordinary language philosopher, Cavell (1995, 1999, 2002, 2005), I propose
that the configuration and conceptualization of the humanist subject which
underpins cosmopolitanism can be read as a response to skepticism or, as Kant
expressed it, the scandal of philosophy.6 I shall suggest that posthumanism
expresses the resurgence of a fear that, in the skeptics doubt about our existence as human beings and with it the existence of others as part of humanity,
we may lose our sure-footed epistemological response to the question, What is
What I hope to offer below, then, is a grammatical reading of both humanity
and posthumanity which suggests that this fear need not be our only ethical
response. Instead I hope to show that reading them grammatically reveals their
significance for an unavoidable, non-foundational, cosmopolitan commitment to
humanity in global politics.7 The move toward an alternative (weak) cosmopolitan ontology can be traced by investigating some of the grammatical features of
the mutually constitutive language games (discourses) of humanity and posthumanity. Grammar controls what is possible in the world by regulating what kinds
of statements one can make about the world (Wittgenstein 1958:372; Pin-Fat
2010:21). As such, an investigation of grammar is an investigation of the possibilities of phenomena. In this case, it is nothing less than the possibility of humanity or, indeed, its end. Accordingly, as a first step to reading grammatically,
I shall focus on the grammatical distinctions between human/animal and
human/machine which, as we shall see, are presented as foundational. However,
the point of reading grammatically is not to stop there. It is to disrupt such
grammars and their foundational claims in order to bring what is hidden in full
view. The way to do this is with the second step of a grammatical reading. This
requires resisting the urge to find metaphysical foundations to phenomena and,
therefore, to change what we want to do in ethics (Diamond cited in Pin-Fat
2010:29). Here Cavell helps us with his disruptive reading of skepticism which
focuses our attention on the ethico-political significance of the difficulties in
acknowledging and responding to a life lived with others: a life lived in the
ordinary of every day. We might simply say that, when completed, a grammatical
reading offers a cosmopolitanism without foundations.
The strong liberal ontology of cosmopolitanismthe foundational features of
which are postulated as common to all instances of itincludes both universality
and humanity (Beitz 1983; Pogge 1992; Archibugi and Held 1995; Fine 2003;
Beck 2006; Beck and Sznaider 2006; C
ali 2006; Archibugi 2008; Holton 2009;
Wonicki 2009; Fossum 2011). Pogges seminal articulation of such features is
instructive. He says that individualism, universality, and generality are the
elements shared by all cosmopolitan positions (1992:48). Cosmopolitanism
therefore refers to any position in which human beings are the ultimate unit of
moral concern (individualism), are so equally (universality), and where their
In discussing Cartesian skepticism, I shall focus only on the skepticism of other minds and not the skepticism
of material objects. In other words, on the question of knowing with certainty that I, and other members of humanity, exist in the world, rather than the knowledge that objects such as tables and chairs exist. It is commonplace to
discuss skepticism and cosmopolitanism in such a way that skepticism means doubts about cosmopolitanisms practicality, feasibility, legitimacy, and/or reality (Brock 2009; Lenard 2010; Jones 2012).
It always remains a scandal of philosophy and universal human reason that the existence of things outside us
should have to be assumed merely on faith, and that if it occurs to anyone to doubt it, we should be unable to
answer him with a satisfactory proof (Kant cited in Cavell 2005:133).
The full account of what constitutes a grammatical reading, its elaboration of key themes in the later philosophy of Wittgenstein, and its significance for global politics is in Pin-Fat (2010).


End of Humanity

moral status extends beyond arbitrary factors such as national boundaries (generality). C
ali similarly summarizes the foundational features of cosmopolitanisms
that exist this waywhat makes them all cosmopolitan is their explicit or implicit commitment to the equal worth of all human beings, regardless of social and
political arrangements and affiliations of place (2006:1153). Simply, this means
that it is only what is essential and universal in human beings that is morally
relevant for such foundational cosmopolitans (Dyson 2008:184). This begs the
question of what these essential and universal features of humanity might be.
At this juncture, the notion of an autonomous, disembodied, sovereign reasoning subject takes center stage: a subjectivity sometimes called liberal, sometimes
Kantian, sometimes Cartesian, and frequently simply modernist or humanist
(Hekman 1992; Hayles 1999; Murdoch 2004; Dyson 2008; Roberts Glenister and
Arnett 2008; Negru 2009).8 Either way, it is the very subject about which ontological concerns emerge and, as I shall show, requires the deep reconceptualizations of human being in relation to its world that the ontological turn
announces (White 2000:5). Why describe such a subject as disembodied? (In)
famously, because of Descartes separation of mind and body, the effects of
which, with regards to certainty as the necessary antidote to skepticism, remain
intimately familiar to us today.
One implication of disembodiment is that the faculty of reason provides
humanity with the possibility of freeing itself from the constraints of specific dispositions such as passion, emotion, basic needs, and, more importantly, traces of
animalistic urges such as the urge to kill. We might say, then, that reason is
what allows us to overcome the animalistic aspects of our nature. Of particular
pertinence here, it provides not only the possibility of distinguishing the human
from the animal, but with it the very possibility of ethics. We can control ourselves and refrain from simply acting on passions such as hate, fear, revenge,
lust, and so on. Reason, in this picture, is what allows us to be masters of ourselves: to be sovereign and autonomous and to take ownership of our own
actions. In this sense, the human is distinguishable from the animal and, indeed,
even able to master nature by overcoming it. From this point of view, we are
therefore able to use reason to make autonomous (free) choices and construct
moral principles and frameworks. In IR, an influential cosmopolitan articulation
of the role of reason in providing the possibility of a taking a moral point of
view is that of Charles Beitz.9 He puts it like this:
Speaking very roughly, the moral point of view requires us to regard the world
from the perspective of one person among many rather than from that of a particular self with particular interests, and to choose courses of action, policies,
rules and institutions on grounds that would be acceptable to any agent who was
impartial among the competing interests involved. (1979:58)

In this picture of the subject, the faculty of reason provides both the possibility
of ethics and the conditions for its fulfillment.
This brings us nicely to a further aspect of the Cartesian distinction between
mind and body, wherein disembodiment provides the possibility for universality.
Here, taking the moral point of view (which is a capacity of reason) allows
humanity to transcend its own particularities such as culture, nationality, race,
gender, sexuality, religion, and so onand therefore treat each other as equals.
Such particularities are understood to be partial and biased, hence the moral
importance of impartiality. The clearest and most familiar articulation of this
There are, of course, differences in each of these, but the way in which the terms are used points not to the
specificities of each philosophers notion of the subject, but rather a tradition that emphasizes the feature of reason
and, therefore, certainty as a condition of knowledge. This subject has also been named, perhaps more accurately,
Cartesian-Kantian-Fichean (Descombes 1991:131).
I have offered a grammatical reading of Beitzs cosmopolitanism elsewhere (Pin-Fat 2010:6484).

eronique Pin-Fat


specific set of commitments to the role of reason in international political practice is the International Bill of Human Rights. The very idea that a universal
moral point of view can be taken is expressed this way in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race,
colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social
origin, property, birth or other status. From this universal point of view, such
distinctions are morally arbitrary and, therefore, morally insignificant because
they do not refer to what is essential and universal in human beings (Dyson
2008:184). Article 1 couldnt be clearer on universal human rights requiring this
kind of universal reasoning human subject, famously declaring: All human
beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.10
Such then are some of the key features of the role of reason in constituting a
humanist subject as universal, autonomous, disembodied, and sovereign. Neil
Badmington captures the features of humanism well when he describes it as a
discourse which claims that the figure of Man (sic) naturally stands at the center of things; is entirely distinct from animals, machines, and other nonhuman
entities; is absolutely known and knowable to himself; is the origin of meaning
and history; and shares with all other human beings a universal essence
Posthumanism as the End of Humanity?
Who, or maybe what, is the figure of the posthuman? From hereon in I want to
explore this figureand its co-constitutive humanist doppelgangerby specifically focusing on the grammatical features of posthumanism. The features I shall
focus on here are the distinctions between animal and human and between
machine and humanin other words, features of the line between human and
non-human.11 Both these distinctions hide in full view a conception of the limits
of humanity: what makes us more or less human or just not human at all. Consequently, when the limit conditions of humanity are breached, the line demarcating the difference between us and animals or machines is at risk and heralds the
possibility of the end of humanity. Or so it might at first appear. I shall argue to
the contrary and show that the figure of the posthuman can be read as evidence
that humanity, in its humanist incarnation, is alive and positively thriving. On
which note, I turn now to the first step of reading grammatically.
The Line Between Animal and Human

It is Descartes who tells us that reason is the only thing that makes us men and
distinguishes us from the beasts (Descartes cited in Badmington 2003:16). However, contemporary bioscience has created a variety of anxieties around this distinction. Two acronyms help us to capture the technologies that are held to
herald the creation of post-humans: NBIC (nanotechnology, biotechnology,
The word brotherhood brings us to an important gendered implication of Cartesian disembodiment which I
am unable to explore here, but which has been eloquently articulated by a variety of feminists in IR (Elshtain 1981,
1987; Enloe 1990; Peterson 1990; Grant and Newland 1991; Peterson 1992; Tickner 1992; Peterson and Runyan
1993; Peters and Wolper 1995; Pettman 1996; Zalewski and Parpart 1998; Sylvester 2002; Enloe 2004; Stern 2005;
Ackerly, Stern and True 2006; Parpart and Zalewski 2008; Jones 2009).
There are other ways of organizing the diversity of literature on posthumanism, as well as a number of other
distinctions that could be drawn: animal/machine, social/material, flesh/information, and cultural/natural (Whatmore 2004:1360). A mapping of posthumanism is offered by Badmington (2004) and a different but equally helpful
grouping by Braun (2004).


End of Humanity

information technology, and cognitive science) and GRAIN (genetic manipulation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology; Roco and Bainbridge
2002; Wilson and Haslam 2009:249).
Perhaps one of the starkest examples of the creation of an NBIC posthuman
was the 1998 fusion of a human cell with a cow egg (Heffernan 2003). In this
case, the procedure consisted of melding a human cheek cell with the remaining
cytoplasm of a cow egg that had had the nucleus removed. Heffernan tells us
that the human cell reverted back to its embryonic state resulting in a cluster
of mostly human embryonic stem cells (2003:116). Needless to say, it focused
attention, in a notably visceral way, on the question of whether such a thing
should count as human, animal, potentially human, or something other. Put differently, this case not only posed questions of where the line between animal
and human was to be drawn, but whether it could now be drawn at all. Im not
interested in resolving or answering these questions here, for reasons which will
become clearer below. For now, it suffices to note this example as a posthuman
form of questioning the distinction between men and beasts.
There is more to NBIC than just this of course. The idea of enhancing or
modifying humans is very much at the forefront of these technologies (Roco
and Bainbridge 2002). Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought in the
debate on whether the applications of NBIC and GRAIN technologies will be
humanizing, super-humanizing or dehumanizing (Wilson and Haslam
2009:250; Hansell, Grassie, Blackford, Bostrom, and Dupuy 2011). Interestingly,
those advocating enhancement tend to focus on aspects of the humanist picture
that are already familiar to us as defining features of being human (Bostrom
2008; Savulescu and Bostrom 2009; Persson and Savulescu 2010). For example,
enhancements such as control over mental states, moods, emotions and
impulses, as well as intelligence and intellectual capacity, all speak to a reasoning subject who is sovereign and has mastery of his (sic) animalistic nature
(Wilson and Haslam 2009:251). The line between animal and human, far from
being threatened here, is actually being made more robust and resilient. Moreover, with the enhancement of control, sovereignty, and rationality follows the
possibility of moral excellence, which according to Bostrom also enhances the
moral worth of the enhanced (Wilson and Haslam 2009:251). In this positive
configuration, then, the posthuman figure is less post and more super. There
is no prima facie threat to foundational liberal cosmopolitan moral commitments
here, as the line between animal and human is technologically modified and
In contrast, those against human modification and enhancement see NBIC
and GRAIN technologies as a threat to the very foundations of humanity. Fukuyama, for example, claims that Huxleys biotechnological vision of a Brave New
World is upon us, and with it the possibility that it will alter human nature
(2002b:7). He thinks we should be very worried, since [h]uman nature shapes
and constrains the possible kinds of political regimes, so a technology powerful
enough to reshape what we are will have possibly malign consequences for
liberal democracy and the nature of politics itself (2002b:7). For Fukuyama,
such a human nature is universal and must be protected, in part to preserve
Mans (sic) mastery over technology and, therefore, his sovereign and autonomous self as the guarantor of True freedom (2002b:218). Consequently, it is
imperative to defend humanity from falling into the moral chasm that posthumanity announces as it threatens the distinctions between human and animal/
human and machine and with it, apparently, the very possibility of ethics and
politics (Fukuyama 2002b:17). For Fukuyama, the defense of human nature is
the defense of liberal democracy. Unsurprisingly, then, the liberal subject is the
natural human rights bearer of liberal democracies and cosmopolitan

eronique Pin-Fat


commitments. Here the posthuman figure appears to be under a moral and existential (ontological) threat, unlike Savulescu and Bostroms vision.12
So, depending on ones point of view, NBIC and GRAIN technologies are
either a threat to the distinction between human and animal or can enhance it.
Either way, what is of interest here is that, grammatically speaking, neither point
of view is questioning the humanist picture of the subject which enabled the disagreement in the first place. The disagreement may be expressed in terms of
whether biotechnology offers more or less humanity but not, essentially, what
the main features of this humanityas rational, universal, disembodied, and sovereignare. It is these features that both sides of the debate understand as contributing more or less to the possibility of ethics, whether through enhancing
our capacity for rational judgment (more) or through the dissolution of our
human nature (less). In this sense, the figure of the posthuman reveals that, far
from heralding the end of humanity, the humanist picture of the subject is alive
and well. There is, therefore, still life left in a traditional cosmopolitanism which
centers its universal moral concerns upon this ontologically strong picture of
humanity. So, the first step of reading the grammatical distinction between
men and beasts shows us, in a rather straightforward way, that nothing has
(yet) been lost of humanity.13
The Line Between Machine and Human

Once again it is the figure of Descartes who initiated a distinction between

human and machine as a way of overcoming skeptical doubt via his CogitoI
think therefore I am (not an automaton).14 Again using the field of biotechnology as an example, the distinction between humans and machines may appear
to be under threat in what is called regenerative medicine. This area
encompasses research in tissue engineering and stem cells, as well as borrowing
techniques from therapeutic cloning, gene therapy, and advanced surgical techniques (Thacker 2003:90). Moreover, one of the aims of such technologies is to
turn data into (human) flesh by growing organs, such as skin grafts, in a laboratory (Thacker 2003). Needless to say this is precisely the kind of vision that
Fukuyama finds horrifying, but those who favor human enhancement (extropians) do not. The Transhumanist Declaration makes clear that this posthuman vision is entirely consistent with an Enlightenment vision of human
progress, but take[s] humanism further by challenging human limits by means
of science and technology combined with critical and creative thinking (Bailey,
Sandberg, Alves, More, Wagner, Vita-More, Leitl, Staring, Pearce, Fantegrossi,
Baily, Otter, Fletcher, Aegis, Morrow, Chislenko, Crocker, Reynolds, Elis, Quinn,
Sverdlov, Kamphuis, Spaulding, and Bostrom 2009; Thacker 2003:75). But how
does this happen and how might this still keep the humanist distinction between
human and machine intact?
With regard to the first, Thackers insights are informative as he argues that
data is made flesh (for example, a skin graft) through a process of encoding,
recoding, and decoding. First, a DNA sample needs to be taken and turned into
computer code (encoded). Secondly, tissue engineering enables a process of
recoding whereby software applications and database tools that focus on the
Neil Badmington offers a damning critique of Fukuyamas picture of the subject, arguing that there is something remarkably fascistic about Fukuyamas sense of the universal, of human nature (2004:1347).
I say straightforward because making this observation is not original and is relatively commonplace in the literature sometimes labeled critical posthumanist. Key texts in this vein would include Haraway (1991) and Hayles
(1999). Katherine Hayles summarizes this point well in her piece The Human in the Posthuman (2003; Wolfe
It is fascinating to note that Descartes can be read as the first posthuman thinker because of the distinction
and his form of mechanicism (Vaccari 2012).


End of Humanity

multiple genetic triggers that take a stem cell down one route of differentiation
or another enables tissue to become skin rather than, say, ear cartilage
(Thacker 2003:90). And finally, this data made as skin can then be transplanted
back on to the body from which the code originated (decoding; Thacker
2003:91). At first glance, it may look as if the distinction between (machine)
code and (human) flesh has completely dissolved.
However, extropians celebration of these techniques as the next stage of
human evolutionary progress still relies on, and indeed reinforces, the distinction between humanity and machines. Thacker argues that this is achieved by a
form of informatic essentialism where the idea of humanity as sovereign,
autonomous, and rational remains intact because technology is viewed as a tool:
a tool which we are masters of and make free choices about in the shaping of
our (enhanced) selves and of our future. It is the human user that guarantees
the right, beneficial use of otherwise value-neutral technologies (Thacker
2003:77). Consequently, humanity remains in control of its own progress (history), and its mastery of nature remains not only intact but enhanced. Whereas
previously humanitys mastery of its own nature may have been confined to controlling its animalistic aspects, this has now been enhanced to include mastery of
its own biological finitude and limits. So, once again, we find there is no prima
facie case to suggest that biotechnology necessarily heralds the end of humanity
with a breakdown of the distinction between humanity and machine. On the
contrary, extropian declarations hint at just how pervasive and enduring it is.
Such is the conclusion of the first step of grammatically reading cosmopolitanism and the end of humanitythe posthuman figure has revealed that nothing
of humanity is necessarily lost, Cartesian lines of distinction can be biotechnologically enhanced, and a humanist picture of the subject is alive and kicking. This
insight doesnt present any insurmountable problems for those who would wish
to defend a traditional, ontologically strong, form of cosmopolitanism. But it is
nevertheless worth remarking here because grammatical readings have two steps,
and it is the second step that seeks to render this familiar story unfamiliar and
to disrupt it (Pin-Fat 2010).
Rendering the Familiar Unfamiliar: Humanism as the End of Humanity
Having examined the above distinctions as grammatical features of posthumanism, and concluded that they do not necessarily imply the end of humanity,
I now want to turn to the second step of reading grammatically, revealing what
is hidden in full view or, simply, rendering the familiar unfamiliar. This step will
present humanism as the end of humanity by emphasizing those features which
were historically constituted as a response to skepticism. More importantly, perhaps, a grammatical reading will serve to recover a sense of the ethico-political
relations required by turning our attention away from knowledge and, instead,
toward acknowledgment. Using the work of Cavell, I seek to show how his reading of skepticism reveals it as an expression: an expression of the end of humanity as my annihilation of the other and a lethal set of attempts to deny the
existence of another as essential to ones own (2005:5, 12).15
Lessons in Hypocrisy

Stanley Cavell arguescontroversially, I thinkthat Skepticism and solutions to

skepticism make their way in the world mostly as lessons in hypocrisy: providing solutions one does not believe to problems one has not felt (1999:393). So
In this sense, Cavells answer to Kants outrage at skepticism as the scandal of philosophy is to say, Here is
the scandal of skepticism with respect to the existence of others; I am the scandal (2005:151).

eronique Pin-Fat


what is the problem that he is alluding to here? It is, of course, Cartesian skepticism and especially the problem of other minds.
Broadly speaking, the skeptic typically denies that we know something (the
existence of the external world, other minds) with certainty (Hammer 2002:39).
Skepticism, therefore, is not only an epistemological problem, but to seek to
refute it also means providing an epistemological response: a response that
resolves the existence of others by offering the criteria that are required for
claims to count as an instance of knowledge, as opposed to an instance of opinion or belief, for example. Here I want to concentrate on what philosophers call
the problem of other minds. That problem consists of how, or on what grounds,
we know that other human minds, understood as other human beings, exist. It
is an anxiety surrounding the epistemological possibility that no one, or only
oneself, may with certainty count as a human being: a member of humanity as
that category of living beings which is at the very center of liberal, cosmopolitan,
moral commitments. It seems like an odd problem to have, so how does it arise?
It arises as a historical symptom of Descartes Cogito. His solipsistic notion that
I can confirm my own existence through an introspective experience of my own
mind (I think therefore I am) is all very well for ones own existence, but it
raises a problem of knowing the existence of other minds. I cannot look into
others the same way as I, purportedly, look into myself, and neither can I experience directly what another experiences the way that I, for example, can experience my own pain, hopes, fears, desires, thoughts, etc. This is despite an
everyday saying to the contraryI feel your pain. Consequently, if knowledge
requires the direct experience of minds and private sensations, and this is
unavailable, how am I to know that those people who surround me, those that
have a human shape, walk, and even talk, are not sophisticated automatons?
Such then is the problem of other minds. For Cavell, the problem of other
minds may be a lesson in hypocrisy that seems to produce the need for a solution to something one has not felt. Do you feel the need to be sure that those
being killed and suffering in wars are not automatons?16 Is this really the question we need to have answered in order to have established the foundations of a
cosmopolitan ethic?
A way of elaborating Cavells insight more fully is to explore a sense in which the
truth of skepticism reads humanism as the end of humanity. What is of interest
for a grammatical reading is not whether the Cartesian skepticism of other minds
can or cannot be overcome. Rather, it is what Cartesian skepticism, and responses
to it, express, that I think is worth following through in relation to cosmopolitanism
and the end of humanity. It is to this we shall turn next.
The Truth of Skepticism

According to Cavell, skepticism expresses a truth, namely that there exists a

condition of human separation (1999:389). Trivially, I am I, not you, and vice
versa. However, the problem of other minds is generated because it surmises
from this separation that I can know myself but others cannot. This expresses a
powerful fantasy that I am hidden from others. For Cavell, the issue is not that a
refutation of skepticism is mistaken in the belief that self-knowledge is possible
and that we should instead countenance that we cannot know ourselves (a triumph of the scandal of philosophy), but rather that skepticism expresses an avoidance of others. His reading of skepticism, therefore, resists answering the skeptics
call to establish the truth or falsity of either position and instead emphasizes an
unavoidable condition of exposure whereby [i]n knowing others, I am exposed
Many a science fiction film is based on precisely this Cartesian difficulty, Ridley Scotts Blade Runner perhaps
being one of the most iconic. Thank you to Sonika Gupta for pointing this out.


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on two fronts: to the other; and to my concept of the other (1999:432). In what
remains, I hope to show that understanding aspects of what this exposure reveals
can form the heart of a non-foundationalist cosmopolitan ethic.
Among other things, Wittgenstein (1958) is famous for overturning the idea
of the possibility of a private language in his Philosophical Investigations.17 The
humanist notion that I can know myself, but others cannot, rests on a picture of
introspection and language use in which I feel a pain, x, name it and therefore
locate it as an object of (self-) knowledge. It is a picture of language that rests
on the idea that meaning is dependent upon a wordobject relation. However,
others cannot feel or see my x and so they cannot know it. Therefore, in this
picture, pain sensations are profoundly subjective (private), and so too must the
language that accompanies paina private language. Given that you cannot feel
my pain, and cannot name the same x by which to confirm or deny its presence,
my talk of/my wincing in pain is not convincing evidence of its existence
because I could be deceiving you. Not only may you not know that I am in pain
but, by implication, you may not know I have a mind (an inner life with the
same level of privacy as an inner sensation of pain) and, therefore, know that I
am a fellow human being rather than a robot. Such are the features of a private
language upon which skepticism, and humanist responses to it, rests.
In contrast, an entirely different understanding of language is proposed by the
Investigations, which I believe has ethico-political significance for the kind of cosmopolitanism I seek to defend (Pin-Fat 2010, forthcoming). In the Investigations,
language does not simply represent reality by naming objects, but instead grammatically produces that reality/realities, is relational, and is necessarily public,
not private. Wittgenstein calls the multitude of language uses language games,
rather than discourses, in order to stress the idea that language use is multifarious, does not have shared common features, has rules that can be changed, and
is shared with others (other than myself). Here meaning does not come from a
wordobject relation, but rather the meaning of a word is its use in
the language and comes from the rest of our proceedings or context
(Wittgenstein 1958:43).18 At a minimum, it therefore requires accepting the
existence of another as essential to ones own (Cavell 2005:12).19 There is no
escaping that we express ourselves and that we do so in language. We do so in
ordinary (as opposed to private metaphysical) ways. Perhaps we exclaim, Im in
agony, writhe, or indeed try to hide the pain with a stoic expression. At this
point, we are exposed to the other (as opposed to hidden), not only because we
are unable to avoid expressing ourselves, but also because there is no guarantee
that we will receive the response to our (pain) expressions that we have hoped
for. Others may misunderstand us, refuse to understand, ignore us, or respond
well, badly or indifferently for example. This kind of exposed and vulnerable
knowledge of others is as good as it gets. It is to say that my attempts to restrict
my relations with others, of my caring for or about some other, or all others,
may, at any place, fail (1999:433).20


I first explored the private language argument in IR in Pin-Fat (2000; Holt 1997). Many have read Wittgensteins private language argument as a refutation of skepticism, but following Cavell this isnt the reading Im advocating here.
Wittgenstein says, I shall call the whole, consisting of language and the actions with which it is interwoven,
the language game (Wittgenstein 1958:7). He also says, The word language-game is here meant to emphasize
that the speaking of language is part of an activity or a form of life (Wittgenstein 1958:23). Language games are
not just what we say, but what we do. Words are Deeds (Wittgenstein 1980:46).
There are obvious connections to the work of Emmanuel Levinas which I am unable to explore here. Cavell
discusses these in the chapter What Is the Scandal of Skepticism? in Cavell (2005).
Cavell also reads this as an avoidance of love in The Avoidance of Love: A Reading of King Lear (Cavell

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For Cavell, skepticism and attempts to refute itthe skeptical recitalare an

avoidance of an exposure to failure: an avoidance of the risk of failing in our
relations with others, and they with us. In this way, skepticism is a practice of the
annihilation of the other and consequently provokes the idea that humanism
can be grammatically read as the end of humanity. Skeptics, and those committed to refuting skepticism, must take responsibility for this annihilation for as
long as they remain seduced by the safety (isolation, maybe) of their own privacy
as grounds for the certainty of their existence or lack thereof.
Thus, what is at stake here is neither knowledge nor certainty. It is humanity.
If humanity is to remain a central concern of cosmopolitanism, as I would like
to argue it can be, it now relies on both (i) a willingness to overcome the avoidance of exposure to the other, as explained above and, at the same time, (ii) a
willingness to overcome an avoidance of the ethics and politics of our reading of
each others humanity. It means a reconfigured appreciation of how ethico-political responsibility is generated and the impossibility of avoiding it.
Accordingly, I turn to point (ii) as Cavells second front of exposure and a
truth of skepticism. He says, Being exposed to my concept of the other is
being exposed to my assurance in applying it, I mean to the fact that this assurance is mine, comes only from me. The other can present me with no mark or
feature on the basis of which I can settle my attitude. I have to acknowledge
humanity in the other, and the basis of it seems to lie in me (Cavell 1999:433).
The Cartesian anxiety that human-looking things around me may not be
human, but instead soulless automatons, expresses something important. The
message is not that an epistemological settling of the existence of their humanityone way or the otheris required, but rather that it is us, through our practices and ways of life, who are responsible for settling it. Accepting for the
moment that there may be no external markers to differentiate a sophisticated
automaton from humans and that there is no direct access to some kind of
inner life of theirs that will establish their humanity, it may be that the distinction between inner and outer, between mind and body, can come into question
and that, therefore, the matter of their (our?) humanity will be settled publicly,
that is in the ethico-political space of language games. The question of humanity, the central concern of cosmopolitanism, now shifts away from foundations
and toward interrogating the ways in which our language games (our ethical and
political practices) may suffer from a form of aspect-blindness: a soul-blindness
to seeing others as human (Cavell 1999:378). The point is that any form of soulblindness is neither an epistemological crisis of ignorance nor a simple lack of
knowledge. It is instead an ethico-political practice that enacts an absence of
continuous attempts at acknowledgment. The central moral concern with regard
to humanity is therefore transformed by a grammatical reading so that its focus
is not my ignorance of him but my avoidance of him, call it my denial of him
(Cavell 1999:389).
In contrast to the privacy of knowledge, Cavell emphasizes acknowledgment.
Acknowledging others is an active, public, vulnerable, deeply fallible, expressive,
and, perhaps, unavoidable way of responding to others and their lives. I, you, we
exist in the public domain of language and are unavoidably involved in responding to each other whether we like it or not. It means that we can read the skeptical recital as a reminder that we are actively responsible in our avoidance of
each others humanity, whether through soul-blindness or, what amounts to an
example of the same thing, an attachment to a humanism that remains
enthralled by an impersonal and apolitical fantasy that the connection between
knowledge claims and the objects to which the claims apply involves no (human)
intervention on anyones part (Cavell 1999:352).
To sum up thus far, as a first step, a grammatical reading of the end of
humanity explored two salient grammatical features of posthumanity. These


End of Humanity

features were classically Cartesian, consisting of the distinction between human

and animal, and human and machine. While it may putatively seem that the figure of the posthuman threatens these distinctions, a grammatical reading
showed that those distinctions remained intact, even, in some cases, biotechnologically enhanced. I concluded that posthumanism by no means necessarily
implies the end of humanity and that as a result no humanist foundations need
be understood as lost. Thus, contra readings of posthumanism such as Fukuyamas, I have shown that posthumanism does not necessarily pose a threat to
humanity nor, therefore, foundational liberal cosmopolitanism.
The second step of reading grammatically remained on the topic of this, still
intact, humanist picture of the subject and sought to render it unfamiliar by
reading humanism as the end of humanity. I did so using Cavells reading of the
skeptical recital as my annihilation of the other. I suggested that holding on to
the epistemological foundations of humanity constituted a loss that has ethicopolitical implications for cosmopolitanism. The most important loss was produced by the avoidance of humanity itself, and along with it an avoidance of our
ethico-political responsibilities in granting each others humanity in the world.
We might say, then, that this aspect of the grammatical reading brought to the
surface a violent annihilation of humanity at the heart of traditional cosmopolitan commitments.
However, in order to complete the grammatical reading, I now want to pay a
little more attention to the role of failure. Some forms of failure are no loss at
all, grammatically speaking. They can offer us reminders of what it is that we
hold most dear, even if we find it where we least expect it (Pin-Fat 2010). In this
case, renewed, albeit non-foundational, cosmopolitan commitments are to be
found at the end of humanity. In other words, the question with which this article began can now be answered affirmatively. A moral commitment to cosmopolitanism can be maintained at the end of humanity. It is to an embrace of failure
as a defense of cosmopolitan commitments that I now turn.
Conclusion: Cosmopolitanism Without Foundations
I want to suggest that there are two kinds of foundational failure that are at
stake in reading cosmopolitanism and the end of humanity and that both are
morally defensible. The first is epistemological and the second ontological.
The firstepistemologicalfailure is the one revealed as the truth of skepticism, discussed above. Cavell described it as the ultimate failure of the fantasy
that we can be hidden from each other in our privacy. If failure exposes us to all
the different ways in which we do, or do not, read each other as human and
how we respond, I think it returns us to the ethico-political landscapes of our
everyday lives and encounters with each other. This by no means guarantees an
ideal outcome since the loss of certainty as foundational means that we must
begin to pay attention to the politics of the multiplicity of ways in which our
reading of each other can fail to grant being human (Cavell 1999:397).
Furthermore, and more importantly perhaps, we have no choice but to take ethical responsibility for our readings of each other. There are no other grounds
(foundations) available, other than what we are actually doing in relation to
each other. A sense of this kind of ethical responsibility can bring horror into
our lives. Horror is the title Cavell gives to the perception of the precariousness of human identity, to the perception that it may be lost or invaded, that we
may be, or may become, something other than we are, or take ourselves for; that
our origins as human beings need accounting for, and are unaccountable
The point is we are in the world with others and not hidden away behind a
foundational epistemological relation to the world. We are unavoidably

eronique Pin-Fat


responsible for the multifarious ways in which we are implicated in each others
existence as human, for better or for worse. For a grammatical reading, the outcome to be defended is a constant vigilance in our relations with each other and
the effects of those relations on the constitution of each others humanity: even
at the cost of being exposed to the horror that a lack of epistemological grounds
may bring. Put differently, a focus on the constitutive effects of our political and
ethical practices of humanity (our relations with each other) is a cosmopolitan
As I hope has become clear, it is relationality that Cavells insights from ordinary language philosophy have stressed. Espen Hammer describes Cavells position thus, the extent to which we experience something as human depends not
on its physical or mental features, but on our relation to itthe quality of our
reciprocal stance (2002:75). This brings us to the secondontologicalfailure
that I seek to defend.
What we may mean by humanity need not rely on locating specific features
such as rationality, autonomy, universality, disembodiment, or sovereignty,
whether privately through introspection or otherwise. Indeed, the larger point to
take from the grammatical reading of the distinctions between human/animal
and human/machine is that (i) they can foundationally fail and (ii) even if they
do so, they can remain intact. With (i), we saw that the language game of posthumanism exposed an ontological anxiety surrounding the very possibility of a
continued differentiation of animal and human, and human and machine and
yet (ii) the humanist subject emerged intact and thriving. Thus, my argument
has been directed at what this intact subject both expresses and implies for cosmopolitanism.
Left unchallenged, the humanist subject expresses the end of humanity as my
annihilation of the other. Cavells reading of skepticism emphasized that using
the word humanity isnt just a matter of vocabulary. It is to do something. It is
an activity (language game). Cavells lesson to us is that it is an activity of granting, withholding or annihilating each others humanity depending on what our
ethico-political practices have constituted as humanity. All being well you may
find yourself included as human. Unfortunately, it is far too common to be confronted with the horror that Cavell describes. The issue at stake is not which
practices of humanity are true or false (this is the obsession of those seduced by
the call of skepticism) but rather our complicity and responsibility in practices
that constitute and possibly deny the others humanity.
The implication here is that ontology is weak. The meaning of humanity is
not hardwired in the structure of our nature as rational, autonomous, and sovereign but, rather, it is written by us: by our practices and uses of it in our relations with each other. There is no below the surface of language that language
represents through naming objects, and therefore, there are no strong foundations for cosmopolitanism and humanity.
So, where has this questioning of the need for ontological and epistemological
foundationalism via a grammatical reading of posthumanismthe end of
humanityled us? It has led us where exploring skepticism led us: from the
private into the public, from the inner to the outer, from beneath language to
its surface, from the hidden to the familiar, and from the metaphysical to ethico-political practice. It has led us out of the safety of hiding: back to each
other and the necessity of acknowledging each others humanity. It has made a
cosmopolitan moral commitment to humanity a superficial exercise in global
politics: an exercise asking us to politically and ethically engage in understanding the multifarious political practices of granting or denying each others
The implication of this articles grammatical reading of skepticism and posthumanism, therefore, is that the liberal form of cosmopolitanism that postulates


End of Humanity

humanity as a strong ontological foundation can be read as the practice of an

avoidance of humanity. But even there, not all is lost. To read foundational
cosmopolitanism as the expression of our annihilation of each other provides us
with a powerful reminder of what we are doing. It offers us an opportunity to
recover an ethical commitment and responsibility toward humanity without
shying away from all its (our) vulnerable, violent, annihilating, uncertain, misunderstood, and messy configurations in practice. A cosmopolitanism without foundations, I suggest, is one way to overcome the fantasy of being hidden from each
other and with it the belief that our primary relation to the world is one of
knowledge anchored to foundational promises of certainty. To lose this fantasy,
the end of humanity, is no loss at all in this specific sense. With the end of
humanity, we can gain a life lived in the world with others, and with it a cosmopolitanism that makes a commitment to humanity an unavoidable ethical
responsibility. Who knows? Embracing our vulnerability to skepticism might just
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