The Birth of the Idea of Perfectibility: From the Enlightenment to Transhumanism

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Starting from the Age of Enlightenment, a person’s ability of self-improvement, or perfectibility, is usually seen as a fundamental human feature. However, this term, introduced into the philosophical vocabulary by J.-J. Rousseau, gradually acquired additional meaning – largely due to the works of N. de Condorcet, T. Malthus and C. Darwin. Owing to perfectibility, human beings are not only able to work on themselves: by improving their abilities, they are also able to change their environment (both social and natural) and create favorable conditions for their existence. It is no coincidence that perfectibility became the key concept of the idea of social progress proposed by French thinkers in the Age of Enlightenment, despite the fact that later it was criticized, above all, by English authors, who justified its organic and biological nature and gave a different evolutionary interpretation to this concept, without excluding perfectibility from the philosophical vocabulary. In this article, we address the opposition and mutual counterarguments of these two positions. Beyond that, we draw a parallel with some of the ideas of S. Kapitsa, who proved to be not only a critic of Malthusianism but also a direct disciple of Condorcet. In the modern age, the ideas of human self-improvement caused the development of transhumanist movement. Condorcet is more relevant than ever, and today his theory of the progress of the human mind, which influenced the genesis of modern historical science, needs a re-thinking in the newest perspective of improving the mental and physical human nature with the help of modern technologies.
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Archival date: 2019-10-01
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