Wolfgang Schirmacher (born 1944) is a German philosopher, editor and educator in the field of philosophy, art and critical thought as well as the founder and program director at the European Graduate School. He has edited many journals and written books, as well as developed curriculum in philosophical disciplines at major universities.
Schirmacher has taught philosophy at the University of Hamburg, is a former Core Faculty Member of the Media Studies Graduate Program, New School for Social Research, and Director of International Relations, Philosophy and Technology Studies Center, Polytechnic University of New York. He is the editor of the philosophy journals Schopenhauer-Studien and New York Studies in Media Philosophy. He is also an internationally active philosopher of technology with emphasis on media, gene technology, and neuroscience, as well as president of the International Schopenhauer Association, and chair of the Artificial Life Group.
In Schirmacher's curriculum at the European Graduate School, he gives equal emphasis to theory and practice. Faculty members reflect this cross-disciplinary approach, as they are considered philosophers in their fields as filmmakers, academics, artists and media professionals.
Inspired by a diverse collection of post-Kantian, post-Hegelian philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Adorno, Merleau-Ponty, Bataille, Arendt, Deleuze, Derrida, and Lyotard, Schirmacher announces the conviction of Modern Technology for first-degree murder of the body. As his mentors do, Schirmacher considers the body as our place of resistance, and its growing influence coincides with the growing threat technological progress seems to make to the bodily sphere.
What Schirmacher calls “homo generator” is a realization of the hope and the angst of the philosophers after Hegel: “a Dasein beyond metaphysics, a human being which needs no Being, no certainty, no truth.” Modern technology is its ambiguous birthplace. Rather than considering homo generator a narrative of progress, technological triumph over nature, or movement to a higher form of living, he describes homo generator as having to face with courage his or her own mortality (complemented by natality) in the climate of ecocide. Homo generator begins to fulfill the artificial existence of humanity, and takes the form of the media artist, as generator of human reality and his/her responsibility for tomorrow's artificial world. Unlike other descriptions of humanity, homo generator addresses our ability to produce new forms of life and determine the biological, as well as the spiritual, future of the earth. Homo generator is in a position to tailor-make evolution, both in gene technology and in media technology.
A phenomenologist at heart, Schirmacher states that homo generator's body politics claims aesthetic perception as the basis of comprehension and interaction. “Homo generator is a concrete beginning, unique but not original, self care without egoism.” He brings attention to our postmodern technology that has abandoned the question of control. The body politics of homo generator states that we are jokes in the universe that will die only with our deaths. “We are the artificial beings among all others, our bodies are artifacts by nature.”
In a paper presented at the International Congress for Phenomenology, Frankfurt, in 1985, and printed in Analecta Husserliana XXII, 1987, titled “The Faces of Compassion: Toward a Post-Metaphysical Ethics,” Schirmacher asks what shape morality will take in the search for an effective ethics for the technological age. He cites Arthur Schopenhauer’s and Albert Schweitzer’s ethics of practical compassion, renewed as a "Humanism of the Other" by what Emmanuel Levinas claims is the "hopeless compassion with all beings" which proves to be moral in the ecological and human crisis. Schirmacher asks in what way compassion shows itself in our life-world and how we can perceive the decisive characteristics of compassion without prior value judgment. “In being the artificial ones we are the open, undetermined ones. Intuitive knowledge knows nothing, and compassion knows no law.” He indicates that “justified individuality,” which practices compassion, is missing in Schopenhauer's model of ethics of compassion, and claims that compassion as a way of living will become tangible for us only when “it has been bent back into an active sensitization…Sensitizing means to develop all senses (the few trained, the numerous untrained [senses]) in a creative process and to do it without fear, without order, without foreknowledge.” He refers to compassion as an intuitive language: faint, yet impossible to ignore.
In a paper presented at the XVIIth World Congress of Philosophy in Montreal 1983, and printed in Social Science Information 23, 3 (1984), titled “The End of Metaphysics – What Does This Mean?” Schirmacher addresses Heidegger’s reduction of the problem of modernity to the notion of the end of metaphysics. He claims that we are the literal proof of this end, or death, seen in the process of the extinction of the human species. It has become clear, he says, that we are far from being what we imagined we were in our metaphysics. He refers to the modern period as the last phase of Western metaphysics, which is today dominant throughout the world in its final form of scientific and technical rationality, and post-modernism as the expression of the expected break with metaphysics at its definitive end, after which there will be no new beginning. The end of metaphysics means that the lifelong project of the human species has become, in its historical development, a suicidal enterprise. If we proceed along the way of metaphysics no human beings or objects will survive, leaving only artifacts. Schirmacher claims that a radical change is required for the human species to survive, and if we want to prevent our destruction, we must “learn a "bodily" language which precedes the division into subject and object, and admit the individual to a successful enterprise which needs no planning.”
Schirmacher continues his discussion of the postmodern world by stating that being has become cloning, and that the meaning of cloning has little to do with the scientific-technological act. Humanity protects its virtuality, its principally undefined status, by cloning with media the many ways in which a human being exists. He looks to Lyotard’s Just Gaming to support his position that the postmodern decision is about becoming a player rather than a spectator in the activity of cloning humans in order to allow for a good life. In the spirit of the new name of humanity: homo- generator, with “openness as our existential taste and co-evolutionary power as our design,” what we clone is exactly this attitude of open generating and never a mere copy of anything.
Schirmacher claims that humans are alone and fully responsible for artificial life, which is our only life. By cloning freely with media and designing a life-world in between natality and mortality, we fail to pay attention to the artificial life we generate. His advice is that we must become more experienced in perceiving our imperceptible actions of true humanity. The art of living: enjoying life without knowing why, living happily without expectations and acting without believing in the principles of our action, is rooted in judgment and prudence instead of concepts. Cloning humans with media works to distract our attention from this ethical art of living. In media we simulate humanity to the point of not recognizing ourselves anymore, and this life-consuming activity helps us to stay clear of authentic humanity. In ethical life humanity fulfills itself, of which we are vaguely aware and which we need to forget at once. Schirmacher writes that to work toward this forgetting is media's strongest claim.
(editor with Sven Nebelung): German Essays On Psychology. The German Library 62. The Continuum International Publishing Group. New York, London, November 2000, 330 pages, Hardcover, ISBN 0-8264-1237-8.
(editor): German 20th Century Philosophy: The Frankfurt School. The German Library 78. The Continuum International Publishing Group. New York, London, February 2000, 324 pages, Hardcover, ISBN 0-8264-0966-0.
(editor): German Socialist Philosophy: Feuerbach, Marx, Engels. The German Library 40. The Continuum International Publishing Group. New York, London, December 1996, Hardcover, ISBN 0-8264-0748-X.
(editor): German Essays On Science In The 20th Century. The German Library 82. The Continuum International Publishing Group. New York, London, October 1996, 314 pages, Hardcover, ISBN 0-8264-0746-3.
(editor): German Essays On Science In The 19th Century. The German Library 36. The Continuum International Publishing Group. New York, London, September 1996, 330 pages, Hardcover, ISBN 0-8264-0744-7.
(editor): Ethik und Vernunft: Schopenhauer in unserer Zeit. Schopenhauer- Studien 5. Passagen Verlag. Vienna, 1995, 387 pages, Paperback, ISBN 3-85165-023-9.
(editor): Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer: Philosophical Writings. The German Library 27. The Continuum International Publishing Group. New York, London, July 1994, 300 pages, Paperback, ISBN 0-8264-0729-3.
Schopenhauer, Nietzsche Und Die Kunst. Schopenhauer-Studien 4. Passagen Verlag. Vienna, 1992, 400 pages.
(Editor with Jacques Poulain), Arno Münster (Translation). Penser après Heidegger. La Philosophie en commun. L'Harmattan. Paris, 1992, 360 pages, Paperback (Broché), ISBN 2-7384-1064-2.
Ereignis Technik. Passagen Philosophie 33. Passagen Verlag. Vienna, 1990, 245 pages, Paperback, ISBN 3-900767-36-X.
Schopenhauer In Der Postmoderne. Schopenhauer-Studien 3. Passagen Verlag. Vienna, 1989, 400 pages.
(editor): Zeitkritik Nach Heidegger. Reihe Philosophie 9. Die blaue Eule. Essen, 1988, 240 pages.
Schopenhauer Aktualität: Ein Philosoph wird neu gelesen. Schopenhauer- Studien 1/2. Passagen Verlag. Vienna, 1988, 400 pages.
Schopenhauer. Insel-Almanach 1985. Insel. Frankfurt, 1985, 249 pages, Paperback, ISBN 3-458-14188-X.
Schopenhauer Und Nietzsche. Schopenhauer-Jahrbuch 1984. W.Kramer. Frankfurt, 1984, 326 pages.
Zeit Der Ernte: Studien zum Stand der Schopenhauer-Forschung. Frommann- Holzboog. Stuttgart, 1983, 447 pages.
Technik und Gelassenheit. Zeitkritik nach Heidegger. Fermenta philosophica. Alber Freiburg. München, 1983, 274 pages. Hiroshi Kojima (Partial Translation). Niigata University Press. Niigata, 1986. Ereignis Technik: Heidegger und die Frage nach der Technik. Dissertation. Hamburg, 1980, 310 pages.