Anthropodicy

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

The question as to an “anthropodicy” is the question as to how past, present and future suffering is to be justified given the fact there is no absolute necessity that human beings should exist at all, since it is possible in principle that each one of us simply forgo begetting progeny.

By ridding itself of the notion of God, the modern forma mentis might have seemed to successfully rid itself also of the question of how the suffering of the world is to be justified. Whereas the thought of the pre-modern era had expended a large part of its energy on this question of why a benevolent and all-powerful Creator, omniscient and omnipotent even over future events, would possibly allow his creatures to undergo so much pain and misery, this question was not so much answered as dismissed and dissolved by modern science and modern thinking with the blunt observation: there is no God. God, in other words, has gradually been pushed, in the modern era, out of every sphere and aspect of the world that can really concern us, surviving at best as some featureless and characterless force extrapolated backward from the Big Bang.

Without God, clearly, one needs no theodicy. That is to say, there is no longer any point in enquiring into such matters as why God has permitted so much suffering or whether – if the creation of no other world than this deeply imperfect one were possible – He would have done better to forgo Creation of world and Man altogether.

But modernity rid itself of the desire for a theodicy without seeing that, by doing this, it burdened itself with the obligation to provide an anthropodicy in this latter’s stead. This anthropodicy takes the form of the parallel but modified question: how can it be justified, in the face of so much suffering undergone in the past, being experienced in the present, and to be expected in the future, that human beings beget more human beings?

 

The Pre-Modern “World-Riddle”:

If the all-powerful Creator of the world is indeed both good and all-powerful, why does He allow His creatures to suffer in it? Why did He not construct the world, right from the start, in some other way or, failing that, forgo creating the world, and Man, altogether?

 

The Merely Apparent Modern Dissolution of the Pre-Modern “World-Riddle”:

Since no good and all-powerful Creator of the world exists, the question: “how to justify the Creator’s act of Creation?” is simply a badly-posed question that can be dismissed as senseless.

 

Man’s Modern Moral Self-Burdening:

If it is indeed the case that human beings do not act entirely under the sway of biological and social laws but rather possess some capacity for free decision, why is it, then, that they perpetuate, with each new act of procreation, the terrible course that history has hitherto taken allow suffering and misery to repeat themselves over and over again? Although the “theodicy question” (the question of “God’s justice”) may now be obsolete – because God does not exist, or at least fewer and fewer people believe in His existence – the “anthropodicy question” has become all the more urgent, inasmuch as human beings – as “mini-demiurges”  (àParents àParents as Mini-Demiurges) – have the choice of whether or not to beget new human beings.

The modern forma mentis, then, made the gravely premature assumption that, with the elimination of God from the pre-modern “world-riddle”, this riddle would simply vanish all of itself. As can be seen from the crossed-out text below, this is a fatal error. Even in retreating from the cosmos, God leaves behind Him the question:

“Why does human suffering exist in the world, if the world’s almighty Creator is good?” with the crossed-through sub-clause having to run, in modernity rather: “…if every human being is free to choose to refrain from procreation.” Modernity is the age in which there falls to human beings the freedom of choosing mankind or of not choosing it, of affirming and prolonging the history we have hitherto known and suffered or of putting a final end to this history.

As Odo Marquard has shown by the use of various humorous inventions and devices, “anthropodicy” emerges from the old “theodicy” in the following manner: By simply effectively ceasing, in the course of modern times, to exist, God forfeits all guilt in the evils of the world. Marquard speaks of “innocence by reason of non-existence”. But the demise of God has in no wise meant the demise of these “evils of the world” He was formerly called to answer for. God has been removed from the world but the evils remain in it. Instead of God the being that has taken God’s place – namely, Man – is now burdened with responsibility for these evils and what is more – in Marquard’s view – burdened with it in a pitiless and unlivable manner. Marquard, indeed, prefers not to specify just what this “unlivability” must, in the last analysis, mean: namely, that, so long as an “anthropodicy” is lacking, it is not morally permissible to render any further human beings into this life hereby admitted to be “unlivable”.

 

We may say, then, that, after God’s retirement from the scene and the self-empowerment of Man that has occurred in the course of the centuries since the Enlightenment, there is nothing more earnestly and urgently philosophically sought after than an “anthropodicy”. Until one is found, Man must necessarily remain a morally abject figure, as defenceless against ethical accusation as the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of pre-modernity would have been had no “theodicy” ever been developed (although this latter, of course, had really never been anything other than a form of Man’s evasion of his own responsibility for his continuing to make possible the suffering and evil of the world (àTheodicy as Disguised Anthropodicy).

One could list, of course, several thinkers who have registered the fact that the ancient obligation to formulate a theodicy has now been superseded and replaced by the obligation to formulate an anthropodicy. Hardly any of these thinkers, however, has stated exhaustively just what this, in the last analysis, must mean. This failure to trace out the problem to its conclusions is evident, for example, from Hubert Hausemer’s reflections on the problem of evil:

“Just as any believer in God is confronted with the problem of theodicy, so is every humanist – i.e. any believer in Man – obliged to engage with the problem of anthropodicy: ‘how can one, in the face of the evil that is constantly done by human beings, continue to believe in Man and place one’s trust in him?’ (…) The true tragedy of the condition humaine lies in the fact that even those of best will, unintentionally but none the less really, cause evil over and over again. Good intentions are no protection from evil. (…) / Whoever persists, then, in believing in Man or in human beings, holding these latter to be, at bottom, worthy beings or at least beings capable of improvement and who thus commits themselves, in one way or another, to Man’s cause … must justify this belief and this commitment. And he or she can only do this if they prove that human beings are in fact worthy of trust and belief. But this, in view of the human race’s long bloody history, is surely no easy task.”

Hausemer provides us here, indeed, with a concise and conclusive definition of anthropodicy. But he too leaves the question still unanswered: what are the ultimate logical consequences of someone’s no longer “persisting in believing in Man or in human beings”? In what direction are thought or action to direct themselves then? But it is quite obvious that nothing else can follow naturally but irrecusably from the definition provided by Hausemer than the recourse to an historically-informed antinatalism.

 

Anthropodicy’s Need for Theology

Academic philosophers have often shown themselves reluctant to recognize Richard David Precht (*1964) as a serious practitioner of their profession. It is, nonetheless, to Precht’s work that we must look for a concise enunciation of the most fundamental philosophical insight of all: “No philosopher and no ecologist has been able to offer truly cogent reasons why all the millions of animal species on this earth must exist. But neither will any such thinker be able, without drawing heavily on theology, to give sound reasons why human beings should exist either.”

 

The Impossibility of Any Anthropodicy

In the face of Auschwitz Hans Robert Schlette has declared himself convinced of the impossibility of any anthropodicy: “No justification, no conception in terms of a dike, of that which exists can ever possibly be given – not in the form of a theodicy, nor yet in that of a cosmodicy, nor in the form of an anthropodicy either. Or, put more bluntly: who could possibly take it upon themselves to defend philosophically, in the name of some ‘higher purpose’, the sufferings of Auschwitz, indeed suffering quite generally (think of Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov)?” Clearly, Schlette was unfamiliar with Hans Jonas’s attempt to make human beings metaphysically “capable of living with Auschwitz”.

[Translated from my book ANTINATALISMUS. EIN HANDBUCH by Dr Alexander Reynolds]