Apology Paradox

The so-called “Apology Paradox” addresses the following state of affairs: if someone asks pardon for the terrible misdeeds of their forefathers – and if this asking for pardon is really sincerely meant – then this person is also accepting and embracing their own non-existence. The reason for this is that, in certain regions of the world, major neganthropic events such as slavery or the genocide of the Jews have been so crucially determinative of the course of history that their not having taken place would have meant that the person asking pardon for them would most likely never have begun to exist at all.

In her essay “The Apology Paradox” Janna Thompson acknowledges the paradox inherent in this fact that a sincerely-meant apology for the misdeeds of one’s forefathers must imply a sort of renunciation of his or her own existence on the part of the person making the apology. Speaking more concretely: if a person born in Germany after the historical genocide perpetrated upon the Jews apologizes for the crimes committed by his or her recent ancestors, then this person must necessarily also wish that the course of historical events leading up to this genocide should have been quite different than it actually was. Had this been the case, however, then the parents of the person offering the apology for the actions of his or her forefathers would either never have met or have met, at least, at some quite other point in time, so that the person in question would never have been begotten. Since, however, almost every individual is happy to have begun to exist we are confronted here, says Thompson, with a paradox: on the one hand one indicates, by offering this apology, that one would have preferred that history take a different course; on the other hand, one suddenly recognizes that one’s own existence is placed symbolically in peril thereby.

For antinatalist moral theory, however, this connected group of ideas addressed by Thompson displays no real paradoxical aspect: even someone who states of themselves that they are quite content to be in existence can at the same time express, without falling into paradox, the view that they would nonetheless have preferred that world history had taken a course such that they would never have begun to exist at all. The appearance of paradox arises only if one assumes that someone would have been in some way harmed by this existence never begun, or that something would have been withheld from someone thereby.

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