Forbidden Questions

Out of the distant past the àGod Taboo and the >Parent Taboo continue to exert their effects even in our present-day world. Both are articulated – apparently out of a single imaginative origin –  by the prophet Isaiah:


Isaiah’s Creatio-Nativistic Forbidding of the Question

“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, what makest Thou? Or thy work, He hath no hands?

Woe unto him that sayeth unto his father, what begettest thou? Or to the woman, what hast thou brought forth?

Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel and his Maker: Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” (Isaiah 45, 9-11, King James Version)

In these words of the prophet Isaiah Creation reveals itself to be a dictated “having-to-be”. It is not that a human being “may” partake of existence – in order, for example, to enjoy it – but rather that he “must” and should bear, without complaint, that existence which has been formed for him by that “potter of men”, God the Father (the Bible speaks of Adam being “formed from the dust of the ground” but the Hebrew word yatsar that the King James version renders as “form” is also the term used for the potter’s moulding of his clay) or imposed upon him by his parents’ act of begetting (likewise an act “of the father”). (>Lamentations of Jeremiah).


Taboo on the Question of Whether Human Beings Ought to Exist

It is surely to be expected that no enlightened mind would attempt to place questions relating to whether the human species ought or ought not to exist beyond the ambit of reason and rational discussion. Such, however, is not the case. In his speech “Reflections from the Perspective of the Philosophy of Law on Bio-Technology and Bio-Ethics at the Threshold of the Third Millennium” Arthur Kaufmann formulates, with reference to Hans Jonas, a certain prohibition of a humankind-related question which Jonas was not, in this particular form, familiar with:

“One can, of course, pose the question of why permanent human life should exist on earth at all; but one can also say of this question that it is simply unanswerable […] There is, in this question, simply nothing to discuss. We cannot behave as if there were going to be no life at all after us; or at least we cannot behave as if we would not be responsible for it” (Arthur Kaufmann, Reflections from the Perspective of the Philosophy of Law on Bio-Technology…)

This ethical edict – in questions regarding whether a human race should exist or not there is simply nothing to discuss – could hardly be more unethical. Kaufmann excludes a priori the very possibility of our behaving in a way such that nobody after us will come to exist.We certainly concur with Kaufmann that we are bound to take account of those who may live after us. But notwithstanding this, we may not, with Kaufmann, block out the ethical question of whether further generations of human beings should come into existence at all. Kaufmann leaves entirely unconsidered the issue of whether it might not possibly be more ethical to refrain from thrusting any more human beings into a world which we have hitherto entirely failed to make a world worth living in.

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