Imprecation Invoking a “Never Having Been”

In the case of the “imprecation invoking a ‘never having been’” it is not one’s own existence which is a cause of antipathy but that of another person. On closer consideration, however – and contrary to the intention of the imprecator – a curse invoking the “never having been” of another individual proves to be the very contrary of a curse. Whoever wishes that some other person might never have existed wishes, in fact, nothing negative for this latter; rather they wish only for some course of history alternative to the actual one, a course of history from which the person in question would be, as an entity susceptible of being affected both for good and for bad, simply absent.

Dickens, Charles (1812–1870)

„I wish the blessed old creetur had never been born.” (Dickens, Barnaby Rudge)

Eliot, George (1819–1889)

„There was a half-formed wish in both their minds – even in the mother’s – that Harold Transome had never been born.” (George Eliot, Felix Holt, the Radical)

Blackmail Through the Notion of Never Having Been

The authors of a certain dictionary of philosophy, Kirchner/Michaelis, make use of a very subtle method in order to maintain their readers in an attitude of inclination toward existence:  Whoever is perturbed by the thought of having to die, argue these authors, proceeding like metaphysical blackmailers, shows by this perturbation that he would really rather not have been born. They imagine that, with this objection, that they can stifle all counter-arguments raised by any reader who feels repugnance at the notion of having to die:

“That the individual human being dies is a natural, and thus a necessary and rational, thing; whoever becomes perturbed at the thought that he must die regrets thereby his being a human being at all, regrets, that is to say, having been born.” (Kirchner/Michaelis: Wörterbuch der Philosophischen Grundbegriffe) The authors imagine that they have created a metaphysical scenario sufficient to intimidate all objection in creating one which says: if you are not in agreement with your own inevitable death then you are obliged to accept that it would have been better if you had never begun to exist. They demand, in other words, of the people who have a problem with their own necessary demise to perform a symbolic àRenunciation of Existence. They fail to see that there is no one there for whom “never having been” might constitute a harm – and thereby the metaphysical scenario of intimidation that they construct simply implodes. It no more occurs to the authors that human procreation (occurring as it does on the basis of decisions) is a matter of reason and no mere natural occurrence than there occurs to them the idea that the notion of “never having been” might be retrospectively acceptable for one or other of their readers.

The Fear of Having Never Been

The fear of having never been is a weak and subtle form of the fear of death. This fear of having never been arises in all those cases in which it suddenly becomes clear to a person that he was, as it were, within a hairsbreadth of having never existed at all. For example, where the realization dawns on him that, had history taken an only slightly different course from the one it did take, his parents might never have met.

The fear of having never been is a psychological defence mechanism which makes it more difficult to accept antinatalism. Because the spatially and temporally universal precept of antinatalism is: it is better to beget no new human beings. Now, if, at some earlier point in history no further human beings had been begotten, then one would not have existed oneself – something which is seen by many, irrationally, to amount to a death-threat. The coming-to-be of this irrational death-threat might be reconstructed in the following manner: “A compliance, at an earlier point, with this ethical precept on the part of the people who were to become my parents would have led to my not now existing. But since I do in fact exist, then my non-existence can only mean that I have to die.” – The fear of never having been arises essentially out of the incapacity of engaging in >Reeling Back of the Film to a point prior to one’s own existence and represents a case of >Nothingness-failure.

In contrast to Dieter Henrich, Hoimar von Ditfurth shows himself to be free of that fear of never having been in which, for Henrich, all >Gratitude for Existence is based. As Ditfurth argues, very much in the manner of Lucretius: “Repulsive as the thought of a premature end to my conscious existence is to me, I feel remarkably little terror at the thought that I might never have been born. Simply not to have ever left that nothingness into which one is bound, in any case, to return – this is a thought which contains, for me, neither horror nor regret.” (von Ditfurth, Innenansichten eines Artgenossen)

The middle position between Henrich and his gratitude for existence and Ditfurth, who is clearly indifferent to this latter (>Neutral Natalism) is taken up by Thomas Nagel. According to him, the notion that one was very nearly never begotten tends to give rise to a kind of “queasy” sensation: “If you concentrate hard on the thought that you might never have been born – the distinct possibility of your eternal and complete absence from this world – I believe you will find that this perfectly clear and straightforward truth produces a positively uncanny sensation.“ (Nagel, The View…)

Altruism in the Service of Nothing

How metaphysically limitless egoism can be comes clearly to light in the case where a àPerpetrator of Existence points to one of his progeny and claims that he begot this individual not for his (the perpetrator of existence’s) own sake but for the sake of the begotten individual and goes on to insist that, for this reason, very decidedly not an egoist but rather an altruist. Since, however, this begotten individual had not existed before he began, as a consequence of the act of begetting, to exist, no good deed was done him by someone’s acting in such a way that he began to exist. That which the limitless egoist believes himself to have done to is in fact nothing. One might call this an altruism “in the service of nothing”.  

Recalcitrance Vis-à-Vis Not-Being

The refusal to think through to its logical conclusion the thought that, had the natural constants been different or had world history taken a slightly different course, one’s own self, or humanity, or living creatures in their entirety might never have begun to exist, without this having had any significance for anyone. 

Friends, spouses or parents who find themselves confronted with the (indeed easily conceivable) Never Having Been of some person close to them tend to say something like: “Then we would have missed you very much!”. But they overlook, in saying this, the fact that someone must have been actually known to us in order for us to be able to “miss” them  (an exception here is formed by the type of the “Redeemer”).

“Recalcitrance vis-à-vis not-being” is a bastion composed of attitudes of defence and of metaphors which is aimed at shielding us from the insight into the fact that we once were not, and that no one suffers any harm, nor indeed any good, if we cause the existence of no one to begin.

Non-Proportionality in Revisions of Pro-Generative Decisions

In cases where it looks certain, or very probable, on the basis of diagnostic tests, that, if a couple were to beget a child, this child would suffer from some serious disease, then this couple themselves, along with the doctors advising them and members of their social circle, very probably be inclined, or be urgently advised by those around them, to go back on any decision to have children that they may already have taken. 

In a definite ethical disproportion to this situation, there are surely very many fewer couples, doctors or social circles who would incline, or advise, to give up an already-formed wish for children, or to go back on a pro-generative decision already taken, simply because it has become clear to the prospectively procreating couple – for whatever reasons or due to whatever exceptional circumstance or life-situation – that every human being must sooner or later become sick, suffer and die and what terrible forms the process of dying can sometimes take.     [Catastrophe of Dying].

This is all the more astonishing given that having to die counts, for many, as the greatest of all evils. Pro-generative decisions are often gone back on in the face of comparatively much lesser evils. But a drawing of attention to something that is, for many people, the greatest evil of all is rarely if ever accepted as sufficient reason for going back on a pro-generative decision once this latter has been taken. It is clearly, then, not always the case that, the more grave and certain the evil is that can be expected to befall a new human being when action is taken such as to cause this human being’s existence to begin, the more willingly the action that brings about the beginning of his existence will be forgone. This we call the non-proportionality in revisions of pro-generative decisions. It fulfils the condition of an act “with malice aforethought”: the procreating parties implicitly accept and approve, among other things, the necessity of the death of a human being (their own child!) because this is the only way that they can come into possession of a child. 

Relief from Care About Never Having Been

It was not only of care and anxiety regarding death that Epicurus wished to relieve us but also of care and anxiety regarding never having been: “What evil would there have been for us in never having been created? Should one imagine that life stagnated in darkness and sorrow until there dawned the procreative origin of things? Each of us indeed, once born, will want to remain alive for so long as the flattering desire to do so holds him tight. But if one has never tasted of the love of life, and never counted among the number of the living, what hardship would it be to such a one never to have been created at all?” (Epicurus, On the Overcoming of Fear)

Epicurus’s relieving us of the care about never having been contains within itself an antinatalism: if there is no one for whom never beginning to exist could be any sort of disadvantage, must it not, then, be ethically imperative not to beget in the first place human beings whose fear of death would then subsequently need to be placated in the way that Epicurus tries to placate it?

Non-Compensatability of Suffering

Karlheinz Deschner formulates one of the key supporting pillars of antinatalism: “I would have been content if I did not exist, if I had never been born. The joys of life, all taken together, are not sufficient to counterbalance a single great sorrow. No, they do not counterbalance it, say what one may to the contrary, they do not counterbalance it; whoever contends that they do can never have experienced a great, a truly great sorrow. […] Man is an organization of despair.” (Die Nacht steht um mein Haus)

Asymmetry of Non-Existence

If we cast ourselves in imagination back before the beginning of our own existence, we enter the periods of pre-natal (or, more precisely, pre-foetal, since even the foetus forms a kind of  >Proto-Self) non-existence. And if we look forward far enough into the future, we find ourselves dealing with our own posthumous non-existence. No qualitative differences can be distinguished within the non-existence of an entity x. Non-being knows no nuance or gradation. This being the case, the mere reminder that we once were not – that is, of our prenatal non-existence – should be an effective way of relieving us of all worry about our inevitable eventual death: “you” will become merely what you once were: non-existent, nothing. Since my non-existence is nothing that concerns me myself (since, at the time at which it comes to effect anything, “I” will not be, as Epicurus teaches us) the more correct way of speaking would be: a world which existed, for billions of years, without me in it was succeeded, for a few decades, by a world with me, which world will then in its turn be succeeded by  a world which will go on existing, for more billions of years, without me. If there is nothing frightful in a prenatal non-existence which endured for many aeons (see, however, >the Fear of Having Never Been), why should there be anything frightful in an eternally enduring non-existence after death?

Lucretius attempted to justify, by reference to this absolutely equal value of prenatal and posthumous non-existence, an unconcernedness in the face of death. But this “consolation of philosophy” does not work; it remains a bitter medicine. Because what concerns us most of all is not the “me”-less world that precedes and succeeds the time of our existence but rather the fact of having to die: the fact that, in our dying, something beyond our comprehension will befall us. We have to do here with an event of which we assume that it cannot possibly be “practiced” in advance (although we do in fact, each time we fall into a dreamless sleep, anticipate death in its essence and  it is demonstrated to us, each time we reawaken from such a dreamless >Sleep, how “it” was not to have existed for a few hours at a time). The reason why we fear our impending non-existence more than we do the non-existence that lies behind us may well be rooted in the simple fact that, however much we reflect, we cannot rid ourselves of the idea that something will befall us at the end of our lives (that we will have to suffer through the actual process of dying) and that we will undergo something very unpleasant before the world becomes once again a “world without us”.

Whereas the reference to “going to sleep” is an impotent attempt at appeasement with regard to the actual process of dying, the following is an attempt to soothe our fears in respect of our impending non-existence: with our death it is being that becomes ontically “poorer”; we ourselves are not affected by it; likewise, with the beginning of our existence it was being that became ontically “richer”; we ourselves did not become richer or gain anything thereby. Death subtracts us from that remaining part of being to which we were added with the beginning of our existence. The beginning and end of our existence are things that befall not us ourselves but rather the being that surrounds and bears us. As embodied consciousnesses we fall over and over again into the “error” of seeing the beginning of our existence as a gift that was given to us and our death as a loss which befalls us ourselves. Being mind-endowed entities whose existence, nonetheless, rests firmly upon the persistence of our physical organisms, it is inevitable that we have, as it were, “a taste for being” and that we are subjected to the tyranny of the body (>Bionomic Principle). Where IT is and bionomically raises its claims, it is only with the greatest difficulty that I can assert myself and have my way. These observations throw a harsh, clear light on how justified is the description of >Suicide Cynicism for remarks of the kind: ‘whoever is not satisfied with life is free to send him- or herself- back into the condition they were in before they began to exist”.  


Friedrich Theodor Vischer (1807–1887)

These matters were also reflected upon by Friedrich Theodor Vischer in his book Auch Einer: eine Reisebekanntschaft, namely in the following way: “Whoever is made unhappy by the thought that, after his death, he will no longer be alive needs to be reminded of the demands of logical consistency. No one ever feels unhappy over the fact that it was only at a certain point that he began to live, that is to say, that before his birth he was not alive[1]; he should be no whit more unhappy, then, over the fact that he will at a certain point cease to live. Admittedly, one great difference exists here: in the meantime, the individual in question will have become accustomed to life – and life, as is well known, is a dish that is decidedly ‘more-ish’!” (Vischer, Auch Einer. On the asymmetry between our attitudes respectively to past and to future non-existence, see also Nagel, The View from Nowhere)

[1] Or rather, to speak more precisely: that before the beginning of his existence he was not alive.

The Wish Not to Be, Typology of

1. The wish never to have been (natally preventive): Mä phynai

1.1 Egoistic: Oh would that I had never been born – life is, for me, unbearable.

1.2 Altruistic: Forgive me for having been born – I am unbearable for others.

1.3 Altruistic symbolic self-renunciation: Had I never existed, then this non-existence might have been part and parcel of a different setting of history’s points: a setting of the points which might possibly have involved also the non-occurrence of history’s terrible genocides.

  1. Intermittent:

2.1 Hypnophilic: Sleep as an abolition of conscious existence (a temporary one, indeed, but one that is accorded by Nature every night and one that is striven for and willingly extended and savoured by those to whom it is accorded).  

2.2 Consumption of narcotics etc.: Striven-for shadowings of the self within a spectrum that stretches from mere dimming of our consciousness into the very antechamber of suicide (suicidal lifestyle).

  1. Risky

Voluntary practice of various types of extreme sport and semi-voluntary exercise of professions with high mortality rates.

  1. Deathwish

4.1. Wishful longing for one’s own natural death (passive death)

4.2. Suicide (active realization of the wish not to exist)[1]

[1] The basic idea for this schema comes from Guido Kohlbecher.

New Beginning

A central theme in “last man” novels and stories, which deal with the figures of “last human beings left alive” after a global catastrophe and in which the notion of a “new beginning” is often affirmed. This genre is problematical because it is based on the false assumption that such great catastrophes have the effect of a “species-catharsis”.

Neronic Principle

Against an unreflective procreation Kierkegaard offers the reflection: “… I would, all the same, recommend to no one that he believe that he could never become a Nero” (Kierkegaard, Either-Or, S. 477) This means: nobody who procreates should believe that he could never beget a Nero.

Permanence of Negativity

Shakespeare was of the view that the evil done by human beings tends to be more enduring than the good done by them: “The evil that men do lives after them, / The good is oft interred with their bones.” (Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesa)

Processing of Negativity

By “processing of negativity” we mean people’s – partially involuntary – inclination to reinterpret negative events or experiences into at the very least neutral and often even outright positive ones (see Shelley E. Taylor, The Mobilization-Minimization Hypothesis). When a human being comes to be there comes to be an entity that will look back on a childhood and youth that will appear increasingly wonderful the older the human being in question gets. This is so because the human ego has succeeded in processing into positives all the negative aspects of its own biography. The fact that crises and sicknesses may have had to be undergone during these early years changes nothing in this regard. The more successful the processing of negativity, the greater the probability that the human being in question will procreate or urge others to engage in procreation.

Negativity Dementia

When someone speaks in favour, while being in full possession of his mental powers, of the bringing of a new human being into the world it may be assumed that this person is suffering from a serious condition of “negativity dementia”. Negativity dementia is a psychical mechanism which allows the Conditio in/humana to appear more bearable to us than it would be without this mechanism. Negative events, indeed, tend to mobilize an organism, in the first instance, to a greater degree than do positive ones; after the negative reaction, however, a mechanism sets in that dulls and mutes the negative experience or even erases it from the memory entirely. People tend to reinterpret negative events, retrospectively, into neutral or even into positive ones (see Shelley E. Taylor, The Mobilization-Minimization Hypothesis). – But this does nothing to alter the actual negativity of the events in question. There counts as an aspect of negativity dementia that phenomenon of “repression” which falls within the sphere of psychoanalysis.

Diversity of Negativity

Whoever contributes to a new human being’s beginning to exist is co-responsible for the existence of a being that lives in a world in which negative entities and events display a broader spectrum of variation than do positive ones – a being, in other words, whose repertoire of reactions corresponds to this greater diversity of the negative and who appears, therefore, better able, also conceptually, to represent negative things and occurrences than positive ones. When their children begin to talk this is always an occasion for the parents to celebrate. But these children become members of a community of language whose vocabulary for the description of corporeal pain is clearly a much subtler and more variegated one than that which describes the more pleasant bodily sensations (see Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman, Negativity Bias, p. 296–320, esp..p. 310f.) Already Wilhelm Wundt wrote, in his 1896 “Outline of Psychology”: “Clearly, language has created a far greater variety of names for negative affects than for positive, pleasurable ones. And in fact all observations suggest that it is probably the case that these negative, unpleasurable affects do indeed display a greater diversity in their typical manners of running their course, that is to say, they probably really are of a greater variety.”

Negative Contamination and Purification Through the Positive

Whoever acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist is responsible for the existence of this latter in a world where contamination through the negative greatly outweighs the possibility of purification through the positive. A drop of mineral oil will pollute some 600 litres of drinking water – but a drop of drinking water will not make the least bit more drinkable 600 litres of mineral oil. Many people would no longer want to touch a plate of food that they’d seen a spider or a cockroach run over – but adding a handful of tofu to a pile of cockroaches will not make this pile seem, to most people, any more edible. If a Hindu from a higher caste accidentally consumes a meal prepared by a lower-caste individual this can mean a diminishing of his status – but a lower-caste Hindu who happens to consume a meal prepared by a higher-caste one does not thereby find his status raised.

Negative Intentionality

Negative intentionality[1] takes the form of the willingness to accept as things that go without saying those negative and even inhumane consequences of progenerative decisions that might, with a certain degree of attentiveness or a minimal mental effort, have easily been foreseen.  Negative intentionality corresponds to the wish to ignore accessible knowledge and evidence and finally even to repress it. At least in our present Information Age such a great degree of negative intentionality must be mustered in order to form and carry out a progenerative decision that it is justifiable to speak of culpable action and thus of >Parental Guilt.

[1] On the concept of negative intentionality see Wolfgang Würger-Donitza: Grundlegung einer negativen Anthropologie. Vol 2. p. 186.