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…)

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