Fear of Dying, Fear of Death and the Catastrophe of Dying

If one really wishes to proceed to such precise differentiation, “fear of death” needs to be distinguished from “fear of dying”. The former is the fear of no longer “being there” in the future; the latter is the fear of the event or process of dying itself. “Fear of death” is really as devoid of foundation as is >Fear of Never Having Been. But we have good reason to be afraid of that event or process of dying to which we were condemned by those who brought about the beginning of our existence. As regards our own selves, we can contemplate our entry into death – the beginning of our non-being – with complete equanimity. We are quite justified, on the other hand, in being anxious with respect to the final years, months and weeks of our existence. The fear of this closing phase of our being, then, is by no means devoid of foundation. The authoress Ilse Aichinger rightly replied, when she was asked if she feared death:

“Everyone fears death. But really it’s not death that I’m afraid of, it’s dying. Because one cannot know what will occur there on the biological level, how strong a biological will to remain alive will break forth and what sort of terrible prolonged death-struggle will result therefrom.” (Ilse Aichinger, Es muss gar nichts bleiben)

Having to die and being allowed to live

In terms of the logic of argumentation, having to die is necessarily preponderant over being allowed to live. If a couple conceives a child then there is thenceforth someone there who will have one day to die. But if a couple conceives no child there is no one there of whom it might be said that they were not allowed to live.

If someone states that they find themselves unable to accept their own having-to-die, it is no valid retort to say to them: “But you wanted, after all, to exist, didn’t you?” Such a retort is invalid because, pre-existentially, there was in fact no one there who was striving or pushing to exist.

Having to die

Whoever laments the necessity of our dying should not be permitted to avoid talking about the non-necessity of our conceiving / having been conceived!

One’s own children’s having to die may, indeed, be an unwished-for consequence of progenerative decisions. But it is not an unforeseeable consequence but rather an already-known, because unavoidable, consequence of every act of procreation. Procreation itself, however, is avoidable.

The “Sunburn” Allegory

In an apartment-house courtyard bathed in the strong rays of the afternoon sun, four grown-ups are standing around playing ball with a small child of an age such that he is just about able to toddle but not yet to speak: “The sun is much too strong for you,” says one of the parents to the toddler. “If we don’t put some sun-cream on you, when you’re 80 you’ll die an agonizing death!” With these words the parent in question at once concedes a certain co-responsibility for the welfare, or otherwise, of his or her child while at the same time drawing a veil over a more fundamental level of this responsibility: namely, the responsibility for this small child’s existing and for his having – like almost all human beings – with great probability to die an agonizing death.

Spielhagen’s “Never Having Been Born” Dictum

“That no human being has ever yet seen the light of day for whom some hour did not come in which he wished that he had not been born.” [1] This dictum of Friedrich Spielhagen’s (1829-1911) makes clear the extent to which every procreation is an imposition and touches upon the >Parent Taboo. One might be tempted to dismiss Spielhagen’s dictum with the contention that it expresses just the mood of a passing moment. – But this is to forget that such a wish never to have been born may be the culminating point of some despair of much longer duration. Alternatively, one might take the attitude that “once in a while, in a long life, one is bound to feel that way” – an attitude, in our view, which lies at the root of nativistic >Ruthlessness.

[1] Friedrich Spielhagen, Problematische Naturen. Zweite Abteilung (Durch Nacht zum Licht)

Scandal of Existence / Existentialism

No one has ever resisted the beginning of his own existence; indeed, it is impossible to imagine how such a thing would be possible. It is only possible to wish that one had never been once it is too late for the wish to come true. But a certain metaphysical scandal inheres, nonetheless, in the existence of every human being: namely, in the fact that he did not begin to exist autonomously. With the rise of Existentialism there emerges a philosophical tendency which attempts to draw our attention fraudulently away from this scandal inherent in our own existence by declaring the individual to be essentially a product of his own freedom. But even >Sartre’s famous phrase “we are condemned to be free” faintly betrays the underlying truth that we did not choose our own existence: we are only unfreely free.  

In this regard Hans Blumenberg succeeds in bringing out the fact that “human self-experience of our own facticity shows that it is – or could be, indeed must be – a fundamental vexation to every one of us that he was never consulted in this most important matter of his own self-determination. Existentialism has tried to remedy this problem by declaring each individual to be the product of his own freedom. Existence (so it is claimed) means: to be causa sui ipsius. But what is being raised here to the status of a form of human dignity is, in reality, no more than a renunciation, a passive acceptance of the inevitable.” (Blumenberg, Ein mögliches Selbstverständnis) Existentialism, then, generates its notion of human dignity only by devious and illegitimate means. If one traces out the logic of Blumenberg’s argument, then it is seen that human dignity, instead of being something sacrosanct and inalienable, is rather undermined from the very start by reason alone of human existence’s always being heteronomously brought about. Without himself being an antinatalist, Blumenberg promotes with this argument a certain existential >Disobedience.


Someone who feels himself quite content to be condemned to travail and death, or who presents to others, as a kind of good fortune, a life which consists essentially of senseless travail, and who acts in such a way that new human beings come to begin such an existence.

Condemnation to Lingering Illness

Parents wish a long life for their children and tend to forget, when doing so, that whoever does not die young is usually condemned to experience the ageing, decay and incurable sickening of their own body and mind. All this is aggravated further by the >Shame of Old Age, the tormenting thought of having become a burden on others. Ageing, sickness and death are morally disposed of by naturalizing them (>Naturalization) and seeing in them that “inevitable course of things” which may, indeed, have been in part the cause of the conception of the individuals suffering these things.

Already the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (365–290) had deplored the fact that Man is condemned, already through his very begetting, to suffer through lingering weakness and illness in old age: “At the birth of a man suffering is born as well. Therefore, if a man attains a great age, he becomes thereby only dull and stupid and his long suffering does not die. O what a bitter thing is this!” (Zhuangzi, The True Book About the Southern Land of Blossoms)

>Forgetfulness of Ageing

Renunciation of the Self, Symbolic

Certain utterances only succeed in convincing if they are accompanied by a symbolic renunciation of the self. Utterances of this kind are: a. Would that Auschwitz had never happened (>Auschwitz-lessness Through Self-lessness); or b. I would give anything not to have to die (so as not to have to witness the dying of my spouse, my child, my friend or my life-partner).

Utterances of the type of a. require a different course of history, one in which one never, oneself, began to exist; utterances of the type of b. reject what is in fact an inalienable part of the Conditio in/humana. Some further examples of situations which require a symbolic renunciation of the self are:

Right of Accusation and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

A symbolic renunciation of the self is required in every case where a child wishes to bring an accusation against his parents by reason of their having been the ones who initiated an existence (namely, his own) which he feels to be intolerable and not reasonably to be expected to be tolerated by anyone. Doctors, judges and the parents themselves will give the accusing child to understand that excepting in that state which he now finds to be so disagreeable there is no other state in which he could possibly have existed and will put the question to him of whether he would prefer, then, that his existence had never been brought about at all. This enquiry, then, would indeed demand a symbolic renunciation of the self.

>Right of Complaint and Symbolic Self-Renunciation, >Claim to Empathy and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

Right of Complaint and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

Whoever undergoes profound suffering has not just “been unlucky” but is rather experiencing something structurally unavoidable. Someone who suffers and complains that this suffering is something completely undeserved by them is, where things are considered more closely, only justified in making such a complaint if they are prepared at the same time to declare that they would have preferred events in the world to have taken a course such that they themselves had never begun to exist. Since there can be no existence without experiences of suffering, any such complaint must involve a symbolic renunciation of one’s own existence whereby neither said experiences nor said existence itself would ever have come to pass. Instead, then, of simply complaining: “why did this misfortune, this loss, this sickness befall me?” one would need rather always to complain: “why was my existence brought about?” Against the background of the Conditio in-/humana a person complaining of their profound suffering can only be authentic in doing so if they arrive, through a symbolic renunciation of their own existence, at the conclusion that  >It would be better if they had never begun to exist.

>Paradox of Self-Excuse, >Proof of Self-Renunciation

Claim to Empathy and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

No one can bring it about that he himself, his own children, or indeed anyone else should never have come to be. Anyone, however, can imagine the never-having-come-to-be of himself, his children or any third party. The question thus arises: in what kind of a state would we ourselves, our children, or a third party need to find ourselves in order for us to be able to make use of this capacity for existential abstraction in such a way that we might wish that we ourselves, our children, or some third party might never have begun to exist? This is the question regarding the neganthropic àLimit Value for ourselves, our children, third parties (or humanity as a whole).

Here, we need to expand this question regarding the neganthropic limit value by drawing into it a certain reflection relative to the ethics of empathy. Anyone who – being presently, for his own part, free of suffering – speaks for himself and, speaking purely theoretically, says that he would subscribe under no conceivable circumstances to the view that it would be better never to have lived, he thereby proclaims, on this level of reflection, his renunciation of all empathy or pity of which he might be the recipient. Because there surely count among these “conceivable circumstances” situations, for example, in which the person in question might find themselves grievously injured without access to pain medication or locked away for years in a cell without having done anything wrong. By having refused in his unafflicted state the symbolic-metaphysical option of having never existed and therefore having never suffered, he thereby also renounced any claim he might ever have made on others’ compassion. He set his pure existence above all else and considered it to be impossible that those same things might befall him which had caused countless others to cast a curse upon their existence.

Much the same applies in cases where parents informed about the genetic risks run by their genetically defective children-to-be express a preference for the existence of these children over a world in which they would never have come to exist; in contrast to the children in question themselves, these parents cannot, prima facie, hope for compassion; rather, they deserve the reproach that they are, as àPerpetrators of Existence, initiators of that suffering on the part of the children which, to their own benefit as people wishing to be parents, accepted, at the children’s expense, as “part of the deal”. Someone who, when completely personally intact, entirely refuses the notion of a symbolic self-renunciation, thereby renounces all claim on our compassion, much as that person renounces any such claim who commits himself beforehand to a refusal of all euthanasia, whatever the circumstances. He knowingly ignores the fact that his physical pain might one day become so terrible, and grow so far beyond any medical power to mitigate it, that he himself might plead for that assisted suicide which he refuses, today, to accord to anyone the right to demand.

The Imperative of “Having Suffered Oneself”

The imperative of “having suffered oneself” goes hand in hand with the “prohibition on universal empathy”. It denies the possibility that someone might really be able to suffer empathically along with the world’s great mass of suffering beings and, consequently, denies also the legitimacy of someone’s postulating, in view of these experiences of suffering allegedly necessarily strange to him, that these beings would better never have existed or that it would be best not to beget, in future, any new beings at all. The argument, in other words, is that, in order to pass judgment on existence, the judging party must himself have undergone all the suffering which appears to him to provide the reason for denying the goodness of said existence.  

This imperative of “having suffered oneself” is a cynical attempt – “cynical” inasmuch as it is clearly made with the intention of increasing suffering – to discredit that moral doctrine of antinatalism which aspires to forego later suffering.

Presumption of Self-Affirmation

Parents proceed on the presumption that their child will affirm his or her own existence once he or she is in a position to take up any stance toward this existence at all. But contrary to this presumption of a “parental metaphysics” one may not in fact interpret such an affirmation as evidence in support of the view that it was morally correct to act in such a way that another human being began to exist. Because all self-affirmation is in the first place bionomically dictated and occurs without any contribution from rational reflection. It is only once the begotten individual concerned has become capable of, and has actually conducted, an enlightened nativistic >Reflection upon him- or herself – that is to say, a reflection distanced from the spell of bionomic imperatives – that the question can even be discussed of whether it was morally right that the beginning of an existence was brought about.