Thanatalistic Compensation Principle – Room for the Young

In the work of many writers, and specifically in that of Hans Jonas, we encounter – something that will surely surprise and shock many of those familiar with this author – a vulgarly Darwinistic and to all appearances extremely brutal “thanatalistic compensation principle”. “Now, just as it is clear,” writes Jonas, “that mortality tends to be balanced out by natality, natality acquires the latitude it needs through mortality. The dying of the old makes room for the young. […] Given that this is the situation, should we really attempt to extend the lives of the old still further by tinkering around with that biological clock of our mortality that has once been set by Nature – by attempting, as it were, to outwit Nature and thus to reduce still further the room for youth in our ageing society? I believe that the welfare of humanity bids us answer: ‘no!’” (Jonas, Philosophische Untersuchungen und metaphysische Vermutungen, S. 96)

This passage might indeed be described as “vulgarly Darwinistic” inasmuch as what counts here as the highest value is clearly not the wishes or the dignity of already-existing, ageing human beings but rather that principle, alien to all kindness and benevolence, of new generations pushing bionomically forward and demanding room for their existence, to which the older are summoned to cede and yield. It would surely have been more rational if Jonas had allowed space for asking why new generations should be pushing forward when there are already sufficient older people there whose wish it may be to grow still older.  

Jonas’s attempt to “balance out” mortality with natality comes to grief on the double Diktat of thanatalism: an involuntary having-to-die cannot be “balanced out” by any natality if for no other reason then certainly at least for the reason that it is not possible, except post festum, to acquire the consent to existence from any existing human being.

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