Illusion of Contract, Nativistic

It is constitutive of contracts that there should exist a freedom not to conclude them. But this alone suffices to prove that there cannot be said to be any contract, bearing on our existence, between ourselves and those who initiate this existence. It is precisely this “contractlessness”, or distance from all contractuality, that constitutes the quasi-dictatorial aspect of every begetting. Thus, Hans Blumenberg notes that: “The metaphor of a contract has contributed, perhaps, most of all to rendering the obligations of human beings comprehensible and worthy of assent […] It was only one’s relation to one’s own existence, it appears, that was insusceptible of taking on the binding nature of a contract. Who existed had not assented to do so. It was impossible for him to have been asked about it.” (Blumenberg, Die Vollzähligkeit der Sterne) Notwithstanding all this, however, there was generally assumed to exist a certain unwritten contract whereby children were to be grateful to their parents for their existence and to repay these latter by behaving as good and reverent offspring.

Ironically, it is only at the point at which children attain their “majority” that parents are relieved of the legal obligation to see to these children’s welfare while it is only once the children have attained the age of (limited) “capacity to contract” that they come into a position to appeal to the law in order to dissolve, retroactively, the unwritten – and indeed un-writeable – intergenerational contract with the effect not, indeed, of rendering undone the beginning of their own existence but of giving, at least, their parents to understand that they (the children) had never consented to their begetting and would place, therefore, the demand upon these parents that the latter should indeed see to their (the children’s) welfare their whole life long. In short, this moral obligation for parents to provide for the welfare of the children they have begotten becomes something that the children are able to legally enforce only at the very point at which the children’s becoming “major” relieves the parents of this same obligation. 

If, then, the contractual character of the begetting of a human being is to be rescued, this is possible only, as Blumenberg shows, by recourse to the notion – a notion of Schopenhauerian inspiration – of a pre-individual blind will which nonetheless individualizes itself in and through the act of begetting new life or, in other words, by recourse to the notion of an àInfinitesimal I-ness: “It was only when Schopenhauer turned ‘Will’ into a metaphysical First Principle and the conceptive act of two humans making love into the execution of this First Principle that the generandum of the nasciturus became, with its ‘will to live’, the agency by which the ‘agreement’ binding the two parties in the act of conception was established. Fundamentally, they were both one and the same contractual party, each of whom concurred in the decision of the other to enter into existence. This presupposes that one may impute to the “becoming party” – or rather to that party that is just beginning its process of becoming – a having agreed to all those obligations involved in and implied by life.  More or less in the sense of accepting, indeed even of cultivating, both itself and the cosmic conditions of its own existence.” (ibid.) – This metaphysical rescuing of the contractual nature of our existence is, indeed, a fine construction. If it were meant seriously, however, it would founder, already in the first instance, on the fact that the will evoked here is a blind one,  a detail which gives rise to the further question of how such a will could possibly be “godfather” at the begetting of a specific individual. Nevertheless, this remains, for Blumenberg, “the only way in which it is possible to conceive that a human being ‘owes’ the world something. Because the other view, namely that it is the will of a providential deity, before whom all those must abase themselves who live by virtue of this deity’s power and strength, displays all the characteristics of absolutism: retroactive submission to the inevitable, heteronomous capitulation before the verdict that one is not one’s own master.” (l.c.) To adopt Blumenberg’s own vocabulary: the fact that we are “kicked into existence”, through the choice and action of others, rather than stepping into existence ourselves is to be understood as an “absolutism of reality”, as an imposition vis-à-vis a subject that would, then, be no more than apparently autonomous. Metaphors such as “the light of the world” and mythologemes such as that of the “pre-existing I” are intended to make this imposition something that human beings can live with.

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