Project of Negative Ethics

This is an English translation of Julio Cabrera’s Projeto de Ética Negativa (1989). At the moment, I lack the mood to finish this translation. To access the original version in Portuguese, click here.
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“Killing someone and giving birth to someone are two violent actions through which, magically, man tries to put himself in God’s place. The victim of a murder is always helpless, but never as helpless as the victim of a birth. Childbirth has as much innocent blood as a homicide. If procreation is a free choice, then life is the fundamental useless pain”. Back cover of the book


Preface ………. 7
I.   Paternity and abstention ………. 17
II.  Suicide ………. 33
III. Small murders ………. 51
IV.  Concealment of non-being. Illusion and survival ………. 69
V.   Ethical discourse and indeterminacy ………. 85
VI.  Philosophy and the paradoxes of knowledge ………. 99


Many philosophers already had the profound intuition of the inexpressible character of ethics, and their option was not to write any ethics. Descartes, Sartre and Wittgenstein are, I believe, good historical examples of this attitude. Although I agree with them in the thought of the impossibility of ethics, I believe it is necessary to give content to this refusal, that is, to develop not an ethic, but a discourse that clarifies that impossibility. The present “Project” walks on this path. Nor does it offer an ethic, but talks about why it can not offer one and could not offer one. (And, a fortiori, talks about the intuitions of these other philosophers in regard to ethics as an impossible discourse). The word “Project” could induce to the temptation to think about a future ethic, but the content of the book shows unequivocally that such project could never be an ethic, nor “positive” nor “negative”. But, at the same time, the text shows equally that — while we maintain ourselves in life — we can not fail to put this type of project.

Descartes never overcame the level of a “provisional” morality, Kant saw himself forced to duplicate the worlds to make ethics possible in one of them, Spinoza to identify ethics with the world, Wittgenstein to situate it linguistically in the unspeakable mystique and Sartre to postpone it indefinitely and to wish his ethical writings to be published only after his death. Why has ethics been so uncomfortable for philosophers capable of showing their “competence” in other areas of reflection? It is necessary to develop a discourse that explains why ethics has become an irritating and inapprehensible discourse rather than simply omitting it in one’s work without further explanation.

In order to provide the content of this refusal, the ethical substance that is necessary to be mobilized precisely in order not to construct a system of ethics, and to show the very impossibility of such affirmative project, I carefully chose, in this text, those “places” that seem to me to be absolutely unavoidable in order to put critical and radical reflection into an intense activity, and at the same time those are the thematic points that have been systematically avoided by traditional philosophical thought. These “places” of ethical reflection are, in particular, parenthood, the generation of children, suicide, homicide, and slavery. The whole of traditional ethics begins with the following question: “How should I live?” This question continues with a second question: “What kind of parent should I be?” These questions answer the fundamental question of human life, understood as my life, in the first place, and as the life that I can generate, in the second place. It is very important to formulate the question of life in this way, since usually, when one poses the question of the value of life (for example, Camus in his literary-philosophical work The Myth of Sisyphus), only the value of my life is discussed, the problem of suicide etc., and not the other inevitable “half” of the problem, the problem of the life whose possibility is me, procreation, abstention, etc. Now, a fundamental conviction of this “Project” is that traditional ethical reflection begins too late if it starts with these two questions mentioned. These two questions are uncritically assumed to be answered by the affirmative two much more radical, and philosophically prior questions, that a profound ethical reflection should first face: “Should I live?” And, secondly, “Should I be a father?” The questions of whether I should live and whether I should be a father, that is, whether these two intentionalities are moral or not — in the same sense in which this is asked of any later intentionality, already within life – are the first ethical questions that must be debated and for which answers must be found. To consider them answered means to do what the ethical tradition has done: to leave half of the moral problem out of philosophical reflection. (It is almost grotesque to see how great thinkers — Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel — who are so audacious in regard to other questions of thought, pass swiftly and stealthily through these burning questions, speaking of them only by systematic obligation and making comments of unfortunate superficiality.)

The fundamental critical thesis of the book is the following: that if the existing moral values, as conveyed by the moral systems of tradition, are displaced from the plane of the questions “How should I live?” and “What kind of parent should I be?” to the plane of the more primitive questions “Should I live?” and “Should I be a father?”, that is, displaced into a more radical reflective plane, the system of these values becomes inevitably inconsistent. For this system of moral values to be maintained, it is necessary not to radicalize it, that is, not to subject it to fundamental critical philosophical reflection. This system, in other words, lives only from the superficiality of traditional philosophical reflection. Ethics is perhaps the area in which we most clearly see the lie of the philosopher’s self-image as the “seeker of truth”, because we could hardly understand such a quest for truth if we omit the philosophical consideration of the two radical issues mentioned above.

It is Nietzsche’s merit to have critically placed the problem of the relationship between life and truth and to have denounced the confusion between truth and what sustains, justifies, and legitimizes. However, the Nietzschean chant to life, the cry for the intensification of life to the detriment of “truth” etc., are simply Nietzsche’s choice, not a part of his scientific (specifically, psychological) results. In this “Project”, I accept the Nietzschean problematization of the relations between truth and life, but pointing to a different moral alternative from his, after learning about this problematization. In a certain manner, my way is the way of Christianity as it is understood by Nietzsche, that is, the path of fidelity to truth. But the way of truth, if it is really undertaken — and not only “proclaimed” in the apologetic discourse of the philosopher as a “seeker of truth” — must necessarily — so is the goal of my argument — lead to the non-being, in other words, to that which all traditional Christian morals explicitly reject. This is the fundamental inconsistency of this value system. I would say to Christians and moralists criticized by Nietzsche: if Nietzsche frightens you, then take your moral ideas to their last consequences, which will lead one to embrace a negative ethic, that is, an ethic in which truth will have absolute primacy over life. If Nietzsche frightens you, the non-being should not frighten you, since the non-being is the only thing that they have to face Nietzsche. If Christians want to continue living, they should be Nietzscheans. In this book, I close a door that Nietzsche left ajar. In this sense, my “Project” can be read as a small epilogue to Nietzsche’s critical work. I am an attentive reader of Nietzsche, one of whom he addressed when he spoke of the men of the twentieth-century , assuming his own “untimeliness”. In this sense, my book is also the most violently anti-Nietzschean book, possibly the only authentically Christian book ever written. From the horror that this text is able to inspire, Nietzsche’s texts will become pure honey for the moralist, and between the two dangers he will choose the “minor” one: better to become Nietzschean than to be dead. Moralists want to build an ethic and, at the same time, save life, and that will be what my “Project” will prove to be impossible. Nietzsche, on the contrary, offers them the possibility of living… but for this we must bury morality!

The first two chapters — “Paternity and Abstention” and “Suicide” — decisively face the two fundamental “topoi” to think about the moral values prevailing in its radicality. The moral indecisions of the Divine Father, faced with the possibility of creating the world, are paralleled with those of the human parents when faced with the possibility of procreation. Leibniz provides in this context some interesting lines of thought. The mechanisms by which men believe themselves to be, and the ontological response to this illusion, which I call “the revenge of the non-being”, are studied. Paternity is fundamentally problematized as a “fixed place” of morality, and in both chapters it is attempted to argue in the sense of a morality of non-being. In the case of suicide, some philosophical sources are indicated and the mechanisms of radical rejection of suicide are analyzed, in the current social structure, from the medical, legal and religious points of view. Some linguistic perplexities are also analyzed, such as the curious string of words “to have the right to life”, and the plausibility of characterizing humans beings as non-suicidal, or as “survivors”. The third chapter deals with the issue of the suppression of life, through murder, and some disturbing structural identities are shown between the moral situation of procreation and that of homicide, since in both cases, one seeks the possibility of being through a modification in the ontology of the world, in one case generating a being, and in the other suppressing a being. Traditional morality cuts down this situation by half, morally legitimizing one of them and condemning the other. At the end of this chapter, a “place” of ethical reflection, the master/slave relationship, is summoned as an attempt to not physically suppress a being, but to suppress it as will. The master/slave relationship is seen as a privileged point to philosophically dismantle the consecrated moral category of “human dignity”. Chapter 4 shows how in the current structure of society, including the philosophy it develops, a systematic concealment of everything that has been elucidated in the first three chapters is practiced. This concealment takes place through social-historical categories in the form of building a certain controllable moral hell. In this context, the usual moral condemnations against Hitler function as symptoms. It is attempted to show that these moral condemnations should consistently condemn much more than they actually condemn. The relations between negative ethics and social transformation are considered, showing the essentially subversive nature of the negative. The concealment in consecrated social uses is also considered, for example, before the dead, and some relations between the negative and temporality. Chapter 5 strongly criticizes the habitual conviction, in traditional ethics, of moral values — and, consequently, immorality — having a certain “fixed place”. In the implicit and never thematized bases of traditional moralistic ethics, it is uncritically and superficially supposed — from the point of view of psychological and philosophical analysis — “places” of morality (procreation, paternity, family, equality, property, freedom, indefinite continuation of life, heterosexuality, dignity, etc.) and places of immorality (abstinence, suicide, homosexuality, prostitution, theft, homicide etc.). It is attempted to show ethicality (an ethicality not guided by moralism) as fundamentally out of place and indeterminate, permanently subject to critical and unmasking analysis. Ethical discourse is discovered as legitimizing these “fixed places” and not at all as a “search for truth”, and it is displayed as an inevitably “subjective” discourse, sustaining the very philosopher who constitutes it as a discourse. Finally, in chapter 6, a dialectic of the duality of knowing/ignoring is practiced, setting the very limits of what the philosopher is able to say about ethical issues. Ethics would be a field in which it is not possible to be just a “specialist” (though our academic milieu actually generates them), a setting in which the intellectual is on an equal footing with the delinquent. They are, without a doubt, the most Wittgensteinian reflections of the whole book.

The standards of “academic seriousness” are currently strongly linked to the “scientific” nature of philosophical work. However, the very substance of what is treated here prohibits ab initio the constraints of a” scientific” treatment of it. A system of ethics could be “scientifically” constructed with only the necessary conceptual bricks, the basic definitions, technical prowess, patience, influential friends, time and money. This “Project” does not talk about the impossibility to construct such a system of which the philosophers mentioned before have spoken about, but of a radical impossibility. It might be said that when we succeed in constructing a system of ethics, we sacrifice the ethics which Descartes could not make definite, which forced Kant to construct the intelligible, to which Wittgenstein could not figure through his theory of linguistic representation, to which Sartre could not understand through his phenomenological ontology. A radical reflection on these sacrifices of the scientific system of ethics can not itself be “scientific”. It can be as objective, strict, and accurate as the critical suspension of the scientific allows. On the other hand, an ethical reflection can not be “subjective”, in the sense of our Textos de Filosofia Subjetiva – written in collaboration with Robson Reis, and in the sense exposed in some chapters of the present work. It is one of its objectives to seriously problematize the relations between subjective and objective, philosophical and psychological, truthful content and existential force, in the context of the discussion of ethical problems, showing how anguish, disease, maladjustment, and finally, the pathic sensitivity which we grasp the world, maintain complex relations with the truthful contents of what is sustained through a set of statements. Such problematized relationality will not be an “irrationalism” at all. Objectivity has subjective conditions of possibility. Not every argumentum ad hominem is necessarily an ad hominem fallacy. The problems analyzed in the “Project”, especially those related to parent/child relationships, the issue of abstention, suicide, etc., are not at all “subjective” in the trivial sense of being valid only for the author of the book. Surely the human relationships lived by the author of a book of this nature are important presuppositions to be able to visualize relations that could not be visualized without them. And this does not imply that what is visualized is not “objective”, not in the sense of being universal, but in the sense of being a valid way of understanding these issues, beyond the limits of the author of the analysis itself. In this sense, the only thing that can be refuted of an ethic is only its pretension of universality, not its validity, understood in this sense. A way of life can not, of course, be refuted.

For the critical reader it should be superfluous to say, at this moment, that this “Project” is not a “nihilistic” or “pessimistic” book. Notwithstanding this, both the contents and the methodology of the work will undoubtedly be profoundly aggressive to the “Academy”. Its style is also divergent, although today one can speak of an aphoristic tradition in the exposition of philosophical ideas, of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, until Wittgenstein and Adorno, passing through Kierkegaard. Nonetheless, the longing for the traditional philosophical treatise is still strong in academic circles. Not all of the content of this “Project” is strictly argumentative, sometimes I was only able to put into words the fundamental intuitions. At other times, it is a certain literary presentation that ends up predominating, an expression that impresses more by emphasis than by content. On the other hand, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Sartre and Wittgenstein were summoned here for reasons of friendship. I did not try to “interpret” them. I had love-hate relationships with them, that is to say, relationships of friendship. The reading of their works profoundly influenced this text, and that is precisely why they are rarely mentioned in it, and never mentioned academically. The book intends, laterally, to propose a reflection about the treatment of authors, a contribution to a psychoanalysis of citation, of the obligation to make the authors read “graphically present” in the text itself, as if this “presence” was not sufficiently marked in the reflection itself. I would like to have made such an intense reading of those authors that it would enable me to transform it into an omitted reading in my own writing.

It is also necessary to understand the need for a certain expressive forcefulness, which may be brutal for those accustomed to the moralistic monotony with which ethical questions are usually dealt with. This forcefulness is motivated by the profound immorality (in the actual sense) of the usual affirmative discourse in the most basic questions of human life. Any attenuation of style could give way to a false negotiation. The negative must, in the current philosophical context, be defended with the same violence with which it is now condemned and omitted. Only when these critical elements are rationally recognized by the current social structure, without irritation, can we afford to recover expository sobriety.

The “Project” develops some ideas already present in Textos de Filosofia Subjetiva, especially the last part, “Acerca da possibilidade da negação radical da vida”, and literarily in the narratives Nuevos Viajes de Gulliver e La oficina de Informes, which for non-purely linguistic reasons, will be published in Argentina. The text of the “Project” was written between 1984 and 1987 in Córdoba (Argentina), Santa Maria (Brazil) and Marseille (France). It owes much more than I can express here to Robson Reis’ reflections on all the issues debated in the book, and many others here omitted, being only a literal truth to say that the “Project” is the authorship of both, not in the trivial sense of him agreeing with the outcome of the ideas presented here, but in the sense that the philosophical developments made here have also been made by him.

I have also discussed these issues with my friends Edson Medeiros and Josmar Borges, as well as with Armindo Longhi, Ana Miriam Wuensch, and others, within the group of studies of Psychoanalysis directed by Maria Luiza Kahl, in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, between the years 84 and 86. I owe to Lavinia Schüler scientific informations of value related to certain ethical statements contained in this book. This section of special thanks could not be bothered with only intellectual recognitions: I owe the obscure inhabitants of the Brazilian streets, especially the ones considered by society as “marginalized” of ethics, the possibility of having acquired a more philosophical view of moral issues through interactions, helping me reread some books with a new intelligence, as a titular professor of ethics could never have been motivated to.

Julio Cabrera


1. Throughout the entire history of philosophy, ethics has been the ethics of being, the basic moral imperative has always been “you should live”, and all the rest is a justification of this imperative. Ethics were always apologetic, beyond their own theoretical options. No philosopher faced the possibility of a morality of non-being, that is, the ethical consequences stemming from a radical rejection of being. This Project aims to initiate a conversation about an ethic of non-being, or a negative ethic.

2. That being is “better” than nothingness is the Grundsatz of all western morality. Being is never considered as a choice among others.

3. Man not only contemplates being, but lives it. The problem of being is, to him, the problem of life. A traditional ethic would be possible if man could not live the being, but simply contemplate it.

4. When man asks himself about the possibility of non-being, he already is. Therefore, the issue of non-being adopts to him, while already living the being, two configurations, which I will here name suicide and abstention. The ethical issue of the existing life is different from the ethical issue of the life that does not yet exist. The traditional ethic has been constructed as if life were something compulsive, never facing the possibility of it being a choice. The traditional ethic has been an intelectual justification of that compulsion. Ethics never addressed the compulsive anguish that led it to self-build itself. Because being is, to man, life, that he never managed the strength to even put to himself the question of a negative ethic.

5. The huge philosophical “risk” is: that if there is a morality of non-being, to live can be seen as the maximum immorality, precisely in the same sense as defined by affirmative ethics.

6. It is curious the fact that men, in the act of living the being, have considered abstention (not generating new life) so absurd and out of place as suicide (eliminating my own life). It would be understandable that men feared the romantic morbidity of suicide, without fearing the sober recuse of procreation. To be a child may be considered to be a destiny of some sort, but why would it apply to being a father too? Life – both the actual and possible – was always considered a duty, and the fundamental duty of all our morality.

7. The issue of the “moral obligation to be a father” has been put in the plane of theodicies: what would be the ethic of the creation of a world by God? Why did God have to create a world, knowing that it would be an imperfect world? My hypothesis is: because a divine ethic is profoundly affirmative. If he didn’t create an imperfect world, he wouldn’t create anything, and this nothingness is what an affirmative ethic – human or divine – is not in conditions of facing. Leibniz concerns himself, in his role of a lawyer in defense of God, of leaving him free of any blame, showing that this is, despite everything, the best of all possible worlds. Whatever! But Leibniz had to show, besides that, that this world is better than not creating absolutely any world. And this is demonstrable in exclusively affirmative categories.

8. What Leibniz demonstrates is that either this imperfect world was created, or nothing else could be created. Why did God not face this second alternative as a serious one, from the moral point of view? Couldn’t it be ethically good to abstain, to not create? Why create a necessarily (not circumstantially) imperfect world, to then construct all the moral paraphernalia?

9. When we ask ourselves about the moral value of life, this is also a question about the life that we are potentially capable of creating. In this case, we possess a possibility of abstention that we don’t have in the case of our own life. It was said by many philosophers (Schopenhauer, Adorno) that men are capable of bearing the pains considered to be inevitable much better, while they suffer more intensely from the gratuitous pains, that is, those that could have been avoided. But this assertion is never put in the radical level, applying to the intra-wordly sufferings (concentration camps, drugs, etc.) but never to the very suffering of living, that which the child complains after being born, that which suffers from neurosis. In fact, applying this assertion radically, all men, while children, should consider intolerable the pains and sufferings of their lives, given that they could have been avoided through an act of abstention by other people. In this sense, all suffering is useless. This conclusion can only be negated if life is considered intrinsically moral, as affirmative ethics argue. But in this case, the ethical reflection begins halfway, through a completely diminished philosophical reflection in its reflective strength. Not having children doesn’t indicate an act of morality towards them? Not creating any world, wouldn’t show a certain type of divine love? And, on the contrary, creating worlds, having children, couldn’t indicate an immorality, in the same sense defined by affirmative ethics, by the ethics of being?

10. The “problem of life” arises only when life doesn’t work. The issues of theodicy only appear with the issue of “evil”, when we begin to think that the creation of the world was a huge mistake. If in the world there were no suffering, we would have never asked about its creator, we would have never sought him to require explanations.

11. There can be logical reasons to create this world and not that other world, but there can’t be any logical reason to create, in general, a world.

12. God even replies the suing from the “evils” of the world, and the fatal option for being creates, ipso facto, the kingdom of morality. The entire paraphernalia of perditions and salvations will have to follow from the anxious creation of an imperfect world, or, to say it better, the imperfect creation of a any world. Why would the creature not prefer to not suffer in absolute, instead of it being offered afterwards the possibility to “save itself” from suffering?

13. Our life is something that cannot work, precisely because to be a child is a destiny. If we didn’t have parents (radically, not in the sense of the orphan. The orphan has parents, in a radical sense), our life would work. Parents habitually present to their children arguments similar to those presented by God to its creatures: “life is suffering, but I will try to give you the best of possible lives”. But if the imperfection was structurally foreseen, not depending on circumstances, the safest way to get rid of it is, certainly, the non-living, not the “living the best life possible”.

14. The non-functioning of our life, that non-functioning that constitutes it, does not come from the fact that our parents made us this or that manner, there or here, today or tomorrow, but – purely and simply – from the fact that they made us. But in traditional ethics, being is stronger than imperfection. Both the christian God, that “loves the being”, as the God of Spinoza, from which being emanates necessarily, make it that being finally wins the “fight against the non-being”. In any case, nothingness has no chance. However, there is a vengeance of the non-being. Every being created is “full” of it, and men have never been able to live this being from which we “choose”. When we get ready to live the life that was given to us, we only manage to live the non-being that was hidden from us. Not being able to be, the non-being “appropriates” the being, and from that consists its vengeance.

15. Morality is born in conjunction with the world, intimately bound to the fundamental choice of being. If we accept the creation of a world as necessary, it should also be accepted as necessary the creation of a morality. If morality is not necessary, then the world is also not necessary.

16. In this point, it’s very important to insist that the ethical problem of being is radically different in the case of a life that already exists, and the case of the merely possible life. For the moral paraphernalia can have meaning to me, since I am fatally in the world, the meaning of an inevitable survival (leaving aside at this moment the issue of suicide, which will be analyzed in the second chapter). But it can never have the same meaning to that which I will potentially be able to create. All the moral creations – freedom, responsibility, dignity, salvation, blame, coherency etc. etc. – are useful and meaningful to whom is already alive, to whom has ahead of them the not chosen task of dying, but they are completely innocuous to whom is not here, to whom whose possibility of life lies in me. The moral consideration towards that possible life should be something completely different. It can only be hypocritical to construct a morality to us, men who already who exist, however it will be simply absurd to construct it for that which does not exist (It can be immoral to construct morality to whom is not).

17. Given the contingency of our birth, all pain is useless. The useless pain is unbearable. Ergo, to have been born is unbearable. In this sense, being born is immoral. To be born carries a moral weight, a problematization: it is not, as affirmative ethics usually thinks, a pure fact, without stains, out of any suspect. Affirmative ethics are willing to sustain the immorality of the totality of the world solely and exclusively to save the morality of its origin. Negative ethics suggests the opposite, the rescue of the morality of the world after the discovery of the immorality of its origin (and the very problem of theodicies inverts: how is the innocence of the world and divine wickedness compatible?).

18. The father knows that the being can not be lived by the child, and this puts an initial moral situation between the two. When theologians ask themselves about how the “evils” of the world are compatible with divine goodness, they only visualize phenomena such as crimes, wars, diseases, etc. But these are not the “evils” capable of immoralizing the decision to be a father, it is perfectly possible that a life won’t be affected by these “calamities”. The fundamental “evil”– if we express ourselves in habitual moralist terms – is the absence of being. But from where comes the idea that the absence of being must be read morally? In the theological plane, we possess a reference to an absolute perfection, but not in the strictly ethical plane. It seems to me that the evil, from the strictly ethical point of view, should connect itself with the suffering, the decay, with living the death. The pain is connected with impotence, and impotence cannot be lived positively.

19. What is shocking and imprecise about the very idea of “evil” is that the traditional ethic supposes imperfection as a type of exception, and promotes the idea of a “redemption”, of a “salvation”, of an avoidance of “evil” through a certain “process”. The really theological idea is not the idea of “evil”– while we understand it connected to suffering, pain and impotence – but the idea of evil as an “exception”, as being to be eliminated in a stage posterior to redemption.

20. Suffering is something that should be, purely and simply, connected to “being”. Something cannot be “put into operation” without pain. Thus, pain is not a curse, nor a punishment, nor an anomaly, nor a maladjustment, nor a deviation, but the conditio sine qua non of being. The option of being is necessarily the option to suffering. Affirmative ethics, insofar as they respect the value of coherency, should not proclaim as their concern the elimination of pain.

Disease usually appears equally as exceptional, inside a pretentious “state of health”. The difficulty to measure health is in the fact that the majority of existing indicators are negative, that is, to serve to ponder the absence of health. The good health, contrarily, can be seen as an accidental anomaly, not as an intrinsic attribute, and even less, as a “right” of the human species. In the face of disease, what we habitually call “life” is a survival “to resist”, “to maintain oneself”, “to take foward”, “to prolong”, “to pull foward”. The fundamental ethical issue consists in that, as potential generators of a life of another human being, we can not make predictions about how will be the mechanisms of survival of the being who is born, his sensitivity before the structural pain. We have no moral right in making a standardized prediction about this sensitivity. The sinister happiness (sinister and superficial) with which our society receives pregnancy and birth, must necessarily face itself with the actual ethical categories, if we are profound in our reflection.

21. Structural suffering can be understood in terms of “deterioration”, although we can understand the ecological problems caused by human intervention (and, therefore, avoidable), each one of us could be conceived as a problem of microecology, in the sense of each one of us being an ultimately depleting source of resources: our “life” is, necessarily, a self-devour, a consumption of natural reserves. To the wild joy of spending, the terror of lack will fatally come, from the aging of sources. That which we utilize most intensely (our brain, our legs), and therefore, that around which we build our lives (our “happiness”, our “fulfillment”) will be precisely the principle of our destruction, the content of our death. Our food system, whatever it may be, will have ultimately been our form of poisoning. In a certain moment of this course, curing a disease will be, at the same time, intensifying or creating another disease. Habitually, when all this objective information is put in the ethical plane, our opponent replies, irritated: “but what good is it to describe that structural pain? We can’t do anything! We have to face this reality!”. And here it must be replied: “Yes, we can’t, but not whom is not yet. He is not condemned to this”. When a father promises to his child a happy life, what does he do with the objective information about the structure of pain? What he does with it won’t have any ethical significance? To the opponent’s question, it should be answered: “Why describe the fundamental pain? Due to a morbid anxiety? Absolutely! We should describe it to be more sober in procreation. To make our attitude towards life more subtle and more profound”.

22. The world is mortal too. Life in the planet is more or less in half of its path, going through its crisis of middle-age, let’s say. Fossils demonstrate that life began approximately 3 billion years ago. 4.000 million from now, the Sun will consume life, and over time, the planet. Useless suffering. But, in any case, the life of the world is only a moral problem to God.

23. A fundamental assumption of affirmative ethics is that suffering is better than nothingness.

24. Always keeping us inside the voluntarist philosophical scheme (God wants to create a world, man wants to create a child) it could be said (it has been said many times) that God creates the world by kindness, because although it is not necessary for him, he thinks it’s good that others enjoy the “good of being”. From where comes the idea that being is “good”? And that nothingness is “bad”? The world would be considered “good”, in the affirmative perspective, not in the sense of lacking imperfections – inevitable in any being created – but in the sense of enabling the exit out of nothingness. Nothingness is, in this perspective, the supreme bad, worse than any bad of the the world. Thus, what is good wouldn’t be the created world, but the fact that it was created. The moral “goodness” of the father comes, in affirmative ethics, from the fact of having saved the child from the gripe of non-being. But (revenge of the non-being) the fact of having been born does not take us away, really, from nothingness, but only puts us in a new bond with it. The only ontological difference between not being born and being born is that, in the first case, I “am” in non-being, and in the second I shall live it. What is habitually called “death” is only an inessential separation between two forms of non-being.

25. It is almost impossible to continue to maintain the voluntarist conception. The other conception that plays an important role in the theological discussion is the emanationist conception that considers creation as a necessity. This conception has completely different moral implications than the previous one. In this conception, the creator sees himself, in some way, compelled to create, to know himself, to “complete himself”, by a kind of “excess of being”. Here we have the philosophical advantage of drastically decreasing the importance of notions such as “good” or “bad”. God does not create the world because that is “good”, and should not, therefore, answer the sue by allowing the “bad”. He creates the world due to an intrisic necessity of his nature. God, in this case, does not create to run away from nothingness, and the consideration about the possibility of abstention does not appear. In this scheme, the moral responsibilities of generation decrease drastically.

26. In the mimicry of paternity, the human father imitates in part the divine father, in the sense that the “education” of the child must somehow be his “salvation”, his “going for the good way”. “Dependency” is a structure common to human and divine parenthood. The fact that my parents have unilaterally exercised their freedoms over my existence imprints on me an infinite dependence, whatever they empirically decide they will “allow me to do”. In the affirmative imagination, we feel that we “morally” owe something to our parents, that we have with them a kind of “debt”, though our parents are not ontologically able to “give us” absolutely nothing. The question: why give birth to me, to then pay the expenses of my salvation? Can not have an answer within the affirmative, negative categories are needed to respond to it. Once born, the outcome of the illusion will always be the same: the child will find no being to live for, because the structure of what is fundamentally “missing” is not only what constitutes evil in the world, but what constitutes the very “evil” of creating, in general, a world.

27. In the emanationist conception, the creator of the world needs his work to complete himself, to know himself, to realize his nature. Now, why should we consider a human being who refuses to procreate as “incomplete”? How could we base such “incompleteness”? At this point, social mediation must be done. In general, the bourgeoisie performs a creationist and voluntarist construction of life, while the miserable are closer to an emanationist organization (Leibniz, for the rich, Plotinus for the poor). Procreation has, among the poor, miserable and marginalized, a more gratuitous character than in the bourgeois organization of life. Something that interests the bourgeoisie enormously is a person’s “origins” (in speeches such as “well-born”, “from a good cradle”, etc.). This organization plays a role not only in the wealthy class, but also in the bourgeois imagery of the poor themselves. Thus, it is nevertheless aggressive for “human dignity”, as defined in the bourgeois world, to abandon a voluntarist conception in favor of an emanationist conception: the idea of ​​parental lack of freedom is not socially accepted, as is the associated ideas of the child as an “accident”, etc. Ethics in its bourgeois configuration does not just want the being to be. It wants more: that being is wanted voluntarily and freely. The emanationist conception, which could give so much theoretical relief to bourgeois ethics in its problems with theodicy, the justification of “evil”, etc, is paradoxically the conception that is most connected with non-bourgeois organizations of life and, therefore, undesirable for it.

28. If we could live life, instead of having to live death, if we really had a life to live, we would feel no need to conceive of ourselves as being “bad”. Neither would we, of course, be “good”. This is precisely the case with God. God is not an ethical person. Just as God is not part of the world, in the creationist posture, he can also can not be part of ethics as well (the invention of the world and the invention of ethics go together).

29. A man could have nothing to offer his possible child. This lack was already lived by the father himself, lived his death as his only possibility of “being”, despite the systematic concealment of the negative (see chapter 4 below). The child, – the birth of the child – is capable of renewing for the father the illusion of being, that illusion that gradually faded into the very death of his father. The father now lives the illusion that the being who “escaped” his fingers in his own lived death, can now seize it in the life of his child. He – the father – resists until the end to recognize the structural character of what is missing, and is stubborn in considering it a contingency. And indeed, there is a well-founded hope in this expectation, while the life of the child is life contemplated by the father, not lived life. Life only contemplated from the outside – as in the theater – offers the strong impression of an authentic and positively lived life. But this is the effect of the “spectator”. The lived life lets itself contemplate, but not live. The child is, in this sense, a kind of work of art, they are born so that the father can seize this being that can never be seized in the father’s own life. But it happens that, in doing so, the father condemns the child to also live the non-being: the calmly contemplated life from outside by the father is an ardently suffered life in the non-being by the child.

30. The search of a being that is not there, that can not be, that never was – that is, the systematic and wild concealment of the negative – can transform itself in a bloodthirsty obsession. My affirmative ontological objectives will not be achieved even if I put two hundred children in the world.

31. The suffering of being can not be confused with the avoidable empirical sufferings. No man can see himself free of the pure suffering of having to live his death, even when his life is free – by circumstantial reasons – of certain empirical sufferings. The father, from the ethical point of view, should assume that what he will “give” to the child is the structurally inevitable suffering, independently of “pleasant” or “unpleasant” moments. It is not about, of course, of practicing any vulgar arithmetic, to try to calculate if the pleasant moments will be “more” or “less” than the unpleasant ones. Even a “happy” and “pleasant” life is a pure non-being lived. To love or to hate the child, to be totally indifferent or to carefully accompany his formation – none of this even touches upon the fundamental issue, important as it may be to differentiate between these attitudes, from a sociological or empirical-psychological point of view: whatever is the attitude of the parent, the morality of his paternity will always and inevitably be in question.

32. Our social organization uncritically ensures the morality of paternity, and procreation is presented as a naturally positive value. On the contrary, any problematization of these values will be seen as demoniac. But the reflexive situation is perfectly clear: either we abandon the value of “avoidance of useless pain”, or we problematize the uncritical morality of procreation. If the moral reflection is to be rational, to search for the truth, etc, it has to face this alternative.

33. If procreating is a free choice, life is the fundamental useless pain.

34. If freedom, according to traditional morality itself, is a fundamental ethical value, the very basis of ethics, one must be aware that the creation of a child may be the first huge disrespect of the freedom of the human person. The issue of freedom suffers from the same problem as the issue of pain: it is an ethical value that the traditional affirmative ethic is unable to radicalize.

35. The revolt of the child against the father is structurally inevitable. To be a child consists in this revolt. The revolt happens in the moment when the child takes acute awareness of being the attempt of being of his father: this breaks the moral relations between fathers and children, these relations consist in this rupture, independent of, in the empirical commerce with the parents, the child getting along with them or not, being “understood” by them or not, etc. The child transforms the fictional being fabricated by the father in a non-being that they are capable of living by themselves: even if the very living is only a non-being, they prefer this than being positively, if this positive being works only inside the lived death of the father. It is in this moment that the father is aware of his second failure. In this sense, a child is, always, the second failure of the father.

36. Some theses – laterally supported by Schopenhauer, for example – on the incompatibility of paternity with philosophical reflection have been superficially rejected or turned into mockery. But the reflection here strongly nurtures such a thesis. Indeed, whatever critical and reflective level the father has achieved about the world, the child, his son, being in this very world that his father has often subjected to criticism, will be a pressing request for responses and attitudes on the part of the father. The child demands of his father a being of life. The construction of this being of life adopts, in the bourgeois constitution of life, the form of what is usually called an education. But it is impossible to convey an education through the radical negative. In this sense, education can only be affirmative, even when it is intended to be “critical”, “open”, “liberal”, etc. Bringing a child into the world is a signed document in which I force myself to drastically reduce the critical levels of my own reflection on life. Now, if philosophy is conceived as a radical critical reflection, the thesis of the incompatibility between philosophy and fatherhood begins to be better understood.

37. The child that is born enters into the illusion for they are death lived in the absolute manner. To grow up is to gradually walk away from death, live it increasingly, until, finally, die it. A child is the very incarnation of the uncritically accepted life. The child obligates the parents to reconstruct all the structures that their very living had problematized.

38. Shouldn’t the act of bringing someone into the world for them to survive produce a very strong sense of strangeness?

39. The “love for our children” only has authentic moral meaning while they are not here. After bringing them here, I lose all my right to talk about “love”: I can only rebuild love inside of violence.

40. In every way, after being born, our parents, for all purposes, are people like any other: they don’t carry any particular kind of intra-wordly “blame” in relation to our impossibility of being. We can’t live not because our mother has been very reprehensible, or because our father does not understand us, etc – those are only erratic and arbitrary contents that we put in our constitutive impossibility of living.

41. The institutions that hold power carry out a company of production and systematized reproduction of all kinds of objects, and life is the fundamental object in this company. The sinister “love” of governments for childhood is only the institutionalized interest of tomorrow’s producers. Although particulars, from singular persons, are usually lazy from the point of view of productivity, when it comes to life they are uniquely productive. To such a point, that the government itself criticizes this high and uncontrolled productivity of life… to try to maintain the productivity of life within the limits of the official program.

42. The mere reproduction of life, along the years, fatally culminates in a horrible feeling of failure. The mere reproduction of life connects with the vital mediocrity. Negative and creative men are constantly bothered by the social structure. It is preferred to bet ad infinitum in the merely quantitative, instead of promoting now a qualitative increase. Victims of the Cunning of the Drive, the reproductors are merely faced with products essentially the same as themselves, with no progress. The indiscriminate production of life can not provide any profound and durable satisfaction, not until it explodes the very limits of human life, to try to do something better, and not simply something more (why did Marxism make such a precise critique of the society of production, without ever thematizing the most alienated production of all, the production of life?).

43. To fulfill our lives of children, without this anxious despair of paternity. There can not be, under any hypothesis, any moral duty to produce more life.

44. In the arts, in literature, in cinema, etc, we are concerned with the the life of the protagonists. To us, spectators of the drama, the life of the characters is possible of being lived, and not simply died like our own life. The joy of the aesthetic can be understood as an encounter with a life that, finally, lets itself be lived! If we were characters, we could live. In the aesthetic fiction, morality finally has a place. Only in aesthetics is ethics possible.

45. No one can decide that I have a “right to life”, that “I deserve to live”. A right is something that I myself must obtain, conquer or claim. Life can only be accepted as a “right” (a singularly unintelligible idea, from the rational point of view) already within the usual affirmative assumptions. This alleged “right” is the radical and original concealment of the moral violence of my birth.

46. Many philosophers – Descartes, Sartre and others – thought that it was good not to have children, and also not to build any ethics. These two abstentions could be profoundly linked.


1. The moral condemnations of suicide — from Schopenhauer’s, who considers it an illusion, to Wittgenstein, who considers it “the ultimate moral sin” — are very strategic philosophical places to learn the mechanisms of constitution of affirmative ethics.

In the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant says that someone “comes to despair and feels boredom of life”, when wondering about the morality of suicide. For this he submits suicide to the universality test, that is, “if the maxim of your action could become a universal law”. Kant regards suicide, as a way of shortening a life of suffering and penury, as responding to a “self-love principle”. His answer to the test is negative, the maxim could not universalize itself without contradiction. The second condemnation, in the same text, is based on the idea that Humanity must always be an end in itself, and not a means to something else, a principle that suicides would disobey when using their own entity to obtain a certain empirical result (the cessation of certain woes). Not only is suicide morally condemned by virtue of these principles, but also any kind of mutilation of the body. (Suicide could be considered as the total mutilation).

The Kantian approach to suicide is extremely poor from the psychological point of view as is the entirety of his philosophy of life. “Despair” and “boredom” are very insufficient and little problematized motivations and in a thoughtful manner to explain the depth of the act of suicide. We can forgive Kant of this poorness, but we can not allow ourselves the right to be as pre-Freudian, pre-Nietzschean, and pre-Marxist as Kant. The original sin of philosophy when it comes to the issue of suicide consists in assuming a very general idealization of the motives and structure of the suicide act as if it were something simple and and of only one meaning. A negative ethic begins by respecting the complex nature of suicide. To say that the suicidal act responds to a “self-love principle” is at least superficial and problematic after the Freudian philosophy of the subject. (I do not consider Freud’s theories as “scientific” in this context, I consider them as philosophical as the Kantian theories). Even enriching the content of the suicidal act’s motives, Kant would end up systematically enclosing them under the label of “sensitive determinations”. The basic, philosophically uncritical idea, is that under no hypothesis can there be a rational Kantian motivation for suicide; it must always be empirical and therefore consistent with the assumptions of Kantian ethics, and not moral. Living, in the specific sense of non-suicide, becomes a moral imperative. This is the resource used for a radical condemnation of suicide.

2. The suspicion here is that “you should live” is a very basic imperative, even more basic than the elements that Kant uses to formulate it. Or, perhaps, something even worse than a principle: a sensitive determination contrary to those that the imperative would like to eliminate. How can one know that non-suicide is not determined by “despair”, by “boredom”, by “fear”, anyway, by the determinations that Kant poses as purely empirical motivations for wanting to commit suicide? What is striking here is certainly not the condemnation of suicide, but the fact that it is a radical and absolute condemnation. (Throughout the entire history of philosophy, the moralist has spoken of this subject unwillingly, dedicating only small chapters or portions of chapters of his works, which systematically lead him to radical condemnation. It is striking that this is treated as one of the most fundamental locus of moral reflection).

3. A prolonged life in its extension could hurt other principles accepted as moral by Kantian philosophy. Why exclude ab initio that suicide can fulfill moral values, in the same sense traditionally accepted in non-suicide? The drastic character of condemnation makes one think that the value of life must be saved in any way, that this is the previous imperative to all others, a kind of “super imperative” Why do the most profound philosophers of history become unbearably shallow when they approach – by obligation – the issue of suicide?

4. The problematic link between “rationality” and “universality”, in the sense of elucidating scopes of non-universalizable rationality, must be critically researched – against any current trend in contemporary German ethics. If we mean “rational” as a deliberation that is not only driven by immediate preferences, violent passions, petty personal interests or strategic mechanisms, but with a kind of operation that ponders, examines evenly, and ultimately seeks a choice that might eventually harm me, then why can not suicide ever be “rational”? We could come to a condemnation of suicide a posteriori, but why an a priori condemnation of all possible morality of suicide? But, on the other hand, one can come up with the idea of ​​suicide through completely rational considerations — without “disturbing” this rationality, but in its full exercise — without that rational decision carrying any pretension of universality, beyond the specific elements that motivated it rationally. Suicide is one of the reflexive places that help to think about a very important theoretical disintegration between rationality and universality. (Not, of course, the only one). What the rational suicide only does is open a reflective path that leads to self-suppression, along with other reflexive paths that lead to the preservation of life, without any of them signifying the abandonment of human rationality.

5. The moral duty Kantianly understood — whose ultimate basis is the super imperative “you should live” — could require me to live very badly, getting worse and worse, until I die. But (let’s not fool ourselves) this “suicide” has nothing to do with the negative as it is being thought here, since it is essentially linked to an uncritical commitment “in favor of being”. This could be called “the paradox of the affirmative”. Just as Kant justifies — in the mentioned work — amputating a limb to save life, in the last extreme it would justify amputating all life… to save life!

6. “And if everyone imitated the suicide, what would happen?” But here we are reflecting on morality, not on the survival of the species. The survival of the species is an empirical motive, in Kant’s sense. (What kind of “truth” is this that the philosopher seeks, that can never destroy him, that always leaves him “safe”? A truth that always leaves me safe does not appear as a kind of “truth on request” , tailored to my needs, like a costume?)


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