segunda-feira, 9 de maio de 2011



My initial methodological conviction in the field of ethics is that what we think about ethics concerning the others and ourselves, in terms of duties or happiness or the usually called “good life” must be based on a solid, realistic and crude study of the human situation in the world, without disguises or consolations.

For we should see whether the human being from whom we demand a morality, this human who has the obligation to try to be ethical with himself-herself and the others, is really in a position to do so, to perform the moral task. This should not be presupposed without analysis.

European philosophy, in general, especially after the defeat of Existentialism (one of the most resounding successes of the professional academy), prefers not to face the most troublesome issues related to our situation as humans. 

During my Argentinean thinking period (1965-1979), I never wrote a single line on these issues, dealing exclusively with logical and semantic problems. As a convinced analytic philosopher that I was then, it seemed to me that all these questions of life and death only deserved a literary treatment (which sometimes I tried in many short stories such as "The Information Post" and "New Gulliver's travels"). It was only in Brazil that I began to take these issues seriously and consider them as objects of careful philosophical analysis.

Throughout the eighties, I was writing what would later be the Projeto de Ética Negativa (Project of Negative Ethics), which was published in 1989 at São Paulo. I kept thinking about the relations between ethics and the human situation during the following years, improving my arguments and at times, coming to results that scared me, and even disgusted me a lot.

But I had decided to think beyond what a human thinker could withstand, ignoring my own limits and trying to develop the thoughts by their intrinsic value, in spite of psychological impacts on me and other people.   

In consequence of a very productive stay in Spain at the beginning of the nineties, in contact with Fernando Savater and Javier Muguerza, I published in 1996 Crítica de la Moral Afirmativa (Critique of affirmative morality). This book contains the argumentative development of the ideas exposed in aphoristic style in the Project of 1989, and was accompanied by some controversies with contemporary European philosophers (Habermas, Tugendhat, Hare). At that time I had more expectations than now of engaging in dialogue with European philosophers.

In the second edition of this book, of 2014, I added a discussion with David Benatar, who had not yet published his famous book of 2006 at the time of the first edition of my book.

There was always an initial methodological problem, at least in the Latin-American context, in the exposition of these ideas at that time, due to their very unpopular character; ideas about lack of value of human life, abstention from procreation and suicide as ethical possibility. The problem was this: if I formulated my thoughts seriously, I was considered morbid and crazy, but if I exposed them humouristically - as I did in many passages of the Project - the readers thought that not even I took them seriously.

The exposition had to run away from both the morbid and the humorous - and dark humor would not be a way out; something like a serious but witty and vivid exposition of the natal and mortal issues.

Telling the truth is just one of the things you can do with it. The truth may be hidden, disguised, trimmed, postponed, and also misrepresented; and among all these other things, truth can also be said and exposed. Philosophy has been traditionally defined as the searching for truth, assuming implicitly that it also carries an obligation to express it in words.

But these two things - truth and saying the truth - should not be identified. After discovering a truth, the philosopher should wait in order to ponder the sensibility of his/her audience and see what he/she may or may not do with the truth that was discovered. This was, therefore, the starting problem in the exposition of my ideas, especially in the nineties, when the antinatalist movement did not exist.

Getting into the heart of the matter: the traditional questions of ethics have been: "How can we live ethically?" ,“How should we live?” (in deontological ethics) and “how can we ethically be happy?” (in utilitarian, hedonistic and eudaemonistic ethics). The usual ethical theories were ethics of how, never ethics of what.

Their questions were not radical, because they assumed that to be moral and to live a human life should be naturally two compatible enterprises. The only problem was how to live ethically, but never to ask if we can live (and give life to others) and be ethical at the same time.

Usually a very basic value is attributed to life and living, without ever asking if living could not be a movement basically contrary to morality, if living - simply living, not living this or that way - does not carry a fundamental transgression of the minimal ethical demands.

As a result of a rigorous and previous analysis of the human situation and the value of life, one could come to the conclusion that it is not possible to live a human life virtuously or ethically happily.

I called “affirmative” all the ethical theories that assume without discussion a basic and obvious value of life, that can be perfectly lived in spite of difficulties and harships; that life can be lived ethically, even if it is difficult or arduous to find the right way to a moral life.

By contrast, I call “negative” one kind of ethics that initially opens the possibility of a mismatch between life and morality. A "negative ethics" is, at a first step, one that challenges the basic and obvious positive value of human life and demands a demonstration of the point.

In a second step, a "negative ethics" is one that demonstrates the lack of positive value of human life and assumes the consequences of this, concerning procreation and suicide among other issues, like abortion and heterocide.

What is meant by "ethics" in this initial stage of reflection cannot be anything too complicated or strongly committed to a particular ethical theory, but quite an elementary concept that could be accepted by any theory. I propose to speak of a “Fundamental Ethical Articulation” (FEA from now on) to refer to the following ideia: in our decisions and actions, we must take also into account the moral and sensible interests of the others and not only our own. This initial idea unfolds in two very basic ethical demands:  do not manipulate others, do not harm others.

We cannot imagine any ethical theory, whatever its trend and assumptions, which does not accept some version, stronger or weaker, of FEA. This is the basic idea that should be compared with our informations about the human situation in the world, in order to study its possible compatibility or incompatibility between the two. The fundamental question is therefore: “Can someone in the human situation be ethical in the minimal sense of FEA?”

The question of the value of a human life traditionally stands at least on two levels: sensible value and moral value. Sensible value is connected to pleasure and suffering; moral value refers to dignity and worth. Negative ethics tries to show that the human situation tends to block both types of value; in the human situation neither suffering nor unworthiness can be totally avoided, whatever the specific content of particular human lives.

Why does any human life, independent of specific contents, lack sensible and moral value? One way to access the answer to this question is, of course, death. But not just the factual death, as something that will happen to us at some place and time. This death can be seen only as the more immediate route of access towards something much more abstract than death, a structure that we can call mortality.

In more recent publications I formulate an even more abstract structure, "terminality", affecting not only humans, but only animals and things. Here I prefer to talk of "mortality of being".

It is crucial to distinguish between “punctual death” (PD) and “structural death” (SD) or “mortality”. I call this "the thanatic difference".

I understand PD as the event of our factual disappearance. I refer, for example, Jean-Paul Sartre's PD as having happened exactly on April 23 1980. PD opens the state of  “being dead” of someone, his-her ceased to exist.

However, PD is not an event that arises suddenly, but it is the result of a process, long or short, that begins with birth. I call SD or “mortality” to this process of  “dying”, in the sense of daily, constant and irreversible wearing, decaying and vacating spaces and times.

Unlike other datable events, death (PD) has one structural dimension, which is mortality (SD). Death is empirically datable, but at the same time, it is internally connected to the structure of being itself, to its very emerging, to the becoming of an intrinsically mortal mode of being.

Death is not just something that happens, but something that belongs to the very structure of being, not something that could happen or not happen within a human life. SD has to do with the constitutive mortality of being (and that's why negative ethics is from the very beginning connected to a negative ontology).

Therefore, what systematically provokes the lack of sensible and moral worth of a human life is not strictly death - this dated fact - but mortality, a structure that is obtained not at the moment of punctual death, but at birth. Mortality is therefore not identical to death, but to birth. To be born is to receive mortality, of which ponctual death is only the predicted consumation. Despite being so overwhelming for humans, death is the least surprising. Being born is unpredictable, dying never is.

Now the crucial question: can a life internally mortal, mortal from birth and not eventually, be considered sensibly and morally valuable, able to allow sensible well-being and moral dignity? Can a human being be happy or worth of happiness within the constitutive mortality of SD?

Many people doubt that death can be considered an evil, but this is said taking just PD into account. Indeed, a death that were only an external and eventual event to life would not be an evil. But a death that structurally belongs to our very being from birth can be considered as an evil. Not in a metaphysical sense, but in a perfeclty sensible one. An evil sensibly and morally suffered as a structural discomfort.

Many say that if death is considered bad, it is because "life" is good. But this ignores the "thanatic difference". A life that is structurally loaded with its own elimination and disappearance cannot be good. And if mortality is bad, then the life that carries mortality inside must be bad as well.

Life is bad in the double register of the sensible - generating suffering - and moral - generating disregard for others. What in negative ethics we call "moral impediment" is precisely this phenomenon: an intrinsically mortal being is not in a position to be considered with others, in the sense demanded by the FEA.

The lack of value of life cannot be shown in a purely empirical ways, because this approach cannot escape  from the usual symmetry: "There is everything in life, good things and bad things; some days it rains, others the sun shines". A better way is to consider the value of human life structurally, also considering SD, the mortality of being, and not just PD.

If we use this other dimension of death, it could not have any sense to say that “life is good, but dying is bad”, since death is inside living, not eventually but intrinsically. If death (in the sense of SD) is considered bad, then having emerged mortal should also be bad. Regretting having to die should be structurally identical to regretting being born, because it is not in our power being born in a non-mortal way.  

Negative ethics assumes the structural mortality of being and its sensitive and moral impact on human life. Having been born, the first moral imperative is not to procreate, in the sense of not putting anyone in the structural mortality of being. Secondly, to be disposed to die at any time, but an ethical death that benefits and does not harm others as much as possible; in this disposition for death we can have literal suicide but also dangerous political militancy and heroic actions (what I call indirect suicides).

Negative ethics tries to be the development of a life under the dominion of SD, the death of being born. The “Little Survival Guide”, in Part III of the "Critique of Affirmative Morality" defines a sort of a minimum morality of someone always prepared to die, and who, while alive, develops activities with full knowledge that nothing prevents him/her from ending life abruptly at any time (tonight if necessary). The negative person lives, therefore, with no affirmative expectations, trying to develop activities that do no harm others, at least no more damage than that damage that our death would cause them; and, of course, not killing anyone and not procreating.

The problem of the morality of procreation had been a classical topic of negative ethics along the years, at least since 1989, but my negative ethics is inserted in a more general philosophical reflection including ontological considerations. These ideas found their better expression in the book of 1996, where a great number of theses about the value of life, birth, procreation and ethics are discussed. More recently, my two books "Mal-estar e Moralidade" (Brazil, 2018) and "Discomfort and Moral Impediment" (England, 2019) present the sum of my ethical thinking. 

In the first part of the "Critique", “On the road for a morality of non-being”, I present some basic ideas about ontology concerning the relations between being and not-being, and the place of values in ontology. These ideas are developed around a critical interpretation of Heidegger’s valueless or “apatic” ontology, which was exclusively concerned with the sense of being, without exploring the question of its value. I intend here a sort of negative appropriation of ontological difference, establishing the domain of being itself as the more appropriate to put the question of the value of a human life, and not merely the domain of beings within the world.

In the second part of the book, “Birth and Suicide: the arguments of a radical, non-skeptic moralist” (41-127), I sustain, against Camus that the problem of the value of life is not reducible to the problem of suicide, but it includes primarily procreation, which Camus never put in focus. Possible people are in question: “A solution to the problem of continuing is not by force a solution to the problem of starting” (Critique, page 41). It is clear from the beginning, in contrast with David Benatar’s position, that the problem of birth and procreation is viewed in my book not in purely empirical and Utilitarian terms, but within the scope of a structural consideration based on ontology. The issue of the value of human life and its consequences for the morality of procreation does not emerge from a mere balance of benefits and harms, but ultimately from a critical consideration of the a supposed ontological primacy of being over non-being.

Ontology, in my vision, in contrast to Heidegger’s existentialist and other anti-naturalist approaches, is naturalized: being is visualized in the light of the information about nature provided by well established sciences, and the place occupied by humans within it, beings strongly affected by the attacks of nature in all their forms. This is part of a relevant and crude description of human situation beyond the traditional metaphysical and religious accounts.

Sufferings are not only natural, but also social: because human beings are put in a situation of scarce time and space to conduce their lives, they are constantly compelled to hurt the other’s projects with their own and to apart the others from attaining their own objectives. (Sartre’s phenomenological descriptions of human conflicts can be of benefit at this point). This I called “moral impediment": instead of saying that all human beings are "immoral", within a naturalized ontology it is more correct to say that they are all "morally impeded". The narrow space full of pain occupied by human beings has morally disqualifying effects, independently from the calculi of goods and harms presented by utilitarian thinkers. 

Concerning the issue of procreation, the main reason for not to make people coming into being is not that, in the balance, "pain prevails over pleasure" (something that cannot be asserted in absolute terms given the usual uncertainty of the results in the Utilitarian calculus), but that coming into being means to put someone in the terminal structure of being, to give him or her a being which is in process of termination from the very beginning, independently of the contents of life, a process monotonously characterized by friction, decadence and conflict.

Procreation is morally problematic in the strict measure that we know perfectly well, before birth, that all these natural and social sufferings will inevitably happen to our sons or daughters, even when we do not know if they will like to study English or live in Brazil or eat chocolates or play chess.

To come into being is to be ontologically impoverished, sensibly affected and ethically blocked: to be alive is a fight against everything and everybody, trying all the time to escape from suffering, failure and injustice. This strongly suggests that the true reason for making someone to come into being is never for the person’s own sake, but always for the interest of his/her progenitors, in a clear attitude of manipulation. “Although the ontological manipulation of the offspring is absolutely inevitable, it is perfectly evitable not to bring him or her into being, and this is precisely which indicates the way for a morality of abstention…” (Critique of affirmative morality, page 61).

7 comentários:

Karl disse...

Excellent site and excellent philosophy!

Anônimo disse...

it has weak points, like all antinatalistic arguments have

"being is always an impoverishing and a limitation if compared with the wide domain of non-being; so, coming to being is always an ontological restriction, and not a gift."

like in Benatar's asymmetry, non-being is a metaphysical state, one can only speculate about.

"human beings are put in a situation of scarce time and space to conduce their lives, they are constantly compelled to hurt the other’s projects with their own and to apart the bodies of the others to attain the own objectives....This I call “moral disqualification”"

that should make perfect sense, but, morals are man-made fabrications nature doesn't give a damn about.
and we are first and foremost nature's slaves. being morally disqualified doesn't necessarily have to be interpreted as...
a "bad" state. instead, one could also blame moral codes for being too unrealistic for actual usage.

nonetheless, it's an excellent depiction of life's shortcomings, and our views match for the most part

thanks for writing it.

kabra7 disse...

Thanks you very much, Karl; I am trying to improve my site including new philosophical texts until the end of the year.

Curator disse...

Will there be any translations of your books into English?
If yes, when?

Curator disse...

BTW, I was refering more specifically to your books/papers on Anti-natalism and Negative Ethics. Thanks.

darthbarracuda disse...

I hope to see more of your work translated into English.

Ryan T disse...

Mr. Cabrera, I love your work and am very happy to see your Critique available in English. I have one question:

In the Critique, you describe "moral disqualification" as something that can happen under circumstances of extreme physical suffering, such as torture or wasting disease. In these states, no one is expected to behave ethically. However, later in the book (and in your Summary), you describe moral disqualification as something different. You say it is a consequence of being forced to occupy the same space as other beings, interfering in their autonomy, and so on. According to the first definition, moral disqualification is always a possibility. According to the second definition, moral disqualification is a reality that already exists. Why did you change your description of this concept?

Postar um comentário

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | cheap international calls