How birth shapes human existence

Many classic existentialists— Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Martin Heidegger—thought that we should confront our mortality and that human existence is fundamentally shaped by the fact that we will die. But human beings do not only die. We are also born. Once we acknowledge that birth, as well as death, shapes human existence, existentialism starts to look different. The outlines of natal existentialism appear.

Let’s look at this first in relation to Beauvoir, who writes in The Ethics of Ambiguity that “every living moment is sliding towards death.” It is not simply that we are all aging and so getting closer to death. We are constantly pursuing projects and creating values—for instance, I’m writing this blog piece, thereby giving value to the activity of writing philosophy. But, Beauvoir thinks, my projects risk being brought to nothing when I die. When I die, either my projects will be left unfinished or, if I had completed them—say, by finishing writing a book—I will no longer be there to invest this achievement with value and meaning. The book I labored over will end up a mere dusty tome languishing on a shelf. For Beauvoir, then, death threatens the meaningfulness of one’s existence. But we can combat this threat by sharing our projects and values with others, who can then take up and continue these projects even after we die.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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