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How birth shapes human existence

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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 a 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 a sliding towards death.” It is not simply that we are all ageing 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.However, things look different once we remember that we were all born. Having been born, I began life helplessly dependent on care from the adults around me, and very unformed and immature. I began straightaway to absorb the culture of the part of the world I was born into, partly by learning it from the adults I depended on.So whenever I pursue a project, such as writing this essay, I do not take it up just out of nowhere. I have always-already been involved in particular projects which I have taken on from the others who have influenced me. For instance, I have always read voraciously, something I took over from my mother.. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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