Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Childless as Anthropological Danglers

This coinage of mine is analogous to Herbert Feigl’s ‘nomological danglers.’ Mental states as the epiphenomenalist conceives them have causes, but no effects. They are caused by physical states of the body and brain, but dangle nomologically in that there are no laws (nomoi) that relate mental states back to physical states.

Similarly, the childless dangle anthropologically. They have ancestors (causes) but no descendants (effects). Parents are essential in a two-fold sense: without some parents or other we could not have come into existence; and indeed we could not have come into existence without the very parents that we actually have. The second point is an example of what is known in the trade as ‘the essentiality of origin.’ But offspring are wholly inessential: one can exist quite well without them.

There is a downside and an upside to being an anthropological dangler.

The downside is that it unfits one for full participation in the life of the community, removing as it does weight and credibility from one’s opinions about pressing community concerns. As Nietzsche writes somewhere in his Nachlass, the man without Haus und Hof, Weib und Kind is like a ship with insufficient ballast: he rides too high on the seas of life and does not pass through life with the steadiness of the solid bourgeois weighted down with property and reputation, wife and children.

The upside to being an anthropological dangler is that it enables one’s participation in a higher life by freeing one from mundane burdens and distractions In another Nachlass passage, Nietzsche compares the philosopher having Weib und Kind, Haus und Hof with an astronomer who interposes a piece of filthy glass between eye and telescope. His vocation charges him with the answering of the ultimate questions; his pressing foreground concerns, however, make it difficult for him to take these questions with the seriousness they deserve, let alone answer them.