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Natality and Finitude

Anne O'Byrne

Publication Year: 2010

Philosophers are accustomed to thinking about human existence as finite and deathbound. Anne O'Byrne focuses instead on birth as a way to make sense of being alive. Building on the work of Heidegger, Dilthey, Arendt, and Nancy, O'Byrne discusses how the world becomes ours and how meaning emerges from our relations to generations past and to come. Themes such as creation, time, inheritance, birth and action, embodiment, biological determinism, and cloning anchor this sensitive and powerful analysis. O'Byrne's thinking advances and deepens important discussions at the intersections of feminism, continental philosophy, philosophy of religion, and social and political thought.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Studies in Continental Thought


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

It is only to be expected that a work that revolves around the thought of being-with should also be a work of thinking-with. I’m very glad to have the opportunity here to offer my gratitude to the many people who have helped bring this volume to be, whether their thinking- and being-with took the form of reading portions of the ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

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1. Introduction: Sophocles’ Wisdom

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pp. 1-14

Long before Hannah Arendt made natality—the human condition of having been born—the central concept of a political theory, and before Arendt scholarship began to uncover all of the work the concept does in even the furthest reaches of her thinking, birth and...

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2. Historicity and the Metaphysics of Existence: Heidegger

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pp. 15-45

Death comes to us out of the future. When the thought of our mortality impinges on us, it is always thought of as in the future—I will die; when? how? What will happen afterward? What are the things I should do before I die?—and mortality is the name for our finitude in its specifically future-oriented form. As Heidegger argues...

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3. Generating Life, Generating Meaning: Dilthey

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pp. 46-77

The most obvious reason for turning to the work of Wilhelm Dilthey after a discussion of Heidegger, particularly Being and Time, is the problem of historicity. Dilthey’s great project was a Critique of Historical Reason, and it is when Heidegger attempts to elucidate Dasein’s historical being that he makes explicit reference to Dilthey. Yet part of the work of the ...

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4. Philosophy and Action: Arendt

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pp. 78-106

Approaching Arendt’s work with the question of natality is daunting in the extreme. The concept appears so very often all over her opus, is made do so much work in so many contexts, and the treatment is so very fragmented that there is always the danger that it will overwhelm all comers...

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5. On the Threshold of Finitude: Nancy

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pp. 107-147

We stumble into the world on the offbeat. Natality has its own syncopated temporality according to which birth happens without our knowing and every one of us is here for years before we realize it, before we come to find ourselves in the midst of things. Since we are...

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Afterword: What Will the Clone Make of Us?

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pp. 148-164

When Arendt wrote The Human Condition in 1958, she began her preface with a reference to the launch of Sputnik. Here was something utterly new, and along with it came the prospect that humans would no longer be united by the fact of having to live together on a single planet...


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pp. 164-184


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pp. 185-195


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pp. 197-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780253004772
E-ISBN-10: 0253004772
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355317

Page Count: 218
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Studies in Continental Thought