The principal moral issue surrounding suicide has been Are there conditions under which suicide is morally justified, and if so, which conditions? Several important historical answers to 1 have already been mentioned. This question should be distinguished from three others:
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Friday, December 27, The philosophy of suicide by Massimo Pigliucci In a forthcoming episode of the Rationally Speaking podcastJulia and I discuss the philosophy and science of suicide, i. In this post I will focus on the philosophical side of the discussion, for which an excellent summary source, with a number of additional references, is this article by Michael Cholbi in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, to which I will keep referring below.
Suicide is an important, even urgent, topic, as the number of suicides has increased over the past 50 years, with about 1 million people taking their lives annually. In the United States, that amounts to about one suicide every 14 minutes i. For instance, I think we would all agree that Hitler committed suicide in his bunker toward the end of World War II, but what about Socrates, or Jesus?
What about the moral aspect of the issue? Is suicide moral, immoral, neither? Does that depend on circumstances? In order to evaluate the moral worth positive or negative of suicide one needs to look at the motivations and consequences of the act.
Which is why the history of philosophical analyses of suicide is complex, and begins — naturally — with Plato. In the Phaedo Socrates agrees with the idea that suicide is wrong because it releases us prematurely from a condition in which the gods put us thus anticipating Christian objections as well.
But in LawsPlato manages to find no less than four exceptions to the idea that suicide is immoral: For him suicide is a wrong toward society or the state, but not toward oneself, for the simple reason that it is the ultimate consensual act. As for the Stoics — who were famously friendly to the concept of suicide — it is permissible when we are impeded from pursuing a eudaimonic life.
As the Roman Stoic Seneca who himself committed, ahem, emperor-compelled suicideaptly put it: Augustine of Hippo thought that prohibiting suicide is an extension of the Fifth commandment, and therefore out of the question, but it was Thomas Aquinas who articulated three reasons against suicide: Perhaps not surprisingly, we have to wait until David Hume, in his very modern and posthumously published essay on suicide to get a well articulated response to Aquinas.
Hume made a number of points, and the full text is well worth reading and very accessible to a non specialist audience including the observation that since god does allow us to act counter to natural law in some cases e. Here is how he puts it in the essay: In all these actions we employ our powers of mind and body to produce some innovation in the course of nature; and in non of them do we any more.
They are all of them therefore equally innocent, or equally criminal. As for the duty to ourselves, again if our living conditions are bad enough then suicide actually helps us, and it is therefore the rational thing to do.
Make of that what you wish or can… What about contemporary arguments about suicide? The problem is that, if applied consistently, the argument would prohibit also — for instance — capital punishment, or death caused by self defense remember, deontological systems are prone to make broad generalizations and are not friendly to nuanced distinctions.
And of course one can reasonably argue that there is nothing inherently valuable about life, since its value comes from it being of a certain quality, as the Stoics argued. This, in turn like many libertarian argumentsis rooted in the idea that we own our bodies, in pretty much the same way as we own any other kind of thing.
The problem is that claim to self-ownership is, shall we say, metaphysically dubious. We own other things like a watch precisely because they are distinct from us.
This in turns means that self-ownership in the libertarian argument is more like a metaphor, and therefore a somewhat shaky basis for an argument. Then there is the social utilitarian argument, that suicide is wrong because it violates our duty to others, for instance in the form of induced grief, long term psychological issues and in some cases practical i.
There is also the act utilitarian argument that suicide may even be valuable, in terms of its consequences, so that it could be morally permissible, or even morally obligatory, under certain circumstances, as when a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his comrades see the first Captain America movieor — more controversially — in the case suicide for political reasons which, needless to say, includes suicide bombings.
The basic idea is that we have a social contract that binds us to contribute to society, and to deprive society of our talents and efforts violates that contract. True, as far as it goes, but contracts are of course always conditional: At one end of the spectrum, it seems like simply trying to talk someone out of committing suicide is morally unproblematic, since after all there is no coercion involved in just presenting reasons for not doing something.
There is more of an issue with so-called paternalistic approaches, such as medication, physical restraint, or institutionalization. Even so, according again to Cholbi, a very good argument can be made that if a person is depressed or otherwise not in full possession of his rational powers but are we ever?
And if you harbor some kind of libertarian-inspired principled objection to paternalism, keep in mind that the morality of assisted suicide is also grounded on a paternalistic approach, with the reasoning applied in reverse.
It has also helped me clarify my own thinking on the matter, which of course is the entire point of engaging in philosophical reflection. It seems to me that people do have a moral right to commit suicide, and others have no right to interfere in a coercive as opposed to a discursive way if two conditions hold:David Hume gave voice to this new approach with a direct assault on the Thomistic position in his unpublished essay “Of suicide” ().
Hume saw traditional attitudes toward suicide as muddled and superstitious. Dec 27, · Suicide is an important, even urgent, topic, as the number of suicides has increased over the past 50 years, with about 1 million people taking their lives alphabetnyc.com: Rationally Speaking.
Mar 09, · Hume, on the contrary, thinks that suicide is morally permissible, also on the grounds of his analysis of duties. He talks about three types of duties: to god, to ourselves, and to others.
I will skip the first category, since I don’t think there are any gods toward whom we have any alphabetnyc.com: Rationally Speaking. In this essay I consider the place of Hume's essay in the long-standing debate about the morality of suicide.
The hostility shown towards Hume as a person and towards his views on religion and death - including suicide - are symptomatic of the depth of feeling that this debate generates.
Articles Kant On Suicide Paul Edwards disagrees with Kant in this recently-discovered paper.. All Enlightenment thinkers who wrote on the subject – Hume, Voltaire and Rousseau among others – agreed that the religious condemnation of suicide was not only preposterous but also entirely lacking in charity.
May 17, · Famously, David Hume argued that a theist could accept the permissibility of suicide in his essay Of Suicide. The libertarian framework is based on libertarian moral and political theory.
Libertarians typically believe that we have a natural right of self-ownership, i.e. ownership over our bodies, our labour and the fruits of our labour (the.