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1.a person who commits suicide or commits an unlawful malicious act resulting in his or her own death. Throughout history, suicide has evoked an astonishingly wide range of reactions?bafflement, dismissal, heroic glorification, sympathy, anger, moral or religious condemnation?but it is never uncontroversial. Suicide under these circumstances can be excused, but, according to Plato, it is otherwise an act of cowardice or laziness undertaken by individuals too delicate to manage life's vicissitudes. When a man's circumstances contain a preponderance of things in accordance with nature, it is appropriate for him to remain alive; when he possesses or sees in prospect a majority of the contrary things, it is appropriate for him to depart from life?. Hence, not only may concerns related to one's obligations to others justify suicide, but one's own private good is relevant too. The advent of institutional Christianity was perhaps the most important event in the philosophical history of suicide, for Christian doctrine has by and large held that suicide is morally wrong, despite the fact that no passage in Scripture unequivocally condemns suicide. God's command ?Thou shalt not kill,? is to be taken as forbidding self-destruction, especially as it does not add ?thy neighbor?, as it does when it forbids false witness, ?Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor? (Augustine, book I, chapter 20). This conclusion was codified in the medieval doctrine that suicide nullified human beings' relationship to God, for our control over our body was limited to usus (possession, employment) where God retained dominium (dominion, authority).
In all likelihood, the first comprehensive modern defense of suicide was John Donne's Biathanatos. Not intended for publication, Biathanatos drew upon an array of classical and modern legal and theological sources to argue that Christian doctrine should not hold that suicide is necessarily sinful. Donne's casuistical treatise was an early example of the liberalized Enlightenment attitudes of the 1700's.
If by the ?divine order? is meant the causal laws created by God, then it would always be wrong to contravene these laws for the sake of our own happiness.
If by ?divine order? is meant the natural laws God has willed for us, which are (a) discerned by reason, (b) such that adherence to them will produce our happiness, then why should not suicide conform to such laws when it appears rational to us that the balance of our happiness is best served by dying? Finally if by ?divine order? is meant simply that which occurs according to God's consent, then God appears to consent to all our actions (since an omnipotent God can presumably intervene in our acts at any point) and no distinction exists between those of our actions to which God consents and those to which He does not.
Furthermore, suicide does not necessarily violate any duties toward other people, according to Hume. In the end, Hume concludes that suicide ?may be free of imputation of guilt and blame.? His position is largely utilitarian, allied with a strong presumption of personal liberty. Suicide was an important concern for the twentieth century existentialists, who saw the choice to take one's life as impressed upon us by our experience of the absurdity or meaninglessness of the world and of human endeavor.
Jean-Paul Sartre was likewise struck by the possibility of suicide as an assertion of authentic human will in the face of absurdity. Are there conditions under which suicide is morally justified, and if so, which conditions?
Obviously, answers to any one of these four questions will bear on how the other three ought to be answered. Two general categories of arguments for the moral impermissibility of suicide have emerged from the Christian religious tradition. The second general category of religious arguments rest on analogies concerning the relationship between God and humanity. Another common analogy asserts that God bestows life upon us a gift, and it would be a mark of ingratitude or neglect to reject that gift by taking our lives. For libertarians, suicide is morally permissible because individuals enjoy a right to suicide. Libertarianism typically asserts that the right to suicide is a right of noninterference, to wit, that others are morally barred from interfering with suicidal behavior.
A popular basis supporting a right to suicide is the idea that we own our bodies and hence are morally permitted to dispose of them as we wish. Another rationale for a right of noninterference is the claim that we have a general right to decide those matters that are most intimately connected to our well-being, including the duration of our lives and the circumstances of our deaths.
As presented in the ?death with dignity? movement, the right to suicide is the natural corollary of the right to life.
A fourth approach to the question of suicide's permissibility asks not whether others may interfere with suicidal behavior but whether we have a liberty right to suicide, whether, that is, suicide violates any moral duties to others.
No doubt the suicide of a family member or loved one produces a number of harmful psychological and economic effects. A second brand of social argument echoes Aristotle in asserting that suicide is harm to the community or the state. A modification of this argument claims that suicide violates a person's duty of reciprocity to society (Cholbi 2011, 60?62). A more restricted version of the claim that we have a right to noninterference regarding suicide holds that suicide is permitted so long as?leaving aside questions of duties to others?it is rationally chosen. One initial challenge to the possibility of rational suicide rests on the notion that suicide, being a choice to end one's life, is necessarily irrational. In recent years, this 'two-state' requirement (that death can only be judged rational or irrational if it is possible to compare the state of being alive with the state of being dead) has been widely rejected.
The person who is contemplating suicide is obviously making a choice between future world-courses: the world-course that includes his demise, say, an hour from now, and several possible ones that contain his demise at a later point? The basic question a person must answer in order to determine which world-course is best or rational for him to choose, is which he would choose under conditions of optimal use of information, when all of his desires are taken into account. Hence, on this view, a rational judgment about one's own death requires a comparison between the overall goodness of one's life as it would be if it continued on its present course and the overall goodness of one's life if that life ended before its present course.
For the most part, suicidal individuals do not manifest signs of systemic irrationality, much the less the signs of legally definable insanity, and engage in suicidal conduct voluntarily. Particularly worrisome is the evident link between suicidal thoughts and mental illnesses such as depression.
Furthermore, suicidal persons are often hesitant about their own actions, hoping that others will intervene and signaling to others the hope that they will intervene (Shneidman 1985). With the exception of the libertarian position that each person has a right against others that they not interfere with her suicidal intentions, each of the moral positions on suicide we have addressed so far would appear to justify others intervening in suicidal plans, at least on some occasions. As mentioned in section 3.6, the impulse toward suicide is often sporadic, ambivalent, and influenced by mental illnesses such as depression, all indicators that suicide may be undertaken with less than full rationality. As the foregoing discussion indicates, suicide has been and continues to be a rich field of philosophical investigation. If you have enjoyed reading them and have more of such philosophical quotes d share in the comments section. Suicide is now an object of multidisciplinary scientific study, with sociology, anthropology, psychology, and psychiatry each providing important insights into suicide. Still, prior to the Stoics at least, suicide tended to get sporadic rather than systematic attention from philosophers in the ancient Mediterranean world.
Aristotle's only discussion of suicide (Nicomachean Ethics 1138a5?14) occurs in the midst of a discussion of the possibility of treating oneself unjustly. Even for the foolish, who are also miserable, it is appropriate for them to remain alive if they possess a predominance of those things which we pronounce to be in accordance with nature (Cicero, III, 60?61).
The Roman Stoic Seneca, who was himself compelled to commit suicide, was even bolder, claiming that since ?mere living is not a good, but living well?, a wise person ?lives as long as he ought, not as long as he can.? For Seneca, it is the quality, not the quantity, of one's life that matters. Law and popular practice in the Middle Ages sanctioned the desecration of the suicidal corpse, along with confiscation of the individual's property and denial of Christian burial.
His critique is in effect internal, drawing upon the logic of Christian thought itself to suggest that suicide is not contrary to the laws of nature, of reason, or of God.


The Thomistic natural-law stance on suicide came under increasing attack as suicide was examined through the lens of science and psychology. But clearly it is not wrong, since God frequently permits us to contravene these laws, for he does not expect us not to respond to disease or other calamities. If God has placed us upon the Earth like a ?sentinel,? then our choosing to leave this post and take our lives occurs as much with his cooperation as with any other act we perform. Reciprocity may require that we benefit society in exchange for the benefits it provides, but surely such reciprocity reaches its limit when by living we provide only a ?frivolous advantage? to society at the expense of significant harm or suffering for ourselves. Sickness, old age, and other misfortunes can make life sufficiently miserable that continued existence is worse than death.
The Enlightenment was of course not univocal in its comparatively permissive attitudes toward suicide. Suicide represents, according to Sartre, an opportunity to stake out our understanding of our essence as individuals in a godless world. For instance, it might be assumed that if suicide is morally permissible in some circumstances, then neither other individuals nor the state should interfere with suicidal behavior (in those same circumstances). The first of these is the aforementioned Thomistic natural law position, critiqued by Hume (see section 2.3) According to this tradition, suicide violates the natural law God has created to govern the natural world and human existence. For the most part, these arguments aim to establish that God, and not human individuals, has the proper moral authority to determine the circumstances of their deaths.
On this view, the right to suicide follows from a deeper right to self-determination, a right to shape the circumstances of our lives so long as we do not harm or imperil others. That is, because individuals have the right not to be killed by others, the only person with the moral right to determine the circumstances of a person's death is that person herself and others are therefore barred from trying to prevent a person's efforts at self-inflicted death. Those who argue that suicide can violate our duties to others generally claim that suicide can harm either specific others (family, friends, etc.) or is a harm to the community as a whole. Suicide also leads to rage, loneliness, and awareness of vulnerability in those left behind. One general form such arguments take is that because a community depends on the economic and social productivity of its members, its members have an obligation to contribute to their society, an obligation clearly violated by suicide (Pabst Battin 1996, 70?78, Cholbi 2011, 58?60). On this view, an individual and the society in which she lives stand in a reciprocal relationship such that in exchange for the goods the society has provided to the individual, the individual must continue to live in order to provide her society with the goods that relationship demands.
In a similar vein, Kantians might claim that suicidal choices must be respected if those choices are autonomous, that is, if an individual chooses to end her life on the basis of reasons that she acknowledges as relevant to her situation. The thought here is that any coherent judgment of suicide's rationality requires comparing the state of being alive (or continuing to live) with being dead. In particular, the rationality of the decision to end one's life need not be construed in terms of the value of being alive versus the value of being dead (Luper 2009, 82?88). This view has given rise to a rich philosophical literature trying to identify the conditions under which a person's decision to die is rational.
However, these facts are consistent with the choice to engage in suicidal behavior being irrational, and serious questions can be raised about just how often the conditions for rational suicide are met in actual cases of self-inflicted death. While disagreement continues about the strength of this link (Pabst Battin 1996, 5) little doubt exists that the presence of depression or other mood disorders greatly increases the likelihood of suicidal behavior.
Finally, although repeated suicide attempts by the same individual are common, the impulse to suicidal behavior is often transient and dissipates of its own accord (Blauner 2003). Little justification is necessary for actions that aim to prevent another's suicide but are non-coercive.
And while individuals usually have the right to make bad or irrational decisions on their own behalf, these indicators, when juxtaposed with the stakes of the decision to end one's life (that death is irreversible, that continued life is a condition of all other goods, etc.), justify intervention in others' suicidal plans on the 'soft' paternalist grounds that suicide is not in the individual's interests as they would rationally conceive those interests. Recent advances in medical technology are responsible for the extensive philosophical attention paid to one kind of suicide, euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide (PAS), while more ?run-of-the-mill? suicide motivated by psychological anguish is somewhat overlooked. Particularly promising are the significant advances being made in our scientific understanding of the neurological and genetic bases of suicidal behavior and the mental conditions associated with it. As John Cooper has noted , neither ancient Greek nor Latin had a single word that aptly translates our ?suicide,? even though most of the ancient city-states criminalized self-killing. Later, in the Laws, Plato claimed that suicide is disgraceful and its perpetrators should be buried in unmarked graves. Aristotle concludes that self-killing does not treat oneself unjustly so long as it is done voluntarily because the harm done to oneself is consensual.
Augustine is generally credited with offering the first justification of the Christian prohibition on suicide (Amundsen 1989).
Were it contrary to the law of nature mandating self-preservation, all acts of self-denial or privation would be similarly unlawful. Where Christian theology has understood suicide as ?an affair between the devil and the individual sinner? (Minois 1999, 300), Enlightenment philosophers tended to conceive of suicide in secular terms, as resulting from facts about individuals, their natural psychologies, and their particular social settings. Therefore, there is not apparent justification, as Hume put it, for God's permitting us to disturb nature in some circumstances but not in others. As to worries that people are likely to attempt to take their lives capriciously, Hume replies that our natural fear of death ensures that only after careful deliberation and assessment of our future prospects will we have the courage and clarity of mind to kill ourselves. For Camus, Sisyphus heroically does not try to escape his absurd task, but instead perseveres and in so doing resists the lure of suicide. For the existentialists, suicide was not a choice shaped mainly by moral considerations but by concerns about the individual as the sole source of meaning in a meaningless universe. However, this conclusion might not follow if those same suicidal individuals are irrational and interference is required in order to prevent them from taking their lives, an outcome they would regret were they more fully rational. This natural law can be conceived of in terms of (a) natural causal laws, such that suicide violates this causal order, (b) teleological laws, according to which all natural beings seek to preserve themselves, or (c) the laws governing human nature, from which it follows that suicide is ?unnatural? (Pabst Battin 1996, 41?48). One historically prominent analogy (suggested by Aquinas and Locke) states that we are God's property and so suicide is a wrong to God akin to theft or destruction of property.
It may perhaps be imprudent to waste an especially valuable gift, but it does not appear to be unjust to a gift giver to do so. According to that movement, attempts by the state or by the medical profession to interfere with suicidal behavior are essentially coercive attempts to pathologize morally permissible exercises of individual freedom (Szasz 2002). Indeed, the sense that suicide is an essentially selfish act dominates many popular perceptions of suicide (Fedden 1938, 209). For example, suicide denies a society the labor provided by its members, or in the case of those with irreplaceable talents such as medicine, art, or political leadership, the crucial goods their talents enable them to provide.
Yet in envisioning the relationship between society and the individual as quasi-contractual in nature, the reciprocity argument reveals its principal flaw: The conditions of this ?contract? may not be met, and also, once met, impose no further obligations upon the parties. Such positions are narrower than the libertarian view, in that they permit suicide only when it is performed on a rational basis (or a rational basis that the individual acknowledges as relevant to her situation) and permits others to interfere only when it is not performed on that basis. But either because no one has sufficient knowledge of the state of being dead (Devine 1978) or because suicide ensures that the suicidal person has no future to look forward to (Cowley 2006), judgments that ending one's life is rational are incoherent or misplaced. For the most part, this literature divides the conditions for rational suicide into cognitive conditions, conditions ensuring that individuals' appraisals of their situation are rational and well-informed, and interest conditions, conditions ensuring that suicide in fact accords with individuals' considered interests. Indeed, the possibility of rational suicide requires that certain assumptions about suicidal individuals' rational autonomy be true which may not be in many cases.
Some studies of suicide indicate that over 90% of suicidal persons displayed symptoms of depression before death, while others estimate that suicide is at least 20 times more common among those with clinical depression than in the general population. Taken together, these considerations indicate that the scope of suicidal conduct that genuinely manifests fully informed and rational self-evaluation may be rare and so only occasionally will suicide be rational or morally permissible. Pleading with a suicidal individual, trying to convince her of the value of continued life, recommending counseling, etc.


This is somewhat unfortunate: Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide raise issues beyond those associated with other suicides, including the allocation of health care resources, the nature of the medical profession, the patient-physician relationship, and the prospect that allowing relatively benign forms of killing such as voluntary euthanasia of PAS will lead down a ?slippery slope? to more morally worrisome killings. Nonetheless, many of the most controversial questions surrounding suicide are philosophical. He concludes that suicide is somehow a wrong to the state or the community, though he does not outline the nature of this wrong or the specific vices that suicidal individuals exhibit. David Hume gave voice to this new approach with a direct assault on the Thomistic position in his unpublished essay ?Of suicide? (1783). Just as God permits us to divert rivers for irrigation, so too ought he permit us to divert blood from our veins.
Kant's arguments, though they reflect earlier natural law arguments, draw upon his view of moral worth as emanating from the autonomous rational wills of individuals (Cholbi 2000, 2010). Suicide, Camus contends, tempts us with the promise of an illusory freedom from the absurdity of our existence, but is in the end an abdication of our responsibility to confront or embrace that absurdity head on.
Furthermore, for those moral theories that emphasize rational autonomy, whether an individual has rationally chosen to take her own life may settle all four questions.
These natural law arguments are no longer the main focus of philosophical discussion, as they have been subjected to strenuous criticism by Hume and others (though see Gay-Williams 1996).
Since whether we have a liberty right to suicide concerns whether it violates other moral obligations, including obligations to other people, I shall leave discussion of that issue to section 3.5 and focus here on whether there is a right of noninterference. Still, some of these reactions may be due to the strong stigma and shame associated with suicide, in which case these reactions cannot, without logical circularity, be invoked in arguments that suicide is wrong because it produces these psychological reactions. Another version states that suicide deprives society of whatever individuals might contribute to society morally (by way of charity, beneficence, moral example, etc.) Still, it is difficult to show that a society has a moral claim on its members' labor, talents, or virtue that compels its members to contribute to societal well-being no matter what.
As Baron d'Holbach (1970, 136?137) pointed out, the contract between an individual and her society is a conditional one, presupposing ?mutual advantages between the contracting parties.? Hence, if a society fails to fulfill its obligations under the contract, namely to provide individuals with the goods needed for a decent quality of life, then the individual is not morally required to live in order to reciprocate an arrangement that society has already reneged on. A person's choice to undertake suicidal behavior may not be a reflection of her considered interests and her self-inflicted death could be an act that she would, in calmer and clearer moments, recoil at.
In cases of suicide linked with depression, individuals' attitudes toward their own death are colored by strongly negative and occasionally distorted beliefs about their life situations (career prospects, relationships, etc.). Moreover, if suicide is frequently not an expression of individuals' rational appraisal of their own well-being, that suggests that others may have a prima facie reason to interfere with suicidal behavior and so is there is no general right to noninterference.
However, many of the same issues and concerns that surround PAS and euthanasia also surround run-of-the mill suicide, and many writers who address the former often disregard the vast literature on the latter. Finally, Donne observes, not only does Biblical Scripture lack a clear condemnation of suicide, Christian doctrine has permitted other forms of killing such as martyrdom, capital punishment and killing in wartime (Minois 1999, 20?21). For Kant, our rational wills are the source of our moral duty, and it is therefore a kind of practical contradiction to suppose that the same will can permissibly destroy the very body that carries out its volitions and choices. In any event, the interrelationships among suicide's moral permissibility, its rationality, and the duties of others and of society as a whole is complex, and we should be wary of assuming that an answer to any one of these four questions decisively settles the other three. First, if we are God's property, we are an odd sort of property, in that God apparently bestowed upon us free will that permits us to act in ways that are inconsistent with God's wishes or intentions. A variation of this line of argument holds that we owe God a debt of gratitude for our lives, and so to kill ourselves would be disrespectful or even insulting to God, (Ramsey 1978, 146) or would amount to an irresponsible use of this gift.
After all, individuals often fail to contribute as much as they might in terms of their labor or special talents without incurring moral blame. Moreover, once an individual has discharged her obligations under this societal contract, she no longer is under an obligation to continue her life. In other words, even if there is a right to suicide rooted in the value of rational autonomy, it seems to imply a right to commit suicide only when one makes that determination on minimally rational grounds, and there are numerous factors that may compromise a person's rational autonomy and hence make the decision to engage in suicidal behavior not a reflection of one's considered values or aims. As Brandt (1975) observed, depression can ?primitivize one's intellectual processes,? leading to poor estimation of probabilities and an irrational focus on present suffering rather than on possible good future states of affairs.
The more challenging moral question is whether more coercive measures such as physical restraint, medication, deception, or institutionalization are ever justified to prevent suicide and when. According to the Thomistic argument, suicide violates the order God established for the world and usurps God's prerogative in determining when we shall die. Given the distinctive worth of an autonomous rational will, suicide is an attack on the very source of moral authority.
It is difficult to see how an autonomous entity with free will can be subject to the kind of control or dominion to which other sorts of property are subject.
Yet this variation does not really evade the criticism directed at the first version: Even if we owe God a debt of gratitude, disposing of our lives does not seem inconsistent with our expressing gratitude for having lived at all (Beauchamp 1992).
It does not therefore seem to be the case that individuals are morally required to benefit society in whatever way they are capable, regardless of the harms to themselves. Hence, the aged or others who have already made substantial contributions to societal welfare would be morally permitted to commit suicide under this argument. Some of these factors cognitively distort agents' deliberation about whether to commit suicide. In short, the question of suicide intervention is a question of how to justify paternalistic interference. Second, the argument appears to rest on the assumption that God does not wish his property destroyed. Furthermore, if a person's life is rife with misery and unhappiness, it is far from clear that she owes God much in the way of gratitude for this apparently ill-chosen ?gift? of life.
Again, this line of argument appears to show at most only that suicide is sometimes wrong, namely, when the benefit (in terms of future harm not suffered) the individual gains by dying is less than the benefits she would deny to society by dying.
Though many suicidal persons engage in extensive planning for their own deaths, the final determination to end one's life is often impulsive, reflecting the intense psychological vulnerability of suicidal persons and their proclivity toward volatility and agitation. Is suicide morally permissible, or even morally required in some extraordinary circumstances? Yet given the traditional theistic conception of God as not lacking in any way, how could the destruction of something God owns (a human life) be a harm to God or to his interests (Holley 1989, 105)?
Defenders of the gift analogy must therefore defend the claim that life, simply because it is given to us by a loving God, is an expression of God's benevolent nature and is therefore necessarily a benefit to us (Holley 1989, 113?114). Suicidal persons can also have difficulty fully acknowledging the finality of their death, believing that (assuming there is no afterlife) they will somehow continue to be subjects of conscious experience after they die.
This article will examine the main currents of historical and contemporary philosophical thought surrounding these questions. If a person's life is sufficiently bad, an all-loving God might permit his property to be destroyed through suicide.
Finally, some have questioned the extent of the duties imposed by God's property right in us by arguing that the destruction of property might be morally justified in order to prevent significant harm to oneself. If the only available means to saving myself from a ticking bomb is to stash it in the trunk of the nearest car to dampen the blast, and the nearest car belongs to my neighbor, then destroying his property appears justified in order to avoid serious harm to myself. Likewise, if only by killing myself can I avoid a serious future harm to myself, I appear justified in destroying my life even if it is God's property.



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