The Philosophy of Suicide

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Please do take all I write here with a grain of salt. I’m just a philosophy major and I’ve not yet taken a class, but I do pride myself on being able to compound information and spit it out cohesively rather well, as well as being able to logic things out, so to speak, passably well, so I hope this is of use.

The issue of suicide rises, of course, far beyond whether or not it’s morally “good” or “permissible” or even what the moral implications of it are, at all. Knowing that it almost always stems from mental illness should be enough to elevate it to a plane of acceptance; yes, sometimes people are so ill that they do incomprehensible things. This piece operates on the assumption that there must be some kind of comprehension to mentally ill decision making, which is a bit of a bold assertion but one that I pretty firmly believe.

In DBT, which I generally loathe but occasionally drink from, it’s said that there’s always a kernel of truth to everything that someone says. It’s how we can validate everything. Even if the kernel is simply “you have been conditioned or naturally do believe x,” that is a bit of truth to an assertion. The difference lies between assertions that are justified verses assertions that are rational.

“I should kill myself.” You hear this from suicidal people. There’s a really interesting debate to be had about the delineation between our common perception of suicidal people and people who actually kill themselves, a good example of this being (and the one that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a prime consultation, gives) Adolph Hitler versus Socrates. We all know Hitler killed himself, but Socrates did too; we assign a higher value to the reasoning of Socrates’ noble death versus that of Hitler’s.

Suicide requires the irrational intent to die and an action performed that the doer believes will result in their death. This is oversimplifying things but I’m happy to do that to save length.

I am adding the term “irrational” into the mix, for every death that is performed intentionally has some level of justification to it. James Potter didn’t commit A: suicide by choosing to put himself in death’s path to save his family; he did deliberately make a choice that he reasonably believed would lead to his death, and he died without death being the primary desired outcome (saving his family was). Similarly, a suicidal teenager does not attempt B: suicide to die, they attempt suicide to alleviate the intolerable conditions of their present. However, where is justified, for his death can be reasonably believed to be the only way to accomplish his goal, B is not because it it cannot, almost ever, be reasonably believed to be the only way to accomplish the alleviation of suffering.

That last point I am sometimes hesitant to believe, but it’s at the crux of suicidality. Will my life get better, possibly, if I don’t?

It is an interesting question to ponder, whether or not there is ever a life for which suicide can be the only cure. Because 99.9% of the time it is not the only cure, and because the debate is actively harmful- potentially providing justification for real life suicides- it is not a debate worth having, I believe. Rare and harmful? Count me out. I’ll deal with that in the classroom, not a public medium.

I do believe that mental disorders are always either temporary or temperable. Even Borderline Personality is temperable, sometimes responsive to treatment. Antisocial Personality, a condition I love to decry, can be managed with enough self control (a Herculean task but possible post-diagnosis). There is always another treatment to be thought of, a further step to go. This I believe.

So, what else is worth discussing when it comes to suicide? There’s the history, which can be summed up in a few words, I find: it was a religious sin before folks began sympathizing (this dates back to even Platonic/Socratic eras, particularly Platonic works in which suicide was seen as abandoning the gods’ plans).

There remains the question of what able minded folks are duty bound to do for the suicidal. If we assume that suicidality is borne of mental illness (and yes we’re assuming that!), then it becomes a question of whether or not able folks are duty bound to help the helpless. Mental illness is no more a choice than cancer, and we have booming, deep systems designed to treat cancer. Holding the illnesses to the same standard, we should be sympathetic similarly to the suicidal.

We also have a moral duty to interfere in the actions of others that they cannot on their own understand to be primarily self-destructive. Normally this is done simply through verbal coercion, and it’s more palatable there, but physical intervention is performed in this case, to interfere with such a personal choice, because the choice is irreversible and borne of irrationality.

We have, as a societal clump, decided that we don’t allow people who are under irreconciliable mental influence decide important questions of fate. The exception to this would be harm inflicted upon others under mental influence, which we only legally execute under the guise of a sense of justice for victims.

This does beg the question, though, of whether or not suicide, too, should be fully “criminalized,” as it is not a harmless act upon others. It will hurt other people almost always, through grief, guilt, anger, sadness, or even interference with daily activities. Yes, suicide is technically criminalized, but it isn’t treated as a crime. If we reason that the difference between violent acts committed under extreme mental influence and suicide would be harm to others, that line dissolves quickly.

So, we’re at a point now where I have to shrug and say “just because!” Why does human civilization not fully decriminalize ALL externally harmful behavior, or fully criminalize it at all? Because we’re inconsistent, unreasonable, and justice/revenge hungry, and I’m not willing to fall on the “punishment is wrong, only rehabilitate” sword, at least not at the moment.

Someday, I’ll be the fully anti-firearm, fully anti-criminalization vegan that I’m destined to molt into, but it hasn’t happened yet!



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