From an ethical standpoint, are we obligated to not kill ourselves? Is it permissible?

Ethically speaking, I suppose it might depend on how each individual views itself as being a meaningful necessity to others and those others being entitled to our presence in their lives.

Then there is the principle to do no harm. In killing ourselves, some would say that we are harming and destroying ourselves and we have no right - but I am not so sure of this. On the other hand…

I feel that our life does belong to us, and we have the right to destroy it if we choose/will it though I tend to look at it as a cowardly act (depending on the circumstances) though some would look on it as an act of courage. But on another and more important level, I feel that we have to answer to something higher and more meaningful than our own will or desire to kill ourselves; namely, those whose lives may be destroyed if we do this - a parent to their children, for instance. For me, this is where ethics enters in only - where the lives of others will be affected.

We are free to choose but choosing ought to always be responsible, even if it is the choice to destroy ourselves. But of course if someone wants to commit suicide, they may not be in a reasonable mind so ethics and morality will not enter into it.

In philosophy, absolute maxims (be they prohibitions or permissions) are always a bad idea.

Judging whether or not life is worth living is something which you’ve got to look at the specific life for.

To get right to some meat, If i was writhing in pain in the center of some malicious torture chamber with no hope whatsoever for survival and no doubt that death a torturous death was imminently on its way (i’m talking about 25 minutes of insane pain and despair before a terrible end) I might decide to say my peace and give my shout-outs then end myself to prevent a less acceptable end.

When we look at an average person attempting suicide, we (myself anyway) see it as a pity because we know that with the right changes in this persons life or mind they could have lived very happily, and so agreeing with their judgment is something which rarely happens. My metaphor does well by defining an extreme in which suicide is permissible (by my judgment anyway).

In older times i imagine that suicide was not accepted in any capacity, for to commit suicide and avoid torture/pain would be to avoid what god had intended for you, making you unworthy. (hence the whole not get into heaven/have your head cut off and not be buried in a cemetery thing)

I think most suicides are irrational, but not all…

What ethical principle or theory do you employ to come up with this answer? Intuitively suicide in these circumstances seems permissible, but I’m asking for an ethical take on it.

Yes, echoing what Xunz said, sweeping ethical claims are usually a bad idea, especially because of extreme examples. If you can think it, and if there’s nothing inherently impossible about the example, then you have a counter-example. It’s as easy as that.

Schopenhauer had something interesting to say. For your consideration:


In my opinion it boils down to what one can bear, and it if someone kills themselves, then it’s probably because they felt they couldn’t bear much more. The emotional effect can a lot of times and for a lot of people be out of proportion with the cause. … icide.html

Interesting, but I would think we have a greater obligation to our own selves than to others, circumstantially at least. You could think of an extreme example in which a mother has infant quintuples who will die if she doesn’t feed them, but in regular circumstances where the worst effect is grief, I think self-love takes precedence.

I really like this part, especially after having read Schopie’s take on suicide (after I started this thread I looked at some stuff).

I’m curious to know the reasons behind this seemingly common sentiment, that suicide is an irrational act. How do you figure? I understand most people who commit suicide are emotionally unbalanced, but I don’t think their actions are irrational. Let me ask you this, would you consider the choice to kill yourself irrational if you were experiencing more suffering than you could bear?

I think that in order to perform most of the roles incumbent on human beings, especially those involved in the attainment of excellence, require said person to be alive. There are, of course, exceptions. But even those exceptions normally involve a certain prior level of excellence having been attained. Probably the most common of these is a dilemma that every music fan has mused about at some point: is it better to burn out or fade away? In some situations, suicide is in keeping with our conception of excellence. Compare Kurt Cobain with Stevie Wonder. Irrespective of your feelings towards their music, they were both hugely influential musicians and clearly embodied excellence in their genres at one point in time. Kurt Cobain still does, because he committed suicide. Stevie Wonder, ehhh, not so much.

What about the opposite of excellence? Are there some acts that create such a deep abiding shame that suicide represents a proper response? After a gross failure, Clodius Albinus committed suicide as penance. I’m inclined to think that his suicide was justified, it demonstrated his responsibility. Leandro Alem committed suicide under a similar situation, after leading a failed uprising he killed himself.

But those two situations don’t describe the basement dwellers or the very young who are most likely to commit suicide.

At bottom the motivation for suicide is NOT a willingness to die, I don’t think, as much as it is an attempt to get away from something, whether it be suffering, or shame like you said, or teenage angst, and even boredom. I honestly believe boredom is up there in terms of powerful motivators for suicide, but I can’t see anybody choosing to end their life because they think they’re on top and want to be remembered that way. That’s just how suicides get romanticized. If you look at Cobain’s last letter, you get the sense he’s suffering from anhedonia. The man was depressed. He ranted and raved against the commercialization of his music and whatnot, and we love him for it, but he killed himself because he was depressed. Pure and simple.

I agree that was probably his motivation. But I don’t really care about that. It isn’t about what the person, themselves, wants but rather how that person is perceived by those around them. This is even more important in the case of suicide since, err, the person in question isn’t around anymore to have an opinion.

While Cobain may have killed himself because he was depressed, it resulted in him going out while he was at the top. Likewise, the shame suicides were to make amends for their failure not because of some internalized angst (that was also most likely very present).


Yes, I agree - our greatest obligation is to our self – perhaps if we do not satisfy that need, we cannot be a meaningful necessity to others, especially to our children. I was probably thinking/responding with my maternal instincts insofar as children need the presence of their parents. Perhaps those who have more selfish genes would commit suicide, irregardless of their loved ones. Perhaps a lot of it does come down to our genes vs. beyond good and evil (love). Even in the animal kingdom, there are those individuals who would sacrifice their lives for their offspring by living or dying, depending on the circumstances.

I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. Are you saying that, despite the fact that the loved ones left behind (children/wife/husband) might have the greatest grief, someone has the right to destroy their own life? Ultimately, yes, as I said, IMO, we do all have the right to destroy ourselves, I feel.

But again when we, in a sense, *take others with us* in destroying ourselves, the lines become very blurred for me. My life is mine but his/hers is great affected by suicide. “No man is an island.”

Sometimes I will hear on the news how someone killed their children and then took their own life and this leaves me absolutely crazy. My remark will sometimes be why didn’t he just kill himself. He has that right – though again, his children would suffer and children of suicides often become suicidal themselves. Can you even imagine the effect that suicide has on children?

….They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice; that only a madman could be guilty of it, and other insipidities of the same kind; or else they make the nonsensical remark that suicide is wrong, when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.

I don’t think the question of suicide can ever be just black or white, so cut and dry. In some cases, to me, suicide is cowardice. I don’t think of suicide as right or wrong so much as just such a terrible waste and as ingratitude toward Life. Look at all the people who have destroyed their lives because they have lost a great deal of money - it is everything to them. Had they even stopped to consider that if they had it before, they can have it again.

Then there are others who see only their suffering (emotional) or loss in the present moment. They are focused on this, on themselves and they may decide to take their life. This is irrational. Their thoughts and emotions are coming from a place of lack/deprivation - instead of seeing the entire picture, how life is always in flux. These are people who for whatever reason, cannot see any change up ahead of them. Though I can certainly understand moments like this but…

I don’t know if I want to call suicide necessarily stupid but it can be/is very unaware. The unawareness stems from the fact that we cannot see beyond today – how in an instant life can and will change for the better if we have the courage and the faith to see that, to make that happen, to will it, in other words. okay I’m preaching. :blush:

You don’t see being emotionally unbalanced as irrational, xzc?

I don’t think that suicide is always an irrational act. Let’s take the case of someone who knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are dying in a few months, medical science can do nothing more for them, and their physical suffering is so unbelievably intolerable. This is not someone who I would consider a coward in wanting to to take their life. The quality of their life as they knew it has come to nothing in their own eyes and this is reasonable, rational awareness. Even with that great suffering though, it may take a great deal of courage to end their life; that may be mainly because they have loved ones. And these are the people to me who have the greatest courage – they hang on, despite everything, out of love.

Then there are those others as I said above, who out of the greatest narcissism chose to end their lives out of a sense of lack or great dissatisfaction with life. Some may see this as rational but to me it is irrational because these people are not thinking clearly. It is a great thing to live in the moment but that also implies that every moment will be different and a lot of it depends on our attitude and what we see. They are unfortunately not capable of seeing that somewhere in the future they already have a life that will be/can be different/much better, if they just hang on, but they choose to discard and waste it, which is their choice - at the same time, what is most important also gets discarded and wasted!!!

And of course, after having said all of this, I really don’t care to judge anyone, albeit it is too easy when I consider the destruction left behind. But then again, it’s possible/probable that nothing that occurs in the universe is as we see/judge it by its appearances. That is probably even a larger picture that one ought to look at.

I understand shame suicides as motivated by the internal turmoil, by feeling worthless. It does make some sense I guess that someone may think their stock will somehow rise if they kill themselves, it’s just hard to really empathize with this resolve.

I don’t know if it is about making their stock rise as much as it is about stopping the descent of it.

The two examples I gave were of generals who had failed in action. Because of them, people died. Despite their august status, it is only fitting that they ought die too. In so doing, they honor the lives that their misguided actions took.

I was making the point that if by killing one’s self one dooms others to their death, then this might be relevant to the ethical status of suicide.

I may be a counter example to that, but uh…yeah, as I said above, where someone’s suicide does not cause anything more than mere grief, I think you can employ the principle of self-love to justify suicide…assuming of course the suicidee is suffering a lot.

Oh man! I’m really loving this. Later on in the essay Schopie touches upon this sentiment, too.

I…disagree. I’m sure there’s people like those you describe, but in my personal experience people can’t help but have hope. It’s when life persistently crushes those hopes that people lose it, and doesn’t it make sense at some point after having all your hopes crushed to stop hoping and to start believing the future will suck?

This reminds me of a lyric from a song. It goes, “…somebody saw him jump, but nobody saw him slip, i guess he lost a lot of hope, and then he lost his grip…”

I don’t think it’s a choice, first of all. You can’t help but be emotionally unbalanced. Secondly, being emotionally unbalanced means experiencing things to a greater degree than normal people. If someone, because of their mental disorder, suffers a great degree of pain over what seems to us like nothing special, then how is it irrational if they choose to end it? It might take a normal person a great tragedy to experience the same kind of suffering, and that would explain why normal people can’t sympathize, but regardless of the cause the effect is the same, and I think whenever suffering is so great as to push someone to disregard their primal instincts, the suffering is enough to justify suicide.

I think this is closed minded of you.

Autistic people usually end up depressed later in life because they lack the capacity for self-delusion. They can’t tell themselves everything will be alright if they don’t see actual epistemological reason for this belief. Similarly, studies have shown the depressed are much more likely to have realistic expectations (which is to say pessimistic expectations).

As I said above, normal people can’t help but hope in the face of despair. It is only when time after time life shits on your hopes that people lose it, justifiably so I think. It doesn’t make sense to say they’re cowards.

I may be mistaken, but are you making the case suicide is obligatory in some circumstances?

There are some situations in which people are instructed/ordered to commit suicide (via pill) to avoid disclosure of sensitive information, and torture. I assume in such a case the decision is rational and the risk is acknowledged beforehand.

Yes, I do think there are rare cases where suicide is the morally correct option.

Japanese Buddhism is not opposed to suicide so long as your mind is in the proper state. It would only be wrong for someone to kill themselves if their thoughts are impure.

Commiting suicide is supposed to be morally wrong under any circumstance… I’m just sayin.

Supposed to? In all possible circumstances? According to what exactly?
Just curious.

Die with dignity and honour - suicide is seen as a weak and undignified act… to the strong and dignified amongst us.