|Suicide is not justified under any circumstances. In this paper I will first discuss the Thomistic Law, in which suicide violates the laws of God. I will then discuss the three arguments against suicide being unjustified presented by Hume which counter the Thomistic view; Violating Duty to God, Violates duty to other Human Beings, Violates Duty to Self, and Unable to choose freely. After discussing Hume’s thoughts on suicide I will present Kant’s counter argument regarding good will. Finally to conclude, I will present modern research in the fields of psychiatry in regards to mental disorders, as well as presenting the works of Durkheim and Laplace in regards to the sociological effects that influence suicide. This modern scientific stance on suicide defends the thesis that suicide is not justified under any circumstance. Finally, to conclude I will assert my thesis by summarizing the evidence previously conveyed.
Thomistic Philosophy stems from the teachings of Thomas Aquinas most famous for developing the Five Ways of Proving the Existence of God. Aquinas believed that both faith and reason can be used to discover the truths of life. Building off of these ideas presented by Aquinas the Thomistic view on suicide argues that it violates the natural laws created by God to dictate the human world. Thomists present that God created natural laws to govern the human population. God understands that humans have the ability to act freely therefore he creates laws meant to govern them, because he is unable to completely control them. The natural law in regards to suicide can be broken down into three parts. The first being that suicide violates the causal order of life. Attempting suicide violates the order of life in which God expects us to live. They argue that humans do not have the right to play God and create their own death. This disturbs the natural order of the world, and goes against human’s duty to God. The second part of the Thomistic view is that suicide violates teleological laws, because the teleological laws state that all humans should attempt to preserve themselves. If you are committing suicide you are violating your duty to self-preservation. Which is an infraction on our duty to ourselves. Finally the Thomistic philosophers state that suicide is unnatural and it violates the laws of human nature. Humans were not created to kill themselves. Everyone serves a purpose, and attempting suicide contradicts your purpose. You are letting down society by failing your duties and harming those close to you. Which is an infraction to our neighbors1. This natural Law stance is no longer considered a valuable argument for the inability to justify suicide under any circumstances. Philosophers like David Hume have developed many counter arguments that deny the plausibility of the Thomistic view.
David Hume develops a stance on the justification of suicide by countering the arguments presented by earlier Christian theological stances like that of the Thomists. In one of Hume’s most famous essay Suicide he presents counter arguments to the three main stances presented by Thomist philosophers. The first infraction that Thomists argue is that suicide is in violation with the will of God. Hume argues that there are certain situations in which Humans and animals must alter nature. He presents the idea that if God guides all aspects of natural life then human changes to nature are just as much in God’s control as the natural events that he supposedly creates. To show this Hume presents this example in the essay Suicide, “Consider a house that falls by its own weight, and a house destroyed by the hands of men. These are equally cases of something being brought to ruin by God’s providence. The powers of a human being are as much God’s workmanship as are the laws of motion and gravitation.”2 God had just as much control over the house that fell down, because of gravity as he did the house that was torn down by the humans. Therefore, God has just as much control over a man that kills himself as he does over a man that dies of an illness. In this essay he also discusses if God is the infinite being then all events are of the same importance to him. So if God has control over illness then he has the same control over death. Another point that he brings up is that if committing suicide goes against God’s will then then preserving one’s life also goes against his will. If you are in a situation in which if you do not alter nature you will die then trying to survive is against the will of God. Making suicide justifiable in certain situations, because it does not violate natural laws of God. The next aspect of the Thomistic and Christian view is the idea that suicide is a violation of others. When discussing suicides effects on society Hume explains that there are certain situations in which one can no longer do well for society. They have either become a burden upon society, for example an elderly person who is sick and can no longer work, or one who has completely withdrawn from society and has little to offer, for example a hermit with no education or skills. Hume would say that there are certain situations in which suicide does not affect our neighbors, and sometimes there are situations in which suicide might actually make them better off. Finally Hume argues against the third aspect of the Thomistic view on society which is the idea that suicide violates our duty to self. In this section of the essay Suicide, Hume discusses how no one would ever throw a life away worth living. Hume believes that our natural fear of death keeps us from committing suicide without rational well deliberated reasons. He would say that if you are in a situation in which life is worse than death it is justified to commit suicide. You are not harming yourself, instead you are improving because you are releasing all of the pain that comes with life3. When considering Hume’s philosophy one would consider that suicide is rational dependent upon the situation. For example if you are greatly depressed, your friends and family are no longer around, and you are unable to affect society in a positive way then in this case suicide can be justified if you believe it is the only way to relieve the pain.
Another argument proposing that suicide in certain situations is justified stems from modern libertarian view. According to the libertarian view suicide is justifiable, because it is right of the individual to commit suicide. Their argument is that humans own their bodies therefore they have the right to end their life whenever they feel it justifiable. It is their liberty right, and they have no required duty not to commit suicide. Michael Cholbi takes this argument into deeper consideration. Connecting the right to suicide with the right to determination, which is the right of humans to shape their life outcomes as long as they do not harm others.4The libertarian view correlates with Hume in that if someone is doing no harm to others, they have considered their choices, and are making the decision that they feel is best then there is no reason that they do not have the right to do so. These two arguments counter the argument made by the Thomist, and suggest that humans have the right to commit suicide if it can be justified. These theories however, are flawed in certain aspects that Kant counters in his Metaphysics of Morals. Other aspects of these theories can be countered by findings of modern psychology making it impossible for suicide to be justified under any circumstance.
Kant takes a stance against suicide viewing it as an attack on moral law. He states, “To annihilate the subject of morality in one's person is to root out the existence of morality itself from the world as far as one can, even though morality is an end in itself. Consequently, disposing of oneself as a mere means to some discretionary end is debasing humanity in one's person.” The basic idea of this is that suicide goes against the source of human authority being the human itself. Kant argues that the only moral reason is duty to moral law which is violated by the act of suicide. According to Kant the right of the human being is unreliable compared to the moral law. One might be infringing upon a person’s rights if they stop them from committing suicide, however, a person committing suicide is contradicting the moral law, and is therefore in the wrong5. Kant would also take the stance that if a person is taking their life then they are not shaping their life. They are taking the life out of the equation. This disproves the argument that it is a right of self-determination. Someone committing suicide is ending the self not shaping the life. Kant’s moral law theory contradicts aspects of the libertarian stance on suicide as well as Hume’s theory. Certain aspects of modern science can be considered to justify the argument that under no circumstances is suicide justifiable.
With advancements in scientific studies, and modern technology psychiatrists and sociologists have been able to form improved hypothesis on the effects and causes of suicide. These modern theories can be used to answer the question of whether or not suicide can be justified at any time. The new information that has been found through the field of psychology, well after Hume’s lifetime, contradicts the arguments presented by Hume, as well as the libertarian argument. The second and last arguments that Hume makes are no longer credible due to scientific and social findings. In his second argument he argues that suicide in certain situations does not have a negative effect on society. Sociological findings of sociologists such as Durkheim and Laplace reveals that factors which cause suicide include social resentment, alienation, modern attitude, and other social factors. These findings show that suicide is often times the cause of a negative social environment, which in turn should lead to concern for leaders within the society. An increase in suicide in a society correlates with an unhealthy negative social environment. In European nations following these findings it was thought that a rise in suicide rate was a fault of the society therefore they made it the government’s responsibility to attempt to limit the amount of self-caused deaths. This shows that a negative society can be a factor in suicide, meaning that suicide will cause others to attempt to change or alter the society in order to limit future suicide. Due to these factors even though someone may not be affiliated with others, and they may believe that they longer serve society no purpose their unnatural death still effects the way in which others look at certain societies. For example if suicide rates increase in Lexington, Virginia, the state of Virginia is going to look at all of the factors, and consider change the make-up of the society that exists in Lexington. Another aspect of suicide that affects society is the fact that once someone commits suicide another person has to clean up what is left. In areas with high suicide rates, for example the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, first responders or emergency medical teams have higher rates of PTSD symptoms. This is due to the fact that they have to deal with cleaning up after suicides. For this reason suicide will have an effect on the people who have to respond to the death. Due to the societal effects there are no situations in which suicide is justifiable, because it always has an effect on society. The final argument that Hume makes is that no human would ever kill themselves without just cause. Years after Hume, psychologists have developed a better understanding of mental illness, as well as suicide persuading one to believe that in suicide situations the victim is never in full control of their actions. If you have a mental illness for example depression or bipolar 1 disorder, which are disorders with the greatest risk for suicide, you are no longer in complete control of your mental cognitions. Your mind is ill, and with psychological or pharmaceutical help you can regain mental control. If you commit suicide with one of these disorders you would not have made a fully conscious decisions which counters Hume’s theory and the libertarian view. There are several commonalities of suicide that have been assessed by psychologists to explain that suicide is something that can be avoided with proper mental care. Thomas Joiner, Ph. D in psychology, develop “The Interpersonal Theory of Suicide”, which counters in all the cognitive factors which eventually lead to suicide. These include the belief of being alone, the burden of life, and finally the lack of fear of death6. These factors agree with Hume’s theory in regards to the factors that lead to suicide. The issue however, is that with modern clinical psychology cognitive psychologists are able to eliminate one or more of these factors leading to the patient no longer feeling the need to commit suicide. Anyone that has these negative feelings does not actually have full control over their cognitions, or they have developed false cognitions to ease the pain in their life. Hume may have understood that humans can have the feeling of hopelessness; however during his time there were no psychological remedies for these feelings. With modern psychological therapies these factors can no longer be considered. There is no situation in which a person with full control over their own thoughts and feelings would kill themselves.
After considering the Thomistic Theory, David Hume’s counter arguments, the libertarian stance on suicide, Kant’s moral law theory, and finally the modern psychological stance. It can be concluded that there are no situations in which suicide can be justifiable. The Thomistic view has its flaws, as pointed out by David Hume; however, David Hume’s theories can be disproven with modern scientific research and moral consideration made by Kant. The libertarian view is unreliable, and does not hold up against scientific view points or moral aspects. Based on modern evidence in society, and in psychology suicide is never justifiable. There is no situation in which suicide does not create any negative outcomes therefore it cannot be justified as an appropriate action.
Cholbi, Michael, "Suicide", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = .
Hume, D. (2006, July 1). Four Essays, Tragedy, The Standard of Taste, Suicide, The Immortality of the Soul (J. Bennet, Ed.). Retrieved October 22, 2015.
Joiner, T. (2009, June 1). The Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior: Current Empirical Status. Retrieved October 22, 2015.