new Philosophy Talk
episodes for free! Subscribe
to our weekly download service.
Cholbi, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
human life is wrong. But what if it is one's own life? Is suicide worse
or less bad than murder? Is it wrong at all? Can suicide be rational?
How about helping another commit suicide? The Philosophers discuss the
metaphysics and morality of taking one's own life.
Can anyone ever have a
good reason to commit suicide?
Can it ever be morally permissible to commit suicide? John and Ken
start by doing a conceptual analysis of suicide. Not all self-killings
are suicides. For instant, accidental killings and a soldier throwing
himself onto an exploding grenade to save her fellow soldiers are not
suicides. John points out that the paradigm case for suicide is someone
who kills herself due to the suffering, despair or pain she has.
Ken distinguishes between the intended consequences of an act and the
foreseen consequences. A suicide bomber intends to kill other people
with an act of terrorism but his death is only a foreseen consequence.
Even in the paradigm case the intended consequence might be to end
suffering. The foreseen consequence might be one's death.
John introduces Professor Cholbi, the author of suicide entry at the
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Motives for suicide are usually
things like pain, misery and despair but suicide can also occur due to
other reasons, such as altruism, shame and honor. In the early days of
Christianity, suicide was a serious worry. Suicide could be a
motivation to go to heaven but of course the Christian doctrine forbids
John points out that presidents worry about history's verdict and what
people will think of their actions in the future. So why is it so
irrational when the troubled, suicidal teenager is motivated by the
scenes of her future funeral and the suffering her death will bring?
Cholbi answers that the president cares about the thoughts of people,
whereas the troubled teenager really cares about the actual experience
and feelings - the stress, the pain of the parents.
John points out that the Beatles, who have been playing a song for 4
minutes, may suddenly notice that the drummer Ringo is not doing well
and decide to cut the song short instead of going 5 minutes. This way,
they'll have a good 4 minutes song instead of bad 5 minutes song. Can a
similar argument apply to people's lives? Cholbi agrees that longer
life is not necessarily the better. Suicide can be a rational choice.
However, people are usually confused that once that they kill
themselves, they'll experience the consequences of their death - such
as the misery their death will bring to other people.
Ken argues that I don't have the right to kill other people. I am also
a person. Therefore, I don't have the right to kill other people.
Cholbi comments that this argument was first pointed out by St.
Augustine. He mentions that suicide depends on some sort of specialness
of the "I". It ultimately rests on a unique status that "I" enjoy and
gives me the permission to kill "me". Cholbi raises skepticism about
whether such a special status can be justified.
Ken asks Cholbi how he would react to the case of a friend who is in
pain and contemplates suicide. Ken notes that in the case of this
hypothetical friend, he would have legitimate reasons and his suicide
would be moral. Cholbi thinks that most suicides are due to temporary
depression or despair. Cholbi doesn't have a settled position on
whether it is right to prevent suicide by coercion but certain
populations, teenagers, children, should be coerced for prevention.
On a listener's note, Cholbi concludes that afterlife considerations
have impact on suicidal thoughts. Any doubt about the afterlife weakens
reasons for committing suicide since suicide becomes uneffective in
ending one's life.
Philosophical Reporter Polly Striker
4:39) interviews Eve Meyers, executive director of San Francisco
Suicide Prevention about the causes of suicide. She also interviews Ken
Baldwin, a teacher in Northern California, about his failed suicide
(Seek to 47:52): Francesca, a translator
who used to live in a developing country, used to offer lower rates for
his work. Now he has migrated to the US and has to offer high rates.
Therefore, he can't compete with the lower rate. Should he try to
undercut the job offers his colleagues in the developing countries get?
What is the effect of globalization?