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To be or not to be? That is the question. A brief look at why not to commit suicide.

“There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that” – Albert Camus

I was driving along the road and there was a steep drop on the one side. I wondered what would happen if I had to suddenly floor the accelerator and turn left. I’d surely die. But what of that? Why not commit suicide? Hamlet, in his famous soliloquy comes to the conclusion that the main reason people don't commit suicide is the fear of the unknown. And while that may be true for some, I don't think fear is the best reason for not committing suicide.

When I was driving in the car, the first reason that came to my mind was my dad. I couldn’t commit suicide because he’d be racked with sadness. This was quickly followed by the thought of the grief of my other family and friends. My second reason for not turning the wheel was because of the possibility of good which I could do. I’m not doing much good now (let’s be honest) but I have the opportunity to do good in the future. If I had to end my life no further good could come on earth*.

And I think these two reasons provide us with a template for the meaning or purpose of life - community and the possibility of good. Devoid of these two things there is, in my eyes, no reason for life. The meaning of life has nothing to do with my internal happiness because that is fleeting. To me, purpose and the value of life is derived extrinsically rather than intrinsically. Whether or not are we are doing good now is not a reflection of the good we could be doing. 

Understanding this idea of the value of the human life flies in the face of the death penalty, because to kill someone is to say that there is no possibility of good in this person's life. When Jesus deals with the prostitute who the authorities want to stone instead of allowing the stoning he turns and says "go and sin no more". Because for Jesus, value is not derived from the past failings, but rather by the future possibilities that you have.

So, whilst fear is a natural response to death and suicide, I think the positive actions which we could take far outweigh the hardships of this life. Look at someone like Nelson Mandela who could easily have gotten despondent (and I’m sure he did at times), but if he had ‘turned the wheel’ he would never have realised the enormous good that was awaiting him.

*It is interesting to think of this in terms of self-immolation. And if that is not in fact a morally correct decision to make considering the future good which would come of your suicide.

1 comment:

  1. I think there is a lot more to consider when pondering this age-old philosophical thought.

    Many could argue that staying alive is rather a drain on possible 'goodness'. More people could be better off in the long run as a result of your death. More food and resources for others, for example. Depends on one's perspective. Not having children vs raising a family is another example. Which is more 'good'?

    I agree that most would feel that the pain that their death might cause family and friends is too unthinkable, but again this is dependent on one's perspective and state of mind. Someone who might feel such guilt likely values their life – could even be narcissistic in the extreme sense. A suicidal person on the other hand would think differently and is likely to believe that his or her death would actually benefit their close friends and family.

    I find it interesting that even a severely depressed person will often fight to the death if he / she is about to die by someone else's hand. People have an extreme instinct for survival and I would argue that most people would likely hit the brakes just before going over the edge...