Is it morally wrong to commit suicide?
In this essay, I will argue if it’s morally wrong to commit suicide. By definition, suicide is “the action of killing oneself intentionally”1 , ‘intentionally’ being the word that tends to cause controversy with this topic, as it implies that the individual is conscious of his actions. Therefore, to argue this statement I will mainly analyse Hume and Aquinas’ arguments as well as other contributions from other philosophical authors. Aquinas’ main argument states the act of suicide is morally wrong to the self, community and God.
Primarily, Aquinas argues that suicide is morally wrong. In his work, Summa Theologica, he outlines his case against suicide. Firstly he argues suicide is morally wrong against oneself that “everything naturally loves itself”2 .As humans we naturally aim to protect ourselves, even nature lower to us does the same, the prey runs from the predator, hides in shelter etc. aiming to preserve its life. The word ‘naturally’ implies that it is part of the law of nature for us to love ourselves; therefore the act of suicide is a violation of the law of nature. Consequently, if breaking a law is a crime, then breaking the law of nature is morally wrong. However, the best way to understand the human , is to look at nature itself. In 1845 in the case of “Singular Case of Suicide”, a dog was seen to throw itself into the water and endeavour to sink by “preserving perfect stillness of the legs”3 , even after the dog was rescued it re-attempted and indeed was successful. This case of animal suicide shows that it’s not natural for us to love ourselves, if it were then why would even nature(a dog) itself try to kill itself. Animal suicide shows that , it is both naturally in us to both love ourselves but also self-destruct, if nature which is lower than us can resolve to suicide, then how much more stronger is suicide on us? Hume, criticises this argument further and proposes “if I turn aside a stone, which is falling upon my head I disturb the laws of nature”4 . We constantly find new ways to preserve our lives, for instance, new medicines, cures to illnesses; isn’t this then a violation of the law of nature. Therefore using the reductio ad absurdum argument, if taking one’s life is violating the law of nature and is morally wrong, then the preservation of one’s life is also a violation and morally wrong. Aquinas argues “every man should love himself”5 . This arguments weakness lies in its subjectivity. Hume says,” no man threw away his life while worth keeping”6 , no one wants to harm themselves as we have a natural horror of death, therefore suicide is a desperate measure ,Ramsden stated “when the body and mind are so damaged by stress and so it leads to self-destruction”7, therefore as Aquinas said ‘happiness’ is not even considered, the feeling of hopelessness overrides the individual.
Suicide may be considered morally wrong due to the fact that “every man is part of a community, and, so as such belongs to the community”8 . According to the deontological argument, the word ‘deon’ meaning ‘duty’, we have an obligation and duty to society, therefore the suicide of an individual brings harm to the society. The flaw of this argument lies in the fact that what if we do not make any contributions in society , then doesn’t this mean we bring no harm to society, as the society we live in is reciprocal. In Durkheim’s study of Suicide, it argues that the community can be the cause of a person’s self destruction when there is too much regulation, so not only can the individual affect the community but the community in some case may be the cause for the destruction of the individual. It is also important to consider the consequentialist argument of ‘happiness for the greater number’. If the rest of the community is being burdened by the individual’s existence then the act of suicide would be in fact helping the community. In the case of
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