Ethics of suicide

Discussion in 'Opinions, Beliefs, & Points of View' started by Nick_K, Feb 14, 2011.

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  1. Nick_K

    Nick_K Well-Known Member

    So far what keeps me from killing myself is the ethical concerns that arise. I am very fortunate in my life to have people who love me and certain talents that help me get by. Yet I still feel like I shouldn't exist; I intuitively believe that my existence is a mistake.

    The ethical concerns are important because folks disagree on religion, but we can all agree on basic principles of right and wrong. There are two basic viewpoints that speak against suicide: Utilitarianism and Duty ethics (Deontology).

    From a utilitarian standpoint, if I were to kill myself, that would end my suffering but it would traumatize my close relations (family and significant other). Therefore on net the total suffering increases. Since it is wrong to commit an action that increases total suffering, I should not kill myself. This is dependent on life situation; if nobody cared about me this argument would cease to work.

    From a duty standpoint, if I were to kill myself, I must accept that everyone else should also kill themselves if they believe their existence to be onerous. My estimate is that this covers a large proportion of the world's population. If everyone were to commit suicide under the same conditions as my own, then society would be in a pretty bleak position. Therefore it is wrong for me to commit suicide from a deontological perspective.

    But the issue that has been bothering me lately is that I am dragging myself through life, sometimes okay but most of the time in deep depression, carrying on in grim determination since it is my duty to family and society to be a productive human being. It doesn't take a psychological expert to recognize this as a recipe for resentment. Now how productive can I really be in society with mental illness weighing me down?

    If I apply this aspect to an external viewpoint, and ask what if everyone simply pushed themselves to survive out of a sense of duty, then I think that maybe it would be better to self select out of the system, leaving the earth's resources to those who feel like they do have a positive reason for existing. On the other hand maybe it is simply my duty to find my own reason for living rather than ending my life in the absence of such a reason. Yet my illness makes it such that no matter how much positive thinking or coping skills training or affirmations (or whatever the pop psychology community is spewing at the moment) I go through, I still feel like a waste of space at the end of the day.

    So are there any ethical concerns that address the issue of basically resenting one's own existence? Is it possible to change if one has this type of personality? I'm hoping that since this forum is essentially here for people struggling against suicidal impulses that someone has more experience on this.
  2. total eclipse

    total eclipse SF Friend Staff Alumni

    I find you post so interesting to read Is it possible to change of course change is possible with any thing hun i do hope you continue to receive that support you have to keep you here and in time i hope you feel that you are necessary and you do matter and you should be here With age so much changes our thought our beliefs our perspectives hugs to you
  3. Chargette

    Chargette Well-Known Member

    You stated it well. This happens to me in varying stages of intensity, My coping is best accomplished in 24 hour living. I focus on today. I try to be a little productive, interact a little, and a little something I like to do, That's about as far as I can go with it.
  4. jota1

    jota1 Well-Known Member

    In terms of the macrocosm then yes you should leave the earths resources to others that are actually more productive than you but in your microcosm this would most likely be devastating

    I often do a small (huge!) exercise during the day. Take a mental note of the things I am doing and going through the thought process as to how they would be resolved without my input and who would do them if I were dead. I will go through this process with everyone and everything that I interact with during that day. At the end of the day I tally the positives and negatives. Sometimes my presence is reasonably irrelevant but most days my activity has meaning to others around me and therefore I have trouble conciliating this with my suicide. I over-think everything but its a good mental exercise.

    Even if you do think about the well-being of the macrocosm, very noble of you, I would suggest that without the microcosm there is no macrocosm
  5. worlds edge

    worlds edge Well-Known Member

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to clarify a few things here:

    • This “basic principles of right and wrong” you mention. What exactly are the ones that we “can all agree [up]on?” I’m skeptical of that statement as being true, but I’d like to see the specifics behind it before I offer any criticism. I may be misreading you. As in, if you’re confining yourself to Western Judeo-Christian type values you might have a point, but if you go much beyond that you’re giving yourself a mighty long row to hoe, given how many different cultures with wildly differing values have existed historically. And I would say continue to exist today.
    • I certainly can’t claim any expertise on Utilitarianism/Consequentialism, but I do know that Bentham’s version is different from Mill’s and both are different from some of the lesser lights of the school of thought. Which version should we presume you to follow? (A difference being, as in, Bentham felt playing tiddlywinks was identical to writing a symphony if both gave you the same level of pleasure, and Mill vehemently disagreed, establishing some sort of hierarchy, where Act X would exist a higher plain than Act Z.)
    • You seem to be presuming “duty ethics” as part of whatever it is that we’re all agreeing upon. Am I reading this right? If so, I guess I need to ask the same questions the same way as I did in my first item. If not, I guess I just need to know what you think your duties are, that sort of thing…but you do certainly seem to be implying ethical Universalism .

    I think a “true” utilitarian would somehow figure out the level of their pain vs. the level of the pain of those left behind once the suicide occurs, and act according to that. How on earth such a calculation would be made I honestly have no idea, but you seem to be taking as a premise that your pain in living is less than the pain these others would feel if you killed yourself. I guess I’m curious what steps you went through to verify what I take to be a main premise.

    I don’t know about you personally, but I’d assign myself a “pretty bleak position” in the society in which I presently find myself, whatever choice you do or do not make. And why do you conclude this hypothetical group “should” kill themselves? I would think the furthest your reasoning could take you is to replace that “should” with something like “has the inherent right,” whether or not they choose to exercise it.

    Hmm, most of the stuff I’ve read has been about the morality of the act itself, not your specific question. I think the Existentialist philosophers might, but I’ve never read them, at least as to source material. Schopenhauer’s essay on suicide and the stuff he peppers into his other writings sound a bit like what you’re asking about.

    Taking Schopenhauer as an example, the answer would be “yes,” but it was due to a change in his external circumstances more than anything else. He utterly loathed the philosopher Hegel both personally and professionally, but Hegel was “the” philosopher in Germany until the 1820s or so, when a sort of “anti-Hegelian” movement arose…And they found the writings of Schopenhauer. Suddenly he was in demand, was quoted, translated, all that good stuff.

    So, the philosopher of pessimism rather bizarrely spent his declining years eating at the best restaurants, being invited to numerous social gatherings, going to the popular plays, and walking his poodle, (for some strange reason called “Young Schopenhauer,” people do give their dogs weird names…), and as something of a celebrity. He apparently ate it all up, and died peacefully in bed.

    You do get some interesting perspectives, although what seems to happen is that if someone gets “better” they tend to move on. Meaning most posters here are in the midst of their own struggle, as you are in yours. Sorry I can’t be more upbeat, but if I’ve learned one thing since joining SF, it is that there is no such thing as a one-size fits all solution.

    Speaking for myself, I don’t resent myself as much as disgust myself. As with being saddled with a mind that can remember the name of Schopenhauer’s poodle, but can provide only the broadest outline of his actual philosophy.
  6. Fedupforreal

    Fedupforreal Well-Known Member

    Are you sure? 'Right and wrong' seems to be the single most flexible, malleable concept around today.

    'Right' = whatever we want to do at the moment, no matter who it hurts. 'Wrong' = all that other stuff that's wrong but that we have no interest in at all, so there's no risk in judging others for it.
  7. Nick_K

    Nick_K Well-Known Member

    By basic principles of right and wrong I was referring to the fact that humans have some moral intuitions and are capable of experiencing empathy. Sorry if this example is threadbare, but for instance it would be difficult to find someone who thinks it is okay to torture puppies for no reason.

    In my view the various schools of thought along these lines are attempts to encode the experience of empathy and intuitions about things that one should or should not do. None of these are perfect or else there would not be so many of them. Whether duty corresponds to this is a matter of debate but in my view it, and any other ethical code, is a tool to communicate certain moral sentiments. My point was not to argue for the metaphysical existence of any particular encoding but rather to consider an action that I intend from a couple of well known perspectives. I'm new here and don't know the education level of folks so I was trying to keep from getting too deep into particulars. More importantly, it seems to me that if it is the case that

    As far as moral relativism goes, it still remains that in a given situation there is a right and wrong. The action which is allowable may shift from situation to situation and be determined solely by self interest, but even self interest demands some degree of empathy since one's ability to influence others is in large part due to one's reputation.

    The version of utilitarianism I have studied is Mill's and I am not familiar with where he and Bentham disagreed, but in your example I wonder if the two might be reconciled by observing that writing a symphony may bring enjoyment to more people overall than playing tiddlywinks, i.e., when the effects on others are considered perhaps this hierarchy emerges. This would have to consider whether the composer was writing good symphonies. But in the case of suicide I don't see any point in appealing to a hierarchy because the question is just about emotional pain. Is it right to end my own emotional pain if doing so would pain others?

    Perhaps my own suffering over a lifetime could be calculated as greater than the grief that my loved ones would eventually process, but the argument could bounce back and forth endlessly throwing new wrinkles in like considering the opportunity cost of what I might have contributed to society along the way, oh but how could I be so arrogant as to assume any contribution I could make is material, and so on.
  8. Nick_K

    Nick_K Well-Known Member

    That's very interesting. I guess in my case it's kind of a question of how you look at it. My family does care but they don't see me very often. Alternatively the people I interact with in my career depend on me for a ton of stuff but that is spread along so many different projects that I wonder if my absence would really affect anyone. That said I also tend to overthink things and discount positive feedback while ruminating over negative feedback for way too long.
  9. chjones21

    chjones21 Well-Known Member

    I am sorry your feelings/mental state is where it is at the moment. I would say that your suffering is a product of your perception to some extent and rather than killing yourself perhaps you could try to look at experimenting with trying to change your perception (either through medications or cbt) to see whether that has an impact.

    Because clearly, if it does have an impact, you then are set up for a very positive life experience surrounded as you are with people who love you and a strong family bond and solid career with success. All these things are very stabilising and positive - at the moment they are not quite (or in the balance) outweighing your unhappiness but mental states can and do change - really very quickly in some cases, they can then flip back and go up and down and back and forth but they are CLEARLY changeable because they do change.

    It is not all perception, some misery is situational or chemical or a result of a genetic imbalance but certainly a part of it is the perception of ones situation which you can have the capability to change - with some work and persistence and then instead of thinking it is all not worth it and never will be worth it --- all those thoughts and feelings simply vanish, to the point that you almost forget that you had them and are replaced with a feeling of normality which means just being irritated by the little things whilst feeling generally well-minded.
  10. jota1

    jota1 Well-Known Member

    I love this quote, we use it a lot in my country..."The cemetery is full of indispensable people" If you really want to analyze your life in a rather cold and clinical way then its all a question of finding your "life's" net worth. It seems that you are a respected and useful member of society so I dont know why the existentialism problem.

    Are you measuring the individual or the combined pain of all the people that surround you and how can you measure something that's subjective and hypothetical?
  11. Nick_K

    Nick_K Well-Known Member

    The existentialism problem does come from the fact that I am a fairly productive member of society, yet I still feel like I shouldn't exist. If I were non-productive and felt this way, or felt differently about being productive, then there would be no conflict.

    About measuring suffering or pleasure, the point is that it cannot really be quantified. The ethical argument to consider the relative balance sounds nice on the surface but is problematic in application because it would have one apply a calculation to a qualitative and subjective factor. There are times when one situation clearly has more utility than another, but when two situations vary in timing, intensity, or duration, it's almost impossible to get an apples-to-apples comparison.
  12. Delsi

    Delsi New Member

    Well, those are all very good points. The way I see it, someday you will find dreams for the future. Currently mine is my significant other, and our dreams of someday getting our own house, and possibly a dog. These things I want very much, but some days it just doesn't seem worth it. But I personally am not violent enough to force-ably take my own life. However, since I never wanted to be born, I refuse to ever have children because I have determined (under my own personal morality) that child-bearing is immoral (because you have no choice on being born, yet you cannot choose to stop living). But this does rest on the idea that suicide is immoral. I would say, because it would hurt those around me in a way that I could not take if I were in their position. It would simply put them in a horrible position, the feeling that they could have helped me.
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