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epistemologue

Reification and Suicide

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11 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Meditation is potentially a wonderful practice, but we cannot will away all experience of pain; a Buddhist on the rack will feel it (and so will an Objectivist).

_______________________

The feedback I've received indicates that my initial attempt at constructing a useful thought experiment did not succeed. It is possible that nothing will. But here is a second attempt (this does not speak directly to suicide, perhaps, but it is meant to illuminate some of the underlying issues):

I think this illustrates the idea I was struggling to convey. Pain, as a mere physical sensation, or pain, as a total mental state of sensations, beliefs, sense of life, and philosophy. A mere sensation may be excruciating, yet not necessarily going to last at that degree for long. Perhaps you'd say you are asking me what if the fleeting pain lasted indefinitely. I'd respond that it could only last 'indefinitely' with the proper mental attitude. The proper attitude would reduce it to manageable levels, not at all worth suicide. Or, you would die then and there anyway (i.e. literally no condition for even survival). Pain as a total mental state is a moral failing though; a real nihilist may say existing at all is an excruciating horror. So, I wasn't asking in a snobby way. I wanted to hear your conception of pain, because I think we define it differently.

Okay, with that more specific context, I can give a better reply - but it is essentially the same. All I'd need to know is if she'd be able to think at all. And no one would be able to know - she'll find out soon enough. The 3 extra months if anything are more valuable, and although bad qua pain, the important values I'd expect can reduce the pain enough to keep life in focus.

I will take you up on the challenge. I bet it'll take a few weeks before I come up with a plotline and all.

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4 hours ago, itsjames said:

My larger point is that you can't defend a stance on the morality/immorality of a certain action without reference to reason in some way. Yes, we have values other than reason, but reason sets the context for all values. In order for an action to be fundamentally bad, it has to be irrational.

No. I think you're missing a crucial point which Ayn Rand, as well as some on this forum, have gone to great lengths to make repeatedly. Reason doesn't "set the context for all values." The individual's particular life sets the context for his values. And if someone's life is in such a foul state that their life itself is not a value anymore, then there are no values to pursue for that person. Not even reason, if that's even possible to them. 

Some people here want to discuss the moral status of actions like suicide. But they don't want to discuss particular kinds of suicide and the particular contexts in which people commit suicide. Perhaps they believe that a person's life is valuable regardless of the view of the person actually living that life.

Suicide is not always immoral, just like killing another person is not always immoral. Context is crucially important.

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13 hours ago, itsjames said:

I'm not sure I agree that the belief in God -- and the practice of this belief -- can ever be honest, especially when the believer claims they are "certain". Sure, many believers can be honest in other areas of their lives, making them "basically" honest. But if honesty is the devotion to reality, I don't see how believing in God can be an honest thing. Please enlighten me, if you think I'm wrong.

Sometimes belief in God is dishonest, but not always. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Rand's favorite philosophers, both believed in God. Ayn Rand herself believed in God when she was young, as did Leonard Peikoff, who is the most prominent Objectivist philosopher alive today.

When we reject belief in God, I think we are the beneficiaries of advancements in science and philosophy from over the past few hundred years that not everyone has fully grasped the ramifications of yet. It's not necessarily immoral if you can't see the flaw in the cosmological argument without help from the great philosophers of the past, any more than it's immoral to miss an error in a fallacious mathematical proof.

Basically, your position amounts to the claim that every invalid concept is an inherently dishonest idea (to use Leonard Peikoff's term). That's just not true.

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The standard which we are talking about (ie. treating things according to what they are) is reason. Of course its demanding. 

But you are equating a logical mistake, forming an invalid concept, with deliberate dishonesty. They are not the same.

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The extent to which someone has and uses "concepts" like God, which have no referent in reality, is the extent to which they are irrational. Rationality/irrationality is the starting point for any discussion of what one "should" do. I don't see how there can be any other standard.

They are irrational in the sense that they are using an invalid concept, and that there is a breach between their reasoning and the facts. That doesn't mean they are irrational in the sense of being immoral or dishonest - although, in some cases, they are.

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9 hours ago, MisterSwig said:
  14 hours ago, itsjames said:

My larger point is that you can't defend a stance on the morality/immorality of a certain action without reference to reason in some way. Yes, we have values other than reason, but reason sets the context for all values. In order for an action to be fundamentally bad, it has to be irrational.

 

9 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

No. I think you're missing a crucial point which Ayn Rand, as well as some on this forum, have gone to great lengths to make repeatedly. Reason doesn't "set the context for all values." The individual's particular life sets the context for his values.

 

It sounds like you view reason as somehow being something that is learned later on in life, and that one can choose to hold it as a value if one see's its usefulness in preserving one's life. But in fact, what makes reason a fundamental value is that it is not learned later. It's always there: so long as an individual is acting on the conceptual level -- including deciding whether or not a particular action is good for his life -- and so long as he is treating concepts according to what they are, he is holding reason as a value. This is the sense in which reason sets the context for all values. Reason and the awareness of reality that it gives you is a very personal thing. It's not something outside of yourself. It is yourself in a sense.

 

9 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Suicide is not always immoral, just like killing another person is not always immoral. Context is crucially important.

Well, if you read my posts earlier in this thread, it would be clear that I actually don't think suicide is necessarily immoral. My point is that the argument behind this has to ultimately come down to the value of reason in some way.

 

 

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3 hours ago, William O said:

Sometimes belief in God is dishonest, but not always. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Rand's favorite philosophers, both believed in God. Ayn Rand herself believed in God when she was young, as did Leonard Peikoff, who is the most prominent Objectivist philosopher alive today.

Thanks, I actually didn't know some of this. However, this is why I wrote "the belief in God -- and the practice of this belief". If one is told when one is young that "God is everything", "God is what makes life possible", or things along these lines, and one then decides that one "believes" in God, I don't think this is necessarily irrational -- so long as the "belief" is more or less "hot air", in the sense of paying lip service to it. The irrationality begins, I think, when one tries to apply the "concept" of God to reality. For example, praying and thinking that your prayers will be answered by God and believing in miracles.

 

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Basically, your position amounts to the claim that every invalid concept is an inherently dishonest idea (to use Leonard Peikoff's term). That's just not true.

No, I don't quite think this. A word which represents an invalid concept to me might not be an invalid concept in your mind (I don't think so, at least). The point is that the concepts one has should be applied in the context in which they were grasped/formed. In particular, if one forms a "concept" in a non-reality oriented way (such as just using their emotions) and then tries to apply it to reality, then you have a problem.

 

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But you are equating a logical mistake, forming an invalid concept, with deliberate dishonesty.

No, I don't think so. I said that to be rational one has to grasp/form concepts in a reality oriented way and then to use them while treating them according to what they are. One can be reality oriented (basing their concepts off of perceptual evidence, differentiating/integrating, etc.) while still making errors.

 

Edited by itsjames

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12 hours ago, Eiuol said:

A mere sensation may be excruciating, yet not necessarily going to last at that degree for long. Perhaps you'd say you are asking me what if the fleeting pain lasted indefinitely. I'd respond that it could only last 'indefinitely' with the proper mental attitude. The proper attitude would reduce it to manageable levels, not at all worth suicide. Or, you would die then and there anyway (i.e. literally no condition for even survival). Pain as a total mental state is a moral failing though; a real nihilist may say existing at all is an excruciating horror. So, I wasn't asking in a snobby way. I wanted to hear your conception of pain, because I think we define it differently.

I don't know about you or others, but I find this paragraph very confused/confusing.

Whether a "fleeting pain" can "last indefinitely" (at which point it is not a "fleeting pain," so use of that term begs the question) is probably a question for science. As I am not a scientist, my current stance on that question is based upon my own experiences: in my own life, I've had pains that I would not describe as "fleeting," and I am going to presume that other people here, and elsewhere, can confirm this through their own experiences, as well.

Harrison has earlier raised the point that we can become accustomed to a sensation over time, and that's true to some degree, but I don't know its applicability to every medical condition a person might experience. I do not know what it is like to have cancer, for instance. I have had an appendix rupture, though, and that was painful enough for me. (And until my appendectomy, the pain did not subside and was not sufficiently soothed by meditative practices for me to feel either comfortable or happy.)

What this has to do with a nihilist describing mere existence as "an excruciating horror," or how we "define" or "conceptualize" pain, I have no idea. It again makes me question whether you're aware that pain is a real thing which actually exists -- not some figment of the imagination or the otherwise result of bad/mistaken conceptualization. Pain is not the result of some irrationality; it is a fact of biology and nature which rational men must take into consideration when making their choices.

And indeed, this entire thread seems to be an ode to pretending that something real (i.e. pain) is not real. The thread's title is "Reification and Suicide" -- where the thing which is supposedly "reified" is pain, which is accounted an error because pain is held to be "a zero." If epistemologue means to argue that pain is "real," but we should treat it (with respect to ethics) as though it does not, then this sunders fact from value.

But regardless of whatever technical mistake might be at the root of this error, more broadly what this fails to take into account is that what matters is not life-as-survival, but life as an experience characterized by pleasure and happiness. We do not breathe for the sake of breathing, and we do not claw for life so that our hearts may continue to beat, or so that we may satisfy some definition of "moral action"; we wish to live, and we orient our values and virtues so that we may live as best as we can, because living is wonderful.

But when a man finds himself in a position where living is no longer wonderful, then he must be be free to readjust his values accordingly. If living is not wonderful, but tortuous, then cessation itself might be preferable to continued existence.

12 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Okay, with that more specific context, I can give a better reply - but it is essentially the same. All I'd need to know is if she'd be able to think at all. And no one would be able to know - she'll find out soon enough. The 3 extra months if anything are more valuable, and although bad qua pain, the important values I'd expect can reduce the pain enough to keep life in focus.

She will be able to think. She will be in tremendous pain for all six months, but she will be able to think. Suppose that she will not be able to reduce her level of pain (apart from medications which will interfere with her ability to think, and possibly with other negative side effects, as well).

Is the pain worth taking into account when making her decision? Or does the extra three months outweigh every other consideration?

Because I wanted to focus on the existence of pain, I didn't raise other matters which potentially would exist in a real life scenario. For instance, the proposed operation could come at a great cost; suppose it would bankrupt her family, or endanger their owning a home, or something similar -- should that matter? Or is it survival -- as long as possible, regardless of pain, regardless of cost -- which is necessarily the good?

12 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I will take you up on the challenge. I bet it'll take a few weeks before I come up with a plotline and all.

I look forward to it.

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2 hours ago, itsjames said:

It sounds like you view reason as somehow being something that is learned later on in life, and that one can choose to hold it as a value if one see's its usefulness in preserving one's life. But in fact, what makes reason a fundamental value is that it is not learned later.

We are in fundamental disagreement then. Man is born with the capacity to reason. But he must choose to focus. He must choose to think. And even then he's not guaranteed reason. He must choose to focus on reality. Reason is not automatic. Not even life is automatic. We learn how to live. And we learn how to reason.

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14 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:
  2 hours ago, itsjames said:

It sounds like you view reason as somehow being something that is learned later on in life, and that one can choose to hold it as a value if one see's its usefulness in preserving one's life. But in fact, what makes reason a fundamental value is that it is not learned later.

 

11 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

We are in fundamental disagreement then. Man is born with the capacity to reason. But he must choose to focus. He must choose to think. And even then he's not guaranteed reason. He must choose to focus on reality. Reason is not automatic. Not even life is automatic. We learn how to live. And we learn how to reason.

You conveniently omitted the very next sentence in my post, which gives it context .... Please fully read and digest my posts before replying. The full paragraph was:

It sounds like you view reason as somehow being something that is learned later on in life, and that one can choose to hold it as a value if one see's its usefulness in preserving one's life. But in fact, what makes reason a fundamental value is that it is not learned later. It's always there: so long as an individual is acting on the conceptual level -- including deciding whether or not a particular action is good for his life -- and so long as he is treating concepts according to what they are, he is holding reason as a value.


Morality isn't even a question in the mind of someone who is not focused conceptually. Being focused is a precondition of morality. 

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2 hours ago, DonAthos said:

I don't know about you or others, but I find this paragraph very confused/confusing.

Whether a "fleeting pain" can "last indefinitely" (at which point it is not a "fleeting pain," so use of that term begs the question) is probably a question for science.

Fleeting is supposed to mean that it doesn't need to be a focus of attention, although still there perhaps in the background or only plain awareness of the pain. There might be a better word. That isn't to say there aren't pretty bad pains, or intense pains, but it means I'd expect a person to manage it. I imagine that although the appendix pain was strong, it wasn't one that left you unable to think about life or work towards goals.

I'm not saying pain is unreal, or only the fault of bad thinking. The point is that "excruciating unbearable pain that lasts forever" can only happen with a bad mental strategy, or you would die within moments anyway. With a good attitude, the pain will be there, but it isn't going to be so bad that life is impossible. Difficult, yes, but people generally cope. Even people who have what are called suicide headaches. As far as I know, that's the worst known pain there is. If THAT pain had no breaks, the person would stop being able to think, and the ONLY sensation will be pain as a result.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCSyikUiXm8

Notice how when he has the bouts of pain, in those moments, he's not able to think, or use rationality at all; he's physiologically stopped. If those points lasted forever, suicide is "okay" (if THIS is the level of pain you mean) - insofar as he has lost his rational capacity entirely.

Besides that, attaining and reaching for value is always possible. The woman in your thought experiment may have a tough time, but all her values are there. She'd be able to acknowledge them, talk to them, or do her own thing, at least some of the time. This may appear awful, terrible, a "clawing for life" perhaps. Here is where I agree with the word "reification", that is, making pain into something more than it is. In fact, the pursuit of life is there, the values are there - life didn't stop. Nothing about her nature as a person ceased.

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27 minutes ago, itsjames said:

You conveniently omitted the very next sentence in my post, which gives it context .... Please fully read and digest my posts before replying.

I read every word of your post. I'm trying to make the point that life necessarily precedes the existence of reason. So how on Earth can reason "set the context for all values" if its very existence depends on the value of life? I consider this to be an irrefutable point, which you haven't addressed. So I guess we're even on that account.

I refuse to steer my attention toward the faculty of reason and proper concept formation, when we are here discussing reason as a chosen moral value. Not everyone chooses reason all the time. Sometimes they choose faith.

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Fleeting is supposed to mean that it doesn't need to be a focus of attention, although still there perhaps in the background or only plain awareness of the pain. There might be a better word.

This is fine, though I don't believe "fleeting" is the word to describe what you mean. "Fleeting" means something of very short duration, which is the opposite of something of long or "indefinite" duration. So there might be a better word to express your meaning, true, but let us at least abandon those terms which are flatly wrong and consequently misleading.

Can a person redirect his attention away from pain, and in the Buddhist sense "have awareness of the pain" but not respond to it? I believe so, within limits. Yet I insist that if you gave me a Bodhisattva, the soul of a torturer, and time -- I could make him wish for death.

If you disagree, we disagree, but neither Buddhism nor Objectivism are magic, and Objectivists are not superheroes. Knowing that A = A does not entail freedom from pain.

I also believe that there are pains, including natural pains (e.g. disease), which are intense enough to push through our attempts to "background" them; perhaps this is more or less true on an individual basis, yet even that fact would offer no relief to a man in the grips of his own, personal pain. Someone with a painful cancer who does not have the temperament, training, or perhaps natural capacity to ignore his pain has that reality to deal with and no other.

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That isn't to say there aren't pretty bad pains, or intense pains, but it means I'd expect a person to manage it.

I think that holding this expectation as a general rule is rooted in ignorance. I'd also suggest that you reflect on the idea that most people... you know, do attempt to manage their pain, as best as they know how.

We're not talking about a three-year-old who skins his knee and gives up on life, after all. In the case of people who are of advanced age and suffer from debilitating pain, we may take (in many to most cases) that the fullness of seventy, eighty, ninety years has provided ever so many pains -- and that the person has fought through them all.

Your expectation that such a person must "manage" something of which you have no personal knowledge or experience, for the sake of morality, is frankly not only ignorant, but insulting.

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I imagine that although the appendix pain was strong, it wasn't one that left you unable to think about life or work towards goals.

Oh, it didn't.

It's kind of funny, actually. I know you have come to various conclusions (or suppositions at least) about me, or my character, because I am arguing that "pain exists" and moreover that "pain matters." You have suggested, for instance, that you probably have a higher threshold/tolerance for pain than I do.

Yet the reason why my appendix ruptured (most appendectomies take place before that point; most people are more responsive to that level of pain) was because I was determined to ignore the pains that I was experiencing. You see, I was in college, and it was midterms, and I had shit to do. So -- not knowing that I had appendicitis at the time -- I decided to "manage" what I regarded as a severe stomachache by taking my focus off of the pain and putting it onto other things. Hell, I didn't even take pain medication. As a rule (allowing for certain exceptions), I don't.

I continued on. I completed my midterms -- including a freaking class presentation and oral examination, despite the intense pain -- and scored well. And it almost killed me.

Now, I don't expect you to find that particularly instructive. I'm sure you'll account my mistakes to some deeper error of reasoning, or information, as opposed to my approach to pain, as such, and I wouldn't fault you in the slightest for it. I blame me, too.

But I can report that it changed how I approach my body and the information it gives me. I can also report that while I suffered from that pain, I took no joy in my existence; the midterms themselves only had value to me, because I anticipated a time when my stomachache (as I took it to be) would be gone, and I could enjoy my life again. If a doctor had told me that my stomachache -- pain on the level of appendicitis, and my appendix rupturing -- was permanent, those midterms would have lost all meaning to me. College would have lost all meaning to me.

And if I can imagine myself trying to manage/deal with that level of pain on an ongoing basis, I shudder. It would have wrecked me, wrecked my burgeoning personality. I don't believe I would be married today or that I would have a child today. I don't believe I could have sustained a career of any kind. And to think of my daily regimen in trying to manage that pain, either through meditative technique, gross distraction, or chemicals... oh, it makes my soul sick.

Would suicide have occurred to me seriously at such a young age, with "so much to live for"? I don't honestly know. In my twenties, especially, I was ignorant, too. (Not that I excuse myself from ignorance on the cusp of my forties, lol, but a sixty-year-old DonAthos will have to speak to that.) But I expect that the calculation I would make today, given a crippling and incurable illness, would be different than the one I would have made then -- and a calculation at sixty would be yet different, to say nothing of one made at eighty, or a hundred.

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Besides that, attaining and reaching for value is always possible. The woman in your thought experiment may have a tough time, but all her values are there.

When you talk about "values" this way, it appears to me to be unmoored from all reality, floating high above the forum. "Attaining and reaching for value" -- what value? What is this woman trying to attain/reach/accomplish? Seeing another birthday? Checking off ticky boxes on a bucket list? What?

If the experience of life is miserable, is in fact torturous, then what value are we proclaiming so worth pursuing that the misery and torture are morally borne?

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She'd be able to acknowledge them, talk to them, or do her own thing, at least some of the time. This may appear awful, terrible, a "clawing for life" perhaps. Here is where I agree with the word "reification", that is, making pain into something more than it is. In fact, the pursuit of life is there, the values are there - life didn't stop. Nothing about her nature as a person ceased.

As with "fleeting," I don't believe that "reification" means what you would like it to mean, here. To "reify" means to "make real." If we agree that pain is real, then even if I am exaggerating its importance or otherwise errant in my application, my mistake is not "reifying" pain. This is an important point to make, because the OP suggests that pain is "a zero" and "nothing," which is incorrect. It is further incorrect to treat pain "as though" it were nothing.

Anyways, I'm not certain -- have you answered the questions I'd asked, pursuant to that thought experiment? Here they are again:

4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Is the pain worth taking into account when making her decision? Or does the extra three months outweigh every other consideration?

Because I wanted to focus on the existence of pain, I didn't raise other matters which potentially would exist in a real life scenario. For instance, the proposed operation could come at a great cost; suppose it would bankrupt her family, or endanger their owning a home, or something similar -- should that matter? Or is it survival -- as long as possible, regardless of pain, regardless of cost -- which is necessarily the good?

Ideally, I would like your answers to both sections (which is why I've typed, and now copied, them both). Is "life-as-survival" the good, such that every other thing may morally be "sacrificed" for its sake? Or is there a moral standard higher than "life-as-survival," and if so, what?

Edited by DonAthos

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6 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I'm trying to make the point that life necessarily precedes the existence of reason.

Okay, I can agree, in the sense that "a particular man is alive before he starts to use reason". But, I do not believe this is the meaning of "life" when Rand says that life is the ultimate moral value (I don't remember exactly what she wrote, but I think it was something along those lines). Just as man's life -- qua man (ie. man as a being who uses reason to live) -- is the standard of moral value in Objectivism (am I wrong here?), a particular man's own life -- as a rational being -- is a value to him. So, I really think the values of reason and "life" are almost inseparable.

The basic point I'm trying to make is that if a man can commit suicide without being irrational (ie. without rejecting the value of reason, or perhaps, "without evading"), then he is not immoral.

 

6 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

So how on Earth can reason "set the context for all values" if its very existence depends on the value of life?

I don't like your tone, but nevertheless, please see what I wrote above.

 

6 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I consider this to be an irrefutable point, which you haven't addressed. So I guess we're even on that account.

I don't recall any time when you asked me this and I avoided answering. Nevertheless, my answer is above.

 

Thanks to all for the discussion. This will be my last post on this topic.

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13 hours ago, itsjames said:

Just as man's life -- qua man (ie. man as a being who uses reason to live) -- is the standard of moral value in Objectivism (am I wrong here?), a particular man's own life -- as a rational being -- is a value to him. So, I really think the values of reason and "life" are almost inseparable.

I think we're very close to agreeing. As a rational animal, man has a mammalian life and a faculty of reason. And these things absolutely define him as an independent entity. Living body and reasoning mind. An integrated organism. Which is why when one of these things breaks down, through disease or irreparable damage of body or mind, his capacity for remaining a proper human entity is ultimately destroyed. With a broken mind, his living body could be kept as a dependent thing. Or with a broken body, his mind could be kept as a dependent thing. But he won't be an independent, integrated entity anymore. And he might not want to persist in such a disintegrated state. Who, but the most masochistic dictator, could blame him?

Edited by MisterSwig

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That mind and body are integrated doesn't mean that one cannot at all rely on what others produce. It doesn't mean, for example, that growing your own food is the only way to be independent. If it did, we'd all be parasites in some way. What you seem to overlook are the numerous ways to live a good life, or how to work towards a good life. No one is wholly broken until they are dead, no one is forced to be dependent if their mind works and their heart beats. People do, in fact, lead happy lives despite what you call a disintegrated state, like that hypothetical football player. Part of the "anti-suicide" position here is that if you are able to think, then it is possible and even necessary to be aware of one's values, and the glory of one's ability to think.

22 hours ago, DonAthos said:

 Yet I insist that if you gave me a Bodhisattva, the soul of a torturer, and time -- I could make him wish for death.

Some have literally burned themselves alive without even screaming. So, unlikely.

"Someone with a painful cancer who does not have the temperament, training, or perhaps natural capacity to ignore his pain has that reality to deal with and no other."
Thus, it becomes a moral imperitive to acquire such skills in that situation. They are skills we need even in far less extreme situations.

"and that the person has fought through them all"
And why stop fighting any pains to come?

If the experience of life could be ONLY misery despite your mindset, your moral fiber, and resilience, all that you have said is all right. Except, such an experience does not exist, except perhaps for a real nihilist who sees all experience as misery. There is value in being alive, in taking in the world around you, the people, your creations - no matter how minor. Pain may alter how or where you find happiness, but it is a zero as far as its ability to make one's life worthless. -Pain- is not what should lead you to decide if life is worth living.

Pain is real, but a pain that is so bad that you rationally decide to end your life is not. Pain as a measurement of life's (dis)value is not real.

"Is "life-as-survival" the good, such that every other thing may morally be "sacrificed" for its sake?"
No. The woman had been living life before, the same values remain.

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Sounds like the Roadhouse ethic to me.

This focus on pain is misguided. Pain tells you that something is wrong, it doesn't tell you what is wrong. Physical pain, in less extreme cases, might be tolerable with medication. But becoming a disintegrated invalid might never be tolerable no matter what you pump into that poor soul.

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On 12/8/2016 at 1:42 PM, DonAthos said:

When my grandfather got Alzheimer's, he was not going to overcome it. This is not to say that Alzheimer's will never be solved -- that there is no way out, forever -- but it was not going to happen for my grandfather, and it was moreover reasonable to believe that at the time. Had he wanted to spare himself that descent into night (along with sparing others the same, which can certainly be of value), it would have been reasonable for him to commit suicide. That's the same calculation my father makes, when he insists that he would rather me help him die than suffer what my grandfather endured. And it is a rational, moral calculation to make.

Well, on Alzheimer's...

 

We've already developed certain medications which help with its symptoms, and we know that staying mentally and physically active will significantly slow it down (although it appears that conceptual exersize may help far more than anything else).

Part of the difficulty in curing it is that all of its symptoms are also found in healthy brains, to a lesser degree (with the exception of inflammation); like ADHD or bipolar disorder, its only distinction from what healthy people do is one of degree.

That being said, we know that the symptoms of Alzheimer's correspond to an increase of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (as compared to a "normally-aging" brain) and inflammation (which is something your brain simply shouldn't do). A 2008 autopsy of five "super-agers" (who never showed any signs of cognitive decline, throughout their lives) found substantially fewer neurofibrillary tangles than those of a "normally-aging" brain, along with perfectly typical amyloid plaques, which would indicate tau misfolding as the primary cause of all age-related dementias (including those most severe cases of it which we call "Alzheimer's").

 

There are steps available to those who suffer from Alzheimer's, today, can slow their progression by orders of magnitude.

 

On 12/8/2016 at 1:42 PM, DonAthos said:

But these kinds of sentiments always leave out the "for what purpose." You're proposing that a man in constant pain (and please remember that epistemologue framed the kind of pain we're discussing as "torture," etc.; we're not talking about a hangnail that won't heal) owes it to himself to survive... for what purpose? In order to endure yet more pain? What precisely does he stand to gain by continuing on?

A potential. By persevering through times of pain and anguish we earn a chance to be happy again, later; a chance we forfeit by committing suicide.

 

Our current Alzheimer's medications, for example, can give people an extra year or two of consciousness (or, if it's in addition to certain lifestyle changes, maybe a decade). The time we may gain that way is also a potential; a chance to do something great and noble and beautiful; a bit more time (whether days or decades) with which to enjoy yourself.

And I'm not suggesting that we enjoy ourselves while drooling and staring vacantly into space (nor while having our livers eaten by eagles); I mean an extension of our real, conscious, living lives.

 

Whether you're struggling to survive a dictatorship or an aneurysm, the reward you should fight for is one more chance to experience all of the values that life has to offer.

 

On 12/8/2016 at 1:42 PM, DonAthos said:

If you believe that a person can be in constant torture and be happy simultaneously (because he continues to think thoughts... or something)...

That was the opinion expressed in the OP, which I've already refuted.

 

On 12/8/2016 at 1:42 PM, DonAthos said:

In fact, it might be instructive to consider that "torture" is related to "torment," and the defining characteristic of "hell" is that it involves constant torment. In hell, you don't have to worry about survival -- you're not going anywhere -- but that's not a selling feature. So why not be in hell, undergo torment forever, and yet be happy? Because that's not how happiness works.

Actually (although this is purely tangential), if the Christians were right and their God had actually created us with our brains and then commanded us not to use them, the only degree of happiness that'd be open to any of us would be in Hell. A "blind rebellion" is superior to (IE leads to more happiness than) blind subservience.

 

On 12/8/2016 at 1:42 PM, DonAthos said:

As much as I love Star Trek, I think that the Kobayashi Maru analogy is not serving so much as confusing you.

 

Any thing in nature can be controlled, if one understands how it works. From Alzheimer's to light bulbs to cloud seeding to warp drives, an understanding of it leads to a dominion over it.

There is no thing in the universe that cannot be understood because contradictions cannot exist. The fact that every thing in the universe is open to our minds means that every thing is also, in principle, subject to our will (specifically the will of whatever individual can understand it).

 

The biblical passage about man being the master of every plant, animal and inanimate object on Earth; its only inaccuracies were that God forgot to mention the lightning and the rain (or rather that we forgot to have the God we invented say it).

 

If you get sick, take the cure. If the roads get covered in ice, spread salt on them. If your neighborhood is polluted with toxins, genetically engineer a microbe to eat them. If the rules of the game you're playing are wrong, change them.

If your current conditions do not permit you to be happy, don't throw your own existence away; change them. Create the sort of world you want to live in.

 

no power in the verse can stop me.gif

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
Accidental, extra gifs
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2 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Well, on Alzheimer's...

Just as I was beginning to despair, too...

Ah, Harrison, I do so appreciate both your mind and spirit. It is a balm.

Quote

There are steps available to those who suffer from Alzheimer's, today, can slow their progression by orders of magnitude.

I also appreciate your doing the research.

And I don't doubt your findings. When it comes to Alzheimer's, I know I've seen more and more about our developing understanding of the disease -- and you'll note that although I'd related my grandfather's experience, and my father's take-away from it, I've never said that I feel similarly. I have hope that we will "conquer" Alzheimer's in my lifetime, and if I came down with an early onset form of the disease, I would have some measure of optimism in combating it.

But my point, in part, was that my grandfather's experience was different. He would not have had the same reasons for hope that I would. He must have received it as a death-sentence of lingering and terrible proportions -- because at the time, it was.

Quote

A potential. By persevering through times of pain and anguish we earn a chance to be happy again, later; a chance we forfeit by committing suicide.

And where a person has cause to believe that he may be happy again, I would agree with you.

I argue only against the "moral necessity" of pushing through pain/suffering/torment where no potential for happiness exists (in reason); and that includes where "happiness" is not understood to be a real thing with actual, earthly requirements.

Happiness + torture is a fantasy. (And not the pleasant kind. It is the kind that inspires people to greater pain and suffering.)

Quote

Our current Alzheimer's medications, for example, can give people an extra year or two of consciousness (or, if it's in addition to certain lifestyle changes, maybe a decade). The time we may gain that way is also a potential; a chance to do something great and noble and beautiful; a bit more time (whether days or decades) with which to enjoy yourself.

And I'm not suggesting that we enjoy ourselves while drooling and staring vacantly into space (nor while having our livers eaten by eagles); I mean an extension of our real, conscious, living lives.

I understand what you mean completely, and completely do I agree. The advances you refer to are a marvel and a blessing.

Quote

Whether you're struggling to survive a dictatorship or an aneurysm, the reward you should fight for is one more chance to experience all of the values that life has to offer.

With respect to dictatorship, it is hard for me to conceive of a situation in which I would not fight. (I know that some in this thread have elsewhere argued that morality is impossible in a dictatorship -- which presumably would entail rejecting a supposed moral injunction against suicide -- but I am not among them.)

With an aneurysm, yes, I say fight, too -- if something real stands to be won. I suppose the potential point of difference I must maintain is only that: if a person finds himself in a position where the actual joys of life are not possible to him, then to fight no longer serves any good purpose, but only brings agony.

If we are agreed on that, but only disagree on where precisely to draw the line at which "joy is no longer possible," then we are fundamentally agreed.

Quote

Actually (although this is purely tangential), if the Christians were right and their God had actually created us with our brains and then commanded us not to use them, the only degree of happiness that'd be open to any of us would be in Hell. A "blind rebellion" is superior to (IE leads to more happiness than) blind subservience.

LOL, yes, well, of course I agree with your sentiment... but a person cowed by epistemologue or Eiuol's "moral imperatives" could (if the fates are sufficiently unkind) blunder into a hell of his own making, giving that term the full measure of respect that Christians at least intend for it. He could suffer such that he wants to die, seeing no point in persistence (having no reason to hope for future joys), and yet feel guilty for his "weakness," and push wearily on into an unending blackness to satisfy a rootless moral command. LOL. What fools we are. Hell doesn't actually exist, so we create it for ourselves.

Quote

Any thing in nature can be controlled, if one understands how it works. From Alzheimer's to light bulbs to cloud seeding to warp drives, an understanding of it leads to a dominion over it.

Yes, so long as the context is preserved that this happens in time and space. The caveman could not have gone from stone tools to the light bulb in his lifetime, my grandfather could not have expected a cure for (or substantial relief from) Alzheimer's in his, and I do not anticipate a warp drive in my own. (On this last point, I would be happily wrong.)

This was my point about the Kobayashi Maru. I completely agree with you that the no-win situation does not exist, as such. But in context, some things are possible and some things are not. A game of chess in which you are reduced to your King is unwinnable, and a caveman who needs a heart transplant is SOL.

The spirit and sense of life you express here is magnificent, and I flatter myself to say that it speaks to my own -- but when I am discussing reality (and an ethics based upon reality, like a proposed moral injunction against suicide), I must take pains (heh) to keep separate the poetry from the prose.

2 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

There is no thing in the universe that cannot be understood because contradictions cannot exist. The fact that every thing in the universe is open to our minds means that every thing is also, in principle, subject to our will (specifically the will of whatever individual can understand it).

 

The biblical passage about man being the master of every plant, animal and inanimate object on Earth; its only inaccuracies were that God forgot to mention the lightning and the rain (or rather that we forgot to have the God we invented say it).

 

If you get sick, take the cure. If the roads get covered in ice, spread salt on them. If your neighborhood is polluted with toxins, genetically engineer a microbe to eat them. If the rules of the game you're playing are wrong, change them.

If your current conditions do not permit you to be happy, don't throw your own existence away; change them. Create the sort of world you want to live in.

Now that I have quit myself of my obligations to the prose, allow me to address the poetry:

Yes, yes, yes to it all.

Edited by DonAthos

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On 12/9/2016 at 2:00 PM, MisterSwig said:

Is it "resilience" to so thoroughly depend upon the assistance of able-bodied people in order to simply survive?

It can be. A person in such a state can grit their teeth and learn to live in such a state, for however long they must, or they can just die. Only one of these choices leaves any possibility of a recovery (while still leaving the alternative of suicide wide open).

Death is always a viable option, you know, right up until the moment it happens.

 

On 12/10/2016 at 10:00 AM, DonAthos said:

Imagine a woman at the end of her life. She has a disease and she is dying -- the doctor says she has three months to live. The doctor reports that there is an operation available... but she would need to have it immediately, and it would only extend her life by another three months. And there is an additional downside: the operation is such that she will be racked with terrible pain afterwards.

And so, she is presented with this: she may live another relatively pain-free three months, or she may live six months in (crosses fingers) excruciating pain...

My question here is not: "what would you choose" or "what should she choose," but do you believe that there is a real choice to be made here? The fact of the pain -- is it, or ought it be a factor, in this decision-making process? Or is six months of life simply superior to three months of life, regardless of the quality of experience (and specifically the level of pain) involved?

There is a real choice to be made, there. I'm not saying that one must necessarily survive as long as absolutely possible.

What I am specifically objecting to is this notion that anybody can have "nothing to live for". She would have good reason to go on living, regardless of which option she chose.

 

On 12/9/2016 at 10:14 PM, itsjames said:

Well, let's try to think about what mental process this guy may have gone through prior to pulling the trigger. He's in intense pain. He doesn't know how to stop it. He vaguely remembers that there is something in his holster that he could use to "make it go away". He doesn't know what that means exactly, but he knows that he needs to act immediately, since time is running short. So he quickly does the first thing that comes to mind and blows himself away.

Well, it serves its purpose, doesn't it? Doesn't it make him feel better?

No, not exactly; it makes him feel nothing. It wipes every thought and feeling he's ever had out of existence and destroys everything that was him.

Still, a quick and painless oblivion is substantially better than a burning, but I have to wonder (since I haven't seen the movie) whether those were the only options.

 

He was on fire, he knew he had something that'd make it stop and he acted on the first thought that entered his head. Now, I'm not saying he deserves our scorn and moral condemnation (nor that I'd necessarily do better), but I strongly suspect that he could've found a better alternative if he'd had the strength to consider it a moment longer.

 

On 12/9/2016 at 2:23 PM, MisterSwig said:

I think you should study real examples of people who kill themselves for extraordinary reasons, before expecting resilience from such people.

OK, well, about a year ago I considered committing suicide. I didn't have any crippling or agonizing disease; I had moved back in with my parents, as I was filing for a divorce.

I left all of my possessions with my ex-wife, asking her only to give me our son. She refused; sending him, instead, to be raised by her fundamentalist-Christian family.

 

When I arrived at their house, my parents declared that I was mentally defective and that it was their responsibility to fix me.

They had devised a system for that purpose. My mother would ask what I thought or felt about something, I would answer and if my answer was deemed incorrect then my father would hurt me, after which my mother would repeat the question. That was how we made my decisions.

 

It wasn't long (a few months or so) after my arrival that I began to be plagued by a constant, burning desire to scream; not to say any particular words, but just to scream at the top of my lungs. It wasn't much later that I started contemplating murder-suicide.

It seemed like it had become impossible for me to ever achieve any of the goals I'd chosen, or even to escape; they wouldn't allow me to leave until I was "fixed" and I knew that this meant the unconditional surrender of my mind. It seemed like the only way for me to keep my own identity would be to get into the gun cabinet and blow everyone's brains out.

I considered it.

 

What I eventually concluded was that, although it seemed like I had nothing left to live for, it was still possible for me to live a long and prosperous life; that the thing to do was not to lay down and die, but to get up and throw everything I had into getting the Hell out (and that this would still be right even if it wasn't possible for me to flourish); that even if I ended up freezing to death in some gutter, it'd still be a better choice than suicide because it was the only choice that left me any chance of success.

 

Obviously, I escaped, and I saw my son again (who's been teaching his elders a few things in my absence) several weeks ago. I maintain that I made exactly the right choice for exactly the right reasons, and that it doesn't just apply exclusively to me.

It's because of that choice that I can slip completely irrelevant YouTube clips into places they have no business being in, whenever I happen to feel like it! B)

 

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1 hour ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

OK, well, about a year ago I considered committing suicide.

I'm glad that you got out of your hell and turned your life around. But that's not a case study of an actual, extraordinary suicide. I think I'll take a break from this thread, since nobody seems interested in knowing what they're talking about.

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On 11/29/2016 at 0:16 AM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

That depends on what kind of pain you mean. When we say that "pain doesn't matter", that's conceptual shorthand for a much more complex and nuanced attitude (as exemplified by Rand's heroes).

There was one character in Atlas Shrugged who would literally bear an unlimited amount of pain for whatever meager amount of joy he might experience - Hank Rearden. And that was what made him the guiltiest man at Taggart's wedding.

As I said, you are onto something (which I'll come back to, shortly), but it's not as simple as "pain just doesn't matter". There are important details which, if omitted in haste, will leave us unable to identify what's wrong with this picture:

But are all sensations equally pleasurable?

I'm not suggesting that one rationalistically ignore pain, guilt, or negative feelings as though they don't exist. Pain is information, it's a signal that something is damaging (or interfering or threatening) your life, your values, the fullest good you are capable of achieving. You must actually pay attention to that information and understand where it's coming from and what it means.

If you're living a life of self-sacrifice when it comes to relationships and sex, or you're having your limbs chopped off, or your hand is on a stove, the origin of the pain is this improper action, and what it means is that you should stop what you're doing and change course (pursue a fulfilling relationship and sex life, pull your hand away from the stove, etc).

The idea that "pain doesn't matter" is to say that pain is not an incentive. As I've described it, it's information, especially it's information about things that are interfering with your values, those positive values which are true incentives. What you do with that information depends entirely on its meaning - if it's a known condition that you are doing everything in your power to cure, then the continued pain is not offering any new information, and it essentially does not matter. In particular, it's not providing, in itself, an intrinsic motivation to avoid the pain - the motivation to avoid the pain comes from your positive values, those positive incentives which are being damaged, threatened, and interfered with by this pain, your inability to achieve everything you want to achieve, to experience the fullest good you are capable of experiencing by nature.

There can come a point where someone is overwhelmed by pain, and they switch their ultimate motivation from the pursuit of values, of life and happiness - even seeking to avoid and escape from pain as a means to these ultimate ends - to regarding the escape from pain as the ultimate end instead. And the consequences of this switch are devastating to the ultimate end one ought to have, morally, by your nature as a living organism and as a man.

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8 hours ago, DonAthos said:

I argue only against the "moral necessity" of pushing through pain/suffering/torment where no potential for happiness exists (in reason); and that includes where "happiness" is not understood to be a real thing with actual, earthly requirements.

The point isn't so much living a painful life, but that life by nature and as standard of value dominates any disvalue that pain gives you. Life is a moral necessity would mean here that choosing death in the face of actual positive values ends any moral sense of life, erases any dignity you may have. To me, the greatest pain of all would be to opt for the -nothingness- of death when a positive is there.

Suicide as a morally proper choice reminds me of the idea "dying with dignity".

I'll let House comment on that:

 

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

The point isn't so much living a painful life, but that life by nature and as standard of value dominates any disvalue that pain gives you. Life is a moral necessity would mean here that choosing death in the face of actual positive values ends any moral sense of life, erases any dignity you may have. To me, the greatest pain of all would be to opt for the -nothingness- of death when a positive is there.

Suicide as a morally proper choice reminds me of the idea "dying with dignity".

I'll let House comment on that:

 

Reminds me of this scene from Star Trek TNG

 

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6 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

There is a real choice to be made, there.

Thank you for answering my question directly. :)

6 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

I'm not saying that one must necessarily survive as long as absolutely possible.

What I am specifically objecting to is this notion that anybody can have "nothing to live for". She would have good reason to go on living, regardless of which option she chose.

It's possible that the hypothetical woman in my thought experiment has good reason to go on living. I do not take it, however, that every person necessarily has good reason to go on living -- regardless of their circumstance.

But that's not what this particular thought experiment is meant to address, at any rate. It is to explore whether "pain" has any value (or rather disvalue). I think that in saying that there is a real choice to be made between three pain-free months and six painful months, you would agree with me that pain is real and that it matters. (If pain were "a zero" with respect to value or incentive, why should there be any real choice at all? 6 > 3.)

6 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

OK, well, about a year ago I considered committing suicide. I didn't have any crippling or agonizing disease; I had moved back in with my parents, as I was filing for a divorce.

I left all of my possessions with my ex-wife, asking her only to give me our son. She refused; sending him, instead, to be raised by her fundamentalist-Christian family.

 

When I arrived at their house, my parents declared that I was mentally defective and that it was their responsibility to fix me.

They had devised a system for that purpose. My mother would ask what I thought or felt about something, I would answer and if my answer was deemed incorrect then my father would hurt me, after which my mother would repeat the question. That was how we made my decisions.

 

It wasn't long (a few months or so) after my arrival that I began to be plagued by a constant, burning desire to scream; not to say any particular words, but just to scream at the top of my lungs. It wasn't much later that I started contemplating murder-suicide.

It seemed like it had become impossible for me to ever achieve any of the goals I'd chosen, or even to escape; they wouldn't allow me to leave until I was "fixed" and I knew that this meant the unconditional surrender of my mind. It seemed like the only way for me to keep my own identity would be to get into the gun cabinet and blow everyone's brains out.

I considered it.

 

What I eventually concluded was that, although it seemed like I had nothing left to live for, it was still possible for me to live a long and prosperous life; that the thing to do was not to lay down and die, but to get up and throw everything I had into getting the Hell out (and that this would still be right even if it wasn't possible for me to flourish); that even if I ended up freezing to death in some gutter, it'd still be a better choice than suicide because it was the only choice that left me any chance of success.

 

Obviously, I escaped, and I saw my son again (who's been teaching his elders a few things in my absence) several weeks ago. I maintain that I made exactly the right choice for exactly the right reasons, and that it doesn't just apply exclusively to me.

Speaking selfishly, I'm very glad you made the decision you did. I'm also very sorry for those circumstances, and I hope that things continue to get better. If you find yourself low again, or if you find that threatening, please make certain you get whatever assistance you need. I need Harrison Danneskjold to talk to.

I'm sure you're right that you made the right choice for the right reasons, and that moreover what you experienced does not apply exclusively to you. My family has had suicide in it, and not the kind that I would support in this thread (or outside of it) -- but useless, awful, hurtful, tragic suicide. But neither that situation, nor (I believe) yours, is the kind of thing I have in mind when I speak of a situation in which suicide would be rational and moral.

Take my wife (please! ...but not really, I love her, and that's an awful joke now that I think about it) -- suppose she got depressed in the near future and, in a fit of despondency, took her own life? What an unbelievable tragedy that would be for her, for me, for our child, for our respective families, for our friends, for her work, for her community, and so forth. Unconscionable.

But suppose we fast forward several decades, and she was approaching the end of her life, and suppose she was battling some degenerative disease that left her in constant pain. If at that point she decided (after some measure of counseling and reflection) that she wanted to put an end to things, how should I feel about it? While it would certainly be sad to lose the person I love, it would be equally sad -- or perhaps worse -- to watch her in agony, and especially over time. There would be something of a relief at the end, too, and (yes) something like dignity in her choosing the terms of her own departure.

Though these both are "suicide," they are otherwise very different.

5 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I think I'll take a break from this thread, since nobody seems interested in knowing what they're talking about.

I feel you.

By the way... does anyone know whether any prominent Objectivist intellectuals have commented on the topic of suicide? Also, by way of Rand's views? I know that Galt threatened suicide over Dagny's treatment in Atlas Shrugged -- have there been any important commentaries about that, or about Cheryl Taggart? Or, given Rand's affection for Hugo, does anyone know whether she commented about Javert or the end of Toilers of the Sea? (It's possible that she has, and that I've encountered it, but do not remember at present.) It might be nice to have fresh grist for the mill.

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32 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

By the way... does anyone know whether any prominent Objectivist intellectuals have commented on the topic of suicide?

Here's three I looked up.

Leonard Peikoff:
Can a disease that is painful and debilitating, but not terminal, be justification for suicide?
Date: December 9th, 2013
Duration: 02:11

Why did Cherryl Brooks commit suicide and was the act justified?
Date: April 8th, 2013
Duration: 01:25

From OPAR, pg. 247 (cited on Wikipedia):

Suicide is justified when man's life, owing to circumstances outside of a person's control, is no longer possible; an example might be a person with a painful terminal illness, or a prisoner in a concentration camp who sees no chance of escape. In cases such as these, suicide is not necessarily a philosophic rejection of life or of reality. On the contrary, it may very well be their tragic reaffirmation. Self-destruction in such contexts may amount to the tortured cry: "Man's life means so much to me that I will not settle for anything less. I will not accept a living death as a substitute."

 

Edited by dream_weaver
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4 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

Here's three I looked up.

Leonard Peikoff:
Can a disease that is painful and debilitating, but not terminal, be justification for suicide?
Date: December 9th, 2013
Duration: 02:11

Why did Cherryl Brooks commit suicide and was the act justified?
Date: April 8th, 2013
Duration: 01:25

From OPAR, pg. 247 (cited on Wikipedia):

Suicide is justified when man's life, owing to circumstances outside of a person's control, is no longer possible; an example might be a person with a painful terminal illness, or a prisoner in a concentration camp who sees no chance of escape. In cases such as these, suicide is not necessarily a philosophic rejection of life or of reality. On the contrary, it may very well be their tragic reaffirmation. Self-destruction in such contexts may amount to the tortured cry: "Man's life means so much to me that I will not settle for anything less. I will not accept a living death as a substitute."

Having reviewed the quote from OPAR (also provided by epistemologue in the OP) and listened to the podcast selections, I think that my views on suicide are in line with Peikoff's. I'd wondered whether Rand had addressed suicide in her journals or letters, perhaps (neither of which I am greatly familiar with, though I have seen them quoted a number of times on the forum) -- or maybe an old newsletter. Or whether modern Objectivist intellectuals (e.g. Tara Smith or Diana Hsieh, or etc.) may have treated on the subject.

I haven't yet found anything, but in looking briefly for the above, I came upon an op-ed by Paul Hsieh arguing for a legal right to die (a separate issue that I suspect is not controversial here) which quoted from a first-person account of someone who wanted to commit suicide.

Since some folks here have wanted true-to-life specifics to discuss, perhaps this will provide an worthy example? I can only imagine what the author of this essay, Brittany Maynard, would have said to an epistemologue or Eiuol if they told her that her intentions were immoral...

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