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A family member has been thinking about killing himself. What are some good Objectivist arguments to talk him out of it? Is suicide ever acceptable?

I am very torn on this issue, so I am not sure how to answer your question. I would like to recommend that you watch the documentary, The Bridge. Cameras were installed in different locations around the Golden Gate Bridge and caught about 24 people jumping to their deaths in 2004, if I'm not mistaken. Family and friends of the deceased speak about their loved ones, what they went through prior to their deaths and for how long. There is even one survivor who recalls his experience. I am not sure if it helped me make up my mind as to whether suicide is okay or not, but it definitely gave me more to think about. One thing I am pretty sure of after watching the film is that if someone has it in their head to kill them self, there's not much anyone is going to be able to do to stop them.

It's a remarkable, eerie film. I've never seen such beauty contrast with such chilling moments. The music is also beautiful, yet haunting. I highly recommend it.

http://www.thebridge-themovie.com/new/index.html

Click to watch the trailer.

Edited by K-Mac
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A family member has been thinking about killing himself. What are some good Objectivist arguments to talk him out of it? Is suicide ever acceptable?

I think a little more context would be necessary.

Sure its acceptable. The Objectivist ethics come into play, given the choice to live life. There's nothing that says you should want to live.

I think though that this might be more of a psychological issue than a philosophical one, so coming up with Objectivist arguments is probably not going to be fruitful. But then, you havent told us much about the situation.

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I don't think there is any argument possible. Unless for such things as painful, terminal illness, it is not a rational conclusion, and consciously so.

Often, a person contemplating suicide does so because he thinks of the world around him as, essentially, a mysterious, hostile, malevolent, unintelligible, unknowable place where he can never succeed, can never achieve, can never have, can never want, can never be happy; where what he has achieved, what he has, and what he wants are meaningless. It is the malevolent universe premise, ingrained into one's mind by years of acceptance, in its psychological manifestation. It is Peter Keating (the good? huh?) and it is the early Dominique Francon (the good doesn't fit into this mean little world).

The cure? I'm no philosopher and no psychologist, but: to see with one's own eyes, to understand with one's own mind, and to want with one's own heart, the benevolent universe premise.

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Sure its acceptable. The Objectivist ethics come into play, given the choice to live life. There's nothing that says you should want to live.

Thanks for the reply. As I am a bit of a "lapsed Objectivist" (I read AR's novels only about 20 years ago) could someone please go into more detail regarding Objectivist ethics as they apply to suicide?

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Often, a person contemplating suicide does so because he thinks of the world around him as, essentially, a mysterious, hostile, malevolent, unintelligible, unknowable place where he can never succeed, can never achieve, can never have, can never want, can never be happy; where what he has achieved, what he has, and what he wants are meaningless.

This is, of course, brought up in the documentary I mentioned above. Many people visit the bridge for days before deciding to jump. The survivor describes sitting there crying for around 45 minutes as he tries to decide whether or not he really wants to jump. As he's sobbing, a German tourist walks up to him and asks if he will take a picture of her and her husband. He wondered how she could ask him such a thing while he was in such obvious angst, but he realized that she hadn't even noticed he was crying. She was on the bridge, walking around, enjoying the sites and her vacation. And he realized all the people around him were going about their lives. For some reason, people who commit suicide seem to think there lives will never be like all those others they see moving around them.

This surivor also describes how as soon as his feet left the platform, his first thought was that he wanted to live. One of the most chilling moments in the film for me. Does everyone who commits suicide think that just as it's too late?

End of Reason, I wonder if your family member has ever seen It's a Wonderful Life? As silly as it sounds on the surface, that movie really illustrates the value of one single life and how one can change so many for the better and not even know it. It also illustrates how life is full of ups and downs, and it's how you react to the downs that make you a better person.

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Thanks for the reply. As I am a bit of a "lapsed Objectivist" (I read AR's novels only about 20 years ago) could someone please go into more detail regarding Objectivist ethics as they apply to suicide?

They *don't* apply to suicide, is the problem: ethics is a guide for *living*. If you don't want to live any more, you don't need ethics, all you need to do is stop moving and nature will take its course.

Another good book that deals with suicidal psychology is Midnight by Dean R. Koontz: the main protagonist had decided that he only had 3 things to live for (I don't remember it exactly), but the list included Goldie Hawn movies and Guinness. At the end of the book he realizes this is ridiculous and he had thousands of reasons to live, he was just being an idiot and refusing to think of them because it hurt.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to get across with this is that if someone hasn't experienced some truly overwhelming catastrophy they probably aren't thinking about what they really have to live for . . . and probably because thinking about what they have to live for hurts. Your life sucks? Why? Is it because you don't have a job so you're sleeping on someone's couch? Is it because you're flunking out of school and your parents are screaming at you all the time?

It hurts a lot sometimes to really sit down and examine the whys, and for a suicidal person this process doesn't motivate them to change, it makes them feel *guilty*: it induces passivity and feelings of hopelessness instead of action.

I *don't know* how to fix that, sadly, it changed for me but it was a long and difficult process that I mostly carried out on my own. I think the best advice I can offer is to encourage your family member to pick one reason why his life sucks and one concrete action he can do to fix that one problem. No job? Solution: get job. Try to help him find a situation that will let him work on one problem at a time, even if this means letting him do things like move into your apartment and live rent-free for a while. Don't complain about him doing *anything* other than not working (don't harass him about chores or whatever else he's doing, just focus on the job aspect).

The reason (I think) this works is that depressed people tend to feel overwhelmed by all the things they have to do to fix their situation. If you can just get them to focus on one thing, they will be able to pursue it, their life will suck a little less, and they will feel more able to take on more tasks: you can add one more thing and one more thing (or they will add them on their own initiative) until they are juggling an entire life like everyone else.

Now, if his suicidal-ness is not a result of "life sucking", then other options may need to be explored like introducing him to Objectivism (no, life is NOT an existentialist hell) or getting him on some medication if it's a chemical imbalance.

Note that none of this is professional advice, it's just based on my own experience.

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EndOfReason,

No rational ethical argument can work with your friend. The essential issue to be addressed is something that comes before ethics. It is this: is life worth living? That's not a question that is part of ethics.

As a general question, without considering the situation of any one person, life potentially has much to offer... interesting puzzles to solve, fun projects to build, tasty food to eat, great wine to drink, exciting games to watch, new places to see, absorbing books to read, ... one can go on.

Of course, none of that is applicable to someone who is bed-ridden, hardly conscious and terminally ill.

So, the question has to be answered in the context of your friend's own situation. On the one extreme he could really have had a lot of things go wrong (through choices made or otherwise) and finds himself "overwhelmed by catastrophe" (as JMeganSnow put it). On the other hand, his life could be uneventful but normal, and he might simply not see any point to it. The approach you take would depend on where he is. At one extreme, his main need may be for some existential help and advice about how to change his life step by step. On the other hand, he might need the help of a psychologist.

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I don't think there is any argument possible. Unless for such things as painful, terminal illness, it is not a rational conclusion, and consciously so.

This opinion is not consistent with Ayn Rand's statements regarding suicide, or with the implications of her ethics. Unfortunately I don't have access to my Objectivism research dvd right now to look up quotes. But consider the part in Atlas Shrugged where

Francisco says he would kill himself if they tried to torture Dagny

. That is not a scenario of physical pain as is the one you suggested, but of psychological pain at the loss of a value.

If one truly has no possible values left to gain in the world, no hope and no joy in living, my view is that it would be self sacrificial to continue living. The problem is that if one is in the midst of an intense psychological depression, it's difficult to see things objectively. There is a tendency to overlook solutions and other options that are available. Sometimes things can look hopeless when really they're not. But it is possible for things in this world actually to be hopeless for someone. It depends on the context.

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  • 11 months later...

*** Mod's note: Merged with an earlier thread. - sN ***

Quick question on the topic of suicide. I realize this has probably been debated many times, but I'm not here to debate things, I'm simply inquiring on the objectivist view. I'm wondering, if life is the ultimate value because it makes all other values possible, what then happens when a person wants to end his/her life? Does that mean that a true objectivist will never commit suicide? Any insights would be helpful. Thanks.

Edited by softwareNerd
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I am quoting DavidOdden from another thread quoting Peikoff:

This quote from OPAR p. 24708 may help"

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."

Edit: I'm not sure which version of OPAR David has; mine doesn't have 24,000+ pages. I am not sure exactly which page this quote is on.

Edited by adrock3215
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Does that mean that a true objectivist will never commit suicide? Any insights would be helpful. Thanks.
No, it does not mean that an Objectivist will never commit suicide. All it means is that he does not look to something external -- like society or God etc. -- to form a standard and a justification for his actions, but considers his life itself as the standard for his actions.

However, there is no injunction that one must continue to stay alive and act.

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No, it does not mean that an Objectivist will never commit suicide. All it means is that he does not look to something external -- like society or God etc. -- to form a standard and a justification for his actions, but considers his life itself as the standard for his actions.

However, there is no injunction that one must continue to stay alive and act.

Very helpful, thank you!

Don't worry, I'm not suicidal :D It was a question for research purposes.

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Quick question on the topic of suicide. I realize this has probably been debated many times, but I'm not here to debate things, I'm simply inquiring on the objectivist view. I'm wondering, if life is the ultimate value because it makes all other values possible, what then happens when a person wants to end his/her life? Does that mean that a true objectivist will never commit suicide? Any insights would be helpful. Thanks.

Hi Grifter730.

Life is one's ultimate value because other proper values serve to further one's own life--life is a value in the "ultimate" sense because everything else that is sought for its benefits (like food) are "derivative" in comparison (these "derivative" values must actually be good for a person's life to be "values," mind you).

Choosing to accept life as one's ultimate value is exactly that--a choice. One can be mistaken about suicidal thoughts--like when one's present condition isn't as bad as he thinks, or he's come to the idea of killing himself for mistaken or even outright stupid reasons, but that doesn't mean that suicide is inherently unjustified, in the Objectivist view.

Certain dire circumstances--living under a dictatorship, or torture, or dying from some horrible disease--can make suicide a justified option. When life is no longer worth living, what kind of moral code would demand that he keep pursuing values anyway, even when he can't (or is very unlikely to succeed)?

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It's not directly related to Objectivism, but Ive always been fascinated by Nietzsche's portrayal of 'rational suicide' carried out in the name of human dignity by those who feel that life can no longer provide them with what they require:

In a certain state it is indecent to live longer. To go on vegetating in cowardly dependence on physicians and machinations, after the meaning of life, the right to life, has been lost, that ought to prompt a profound contempt in society. The physicians, in turn, would have to be the mediators of this contempt—not prescriptions, but every day a new dose of nausea with their patients ... To create a new responsibility, that of the physician, for all cases in which the highest interest of life, of ascending life, demands the most inconsiderate pushing down and aside of degenerating life—for example, for the right of procreation, for the right to be born, for the right to live.

To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Death freely chosen, death at the right time, brightly and cheerfully accomplished amid children and witnesses: then a real farewell is still possible, as the one who is taking leave is still there; also a real estimate of what one has achieved and what one has wished, drawing the sum of one's life—all in opposition to the wretched and revolting comedy that Christianity has made of the hour of death. One should never forget that Christianity has exploited the weakness of the dying for a rape of the conscience; and the manner of death itself, for value judgments about man and the past

Here it is important to defy all the cowardices of prejudice and to establish, above all, the real, that is, the physiological, appreciation of so-called natural death—which is in the end also "unnatural," a kind of suicide. One never perishes through anybody but oneself. But usually it is death under the most contemptible conditions, an unfree death, death not at the right time, a coward's death. From love of life, one should desire a different death: free, conscious, without accident, without ambush ... Finally, some advice for our dear pessimists and other décadents. It is not in our hands to prevent our birth: but we can correct this mistake—for in some cases it is a mistake. When one does away with oneself, one does the most estimable thing possible: one almost earns the right to live

Twilight of the Idols: Skirmishes of an Untimely Man, 36

Edited by eriatarka
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  • 5 months later...

*** Mod's note: Merged with an earlier thread. - sN ***

When, if ever, is it objectively appropriate to commit suicide?

If you became permanetly disabled and were no longer able to work, would you prefer suicide to relying on a Social Security income?

I would say that it would be appropriate to commit suicide when one's values become compromised to an intolerable degree, or to avoid such from happening.

Edited by softwareNerd
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When, if ever, is it objectively appropriate to commit suicide?
I don't know what that means. I understand "appropriate" to be a relationship between an action and a goal. So if your goal is to stop existing, it would be "appropriate". Though not given the contrary go of existing.
If you became permanetly disabled and were no longer able to work, would you prefer suicide to relying on a Social Security income?
No. I would consider it if it were not possible for me to pursue goals anymore, because the disease had destroyed my mind or left me in such pain that my mind could not function. Also, it's not clear to me how the disability becomes crucial. Would you suggest that people should kill themselves rather than retire?
I would say that it would be appropriate to commit suicide when one's values become compromised to an intolerable degree, or to avoid such from happening.
But does being physically disabled really constitute an intolerable compromise of one's values? That would not be a rational value system.
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No. I would consider it if it were not possible for me to pursue goals anymore, because the disease had destroyed my mind or left me in such pain that my mind could not function.

What kinds of meaningful goals could you realistically puruse if you were unable to work and were forced to rely on welfare?

But does being physically disabled really constitute an intolerable compromise of one's values? That would not be a rational value system.

If you valued your independence and autonomy above all else and lost is as a result of disability, could that become an intolerable compromise?

Edited by cliveandrews
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What kinds of meaningful goals could you realistically puruse if you were unable to work and were forced to rely on welfare?
How is anyone using force against me? I don't understand your hypothetical. Well, if you're British that could be part of the problem (names of institutions). Social Security is not welfare, it is the government-mandated retirement system. Social Security is an insurance-like system that you pay into, and get something back from when you retire.

Let me charitably assume that you meant something like this: you're maimed in an accident, you stupidly don't have insurance, and you are physically incapable of holding your regular job as an airplane pilot. Then should you kill yourself, or go on welfare? The answer is, this is a false dichotomy, because your choices include teaching, selling insurance over the phone, and making lace doilies. In addition, "making money" is not the same as "pursuing values". Although it may be true that some people have such a poor sense of life that they see no value in anything other than the paycheck, but that again is an irrational viewpoint, since it evades the fact that there are many things that contribute to eudaimonia.

If you valued your independence and autonomy above all else and lost is as a result of disability, could that become an intolerable compromise?
I wasn't saying that if you had an irrational set of values you couldn't be boxed into that kind of a suicide pact. Treating independence as your actual highest value, above existence itself, is an irrational value system. It contradicts the nature of values.
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