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Is suicide selfish?

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vita
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This came up at work when I told my coworkers that a man in my neighborhood shot himself in the head and that he had 2 little kids and a wife. One of my coworkers then said, "how selfish of him", my immediate thought was how is that selfish? but i bit my tongue because i knew what shed say and i also didn't want to launch into a philosophy monologue, and to be honest I couldnt articulate on the spot why it was in fact selfless or cowardly.

Im really interested in hearing your thoughts about this topic.

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I think the word to consider here is rational vs. irrational as opposed to selfish vs. selfless. This action was, I think, in his *irrational* self interest. Insofar as I can judge from this remote 3rd or 4th party perspective.

But that said - you must come to terms with the fact that the Objectivist definition of Selfish is not the definition used by the majority. Context matters - and the words used within a certain context must be considered in THAT context - not in YOUR context.

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As seen through your discussion with your coworker, the meaning of the word selfish is misunderstood by the vast majority of people. Most suicides are out of cowardice or irrationality (e.g. 1800 page suicide letter man). I would be interested to hear an example someone has for a rational reason to end your life. Some situations most likely exist but would probably have to be pretty "out-there" since rationality and suicide do not often intersect.

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So to your mind, there is no possible situation in which death is preferable to living?

How can one prefer "not living"? I mean, objectively explain to me how, once the choice is made and completed, the "self" is happier.

What you're proposing is a choice between two evils. And in that context, yes there are times when the "lesser evil" for a living person to chose may rationally be death. That is a failure of value achievement at the highest possible level. When death is the best option, the alternative(s) must necessarily be to live as less than man qua man... without the option to exercise freedom, free will, or achieve one's rational values, the option to act selfishly is lost.

In the context of Objectivist Selfishness, suicide is the polar opposite.

Edited by freestyle
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How can one prefer "not living"? I mean, objectively explain to me how, once the choice is made and completed, the "self" is happier.

Semantically incorrect. Preference is not something which occurs after the choice is made and completed. Prefer is a present perfect verb. I prefer cookies to a smack upside the head. I do not need to HAVE the cookies to know I prefer them.

That said:

What you're proposing is a choice between two evils. And in that context, yes there are times when the "lesser evil" for a living person to chose may rationally be death. That is a failure of value achievement at the highest possible level. When death is the best option, the alternative(s) must necessarily be to live as less than man qua man... without the option to exercise freedom, free will, or achieve one's rational values, the option to act selfishly is lost.

I agree up until:

In the context of Objectivist Selfishness, suicide is the polar opposite.

In the previous paragraph, you conceded that there may be a situation where the rational option is death. To be selfish is to be rational. You must now consider the question - can one be rational and NOT be selfish in the Objectivist sense?

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Semantically incorrect. Preference is not something which occurs after the choice is made and completed. Prefer is a present perfect verb. I prefer cookies to a smack upside the head. I do not need to HAVE the cookies to know I prefer them.

...

In the previous paragraph, you conceded that there may be a situation where the rational option is death. To be selfish is to be rational. You must now consider the question - can one be rational and NOT be selfish in the Objectivist sense?

Well then you have a chicken and egg problem. How do you know that you prefer cookies to a smack on the head? You need to HAVE some accurate knowledge of, or experience with, cookies to form a preference. But the context of rational selfishness was my point here. Once dead, there is no YOU for the decision to be about. The rational case for suicide is a choice between NOT being able to live a rationally selfish life (but still being biologically alive) or NOT being able to live a rationally selfish life by being dead.

It is akin to having to act in an emergency situation. I would say that the choice for suicide is the perfect example of how one could be rational and not selfish*. Remember, in the case where suicide would be considered the rational choice, the option of living a rationally selfish life has been removed from the equation. (If it hadn't, then choosing death would, necessarily, NOT be rational.)

If a man's right to free will and choice of actions is taken from him (by force or nature), life becomes biological and not the Objectivist's definition of man's life (self-sustaining and self-generated action). So the choice is between two zeros. Death or non-life. A forced choice between two evils is not part the normal conditions of life where objective selfishness can apply.

*Selfish in the Objectivist's sense of serving your LONG-TERM rational best self interest. Suicide is instant and final. Long-term selfish life is off the table in this scenario.

Edited by freestyle
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  • 1 month later...

As seen through your discussion with your coworker, the meaning of the word selfish is misunderstood by the vast majority of people. Most suicides are out of cowardice or irrationality (e.g. 1800 page suicide letter man). I would be interested to hear an example someone has for a rational reason to end your life. Some situations most likely exist but would probably have to be pretty "out-there" since rationality and suicide do not often intersect.

yers i never understand why not this ppl just pack ther bags sell all ther stuff and buy a ticket to laos jungel or indonsien island and live ther they ahev nothing to lose....

btw you never know how many that did think of take sucicde but did take a big change (they was going to get dead annyway so why not risk somthing)like change country work/carrer/family move to a cottage middel of nowhere

and did not shoot themself

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This week someone I knew killed himself, leaving two children behind. The discussion was raised this afternoon and someone mentioned that "he" was selfish for doing it. One definition of selfish is "ones own interest", however according to the updated Oxford dictionary defines it as:

adjective

(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others ; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure:

I joined them for selfish reasons

Is this an attempt to change the definition to what has been accepted by the mainstream?

At any rate, according to that definition I believe his act could be classified appropriately as selfish.

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If you have the option of *continuing to live* a rationally selfish life, then suicide cannot be a rational choice.

If the option to live rationally selfish is not available, then choosing suicide may be rational, but not properly selfish. It would just be the lesser (better option) of two evils.

When people say that suicide is a selfish act, the are speaking of selfishness in the conventional (non-Objectivist) sense. (as in that definition quoted by LogicalPath above "lacking consideration of others" - which is, in fact, not implied *or* denied in the actual meaning).

Edited by freestyle
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This came up at work when I told my coworkers that a man in my neighborhood shot himself in the head and that he had 2 little kids and a wife. One of my coworkers then said, "how selfish of him", my immediate thought was how is that selfish? but i bit my tongue because i knew what shed say and i also didn't want to launch into a philosophy monologue, and to be honest I couldnt articulate on the spot why it was in fact selfless or cowardly.

Im really interested in hearing your thoughts about this topic.

I think that suicide is every person's inherent right. You didn't come here on your own, you didn't get to choose what family/country/society to be born into - there are a lot of factors that can make a persons' life 'unpleasant' to live even before he's out to face the world. And even beyond that, how can man claim to live a free life if he's not free to end it at will?

As far as I can see, the problem in this case are the children. These children presumably were born with his direct involvement and are therefore under his direct responsibility. They will suffer the consequence of his action despite not being at fault.

So... I guess your guy is kind of wrong. Not because he killed himself, but because of the circumstances under which he did it. But even then it's murky - I mean, what's worse: growing up without a father or growing up with one that has no desire to live (which will probably reflect in his attitude)?

Of course, the Japanese have a solution for that - kill yourself, your wife AND your children. IIRC there was even a case like that with an immigrant family in the USA sometime in the early 80's.

Disclaimer: my nick reflects my grasp over objectivity, so take all of this with a big bunch of salt. :)

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There is the only one situation in which suicide becomes selfish-when the life becomes an opposite of itself, an agony, painfull and slow dying without any possibility of escape. In such a situation the decision to terminate this anti-life process would be in fact an affirmation of life. Person who does so proclaims by his action: I know what life is and I refuse to accept its opposite, an agony, as a substitute since such an action would be an action of selfless sacrifice.

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