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Is it moral to end one`s life to prevent certain suffering?

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Hello everyone,

 

(Note to readers: if you are in a hurry, just skip to the questions in bold)

 

Let me start by saying why I am bringing up this topic. I was watching True Detective (season 1) and was intrigued by the views the main character had on life. He seemed to have a very pessimist view of existence, something opposed to the "benevolent universe" idea. After searching the internet, I found that the character`s views were based on a book called "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race" by Thomas Ligotti. 

 

The idea of the book is basically that evolution has granted men with consciousness, which makes us aware of the certainty that we are going to die. According to Ligotti, consciousness produce a sense of "cosmic panic", as men comes to understand that he is just a physical being, that his own existence is linked to the survival of that organism, and that this organism is slowly deteriorating itself and coming closer to death. He goes on saying that men, specially children and young adults, have the illusion that they are immortal, and that as they get older, inevitable suffering awaits them as they approach the inevitable end of their lives. 

 

Additionally, Ligotti believes that its cruel to reproduce and put children into this world, because of the reasons stated above. 

 

I am still young, and have never felt any suffering from the knowledge that I am going to die. But when I think about it, however, it makes me sad. My grandfather is currently struggling with cancer at 81 years old, and I can see from his face that he is desperate and afraid to die. All his friends died during the last decade, slowly one by one. 

 

So, the question actually is: Is it moral to decide to end one`s life (commit suicide) in order to prevent the inevitable suffering that comes as you get older, with the knowledge that you, and people you care about, are going to die?

 

Now, please read this excerpt from OPAR, by Leonard Peikoff, in order to better understand my next question:

 

 

Existence exists. The "realm of non-existence," if one wants to use such a term, is not a competitor to reality, as General Motors is to Ford, with some kind of advantages to be considered and weighed. The "realm of non-existence" is nothing; it isn't. Since only existence exists, it is the fundamental starting point in every branch of philosophy.

 

Metaphysically, one cannot go outside the realm of existence—e.g., by asking for its cause.

Epistemologically, one cannot employ the faculty of reason in such a quest—e.g., by asking for the "reason" why, in coming to conclusions, one should accept the realm of reality. This would be an attempt, futile on its face, to engage in reasoning while standing outside existence. The attempt is futile because reason cannot be neutral in this kind of issue, not even provisionally or momentarily; reason is the faculty of knowing that which is. A "reason" detached from reality, with no special allegiance to that which is, "impartial" and "unbiased" as between reality and unreality, would not be a cognitive faculty.

 

The same principle applies in regard to evaluation. Here, too, reality is the starting point, and one cannot engage in debates about why one should prefer it—to nothing. Nor can one ask for some more basic value the pursuit of which validates the decision to remain in reality. The commitment to remain in the realm of that which is is precisely what cannot be debated; because all debate (and all validation) takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment. About every concrete within the universe and about every human evaluation of these, one can in some context ask questions or demand proofs. In regard to the sum of reality as such, however, there is nothing to do but grasp: it is—and then, if the fundamental alternative confronts one, bow one's head in a silent "amen," amounting to the words: "This is where I shall fight to stay."

 

Life has ups and downs. Some people suffer more than others. I am not from the United States, and I have seen what life is like for the great majority of people in third world countries. Most live in great proverty and life is a struggle just to remain alive. 

 

On that basis, I don`t see why the option to decide to end one`s life in order to prevent suffering or avoid the struggle, is not moral. What are your views on this?

 

 
PS. Just to clarify, I am very happy and NOT considering suicide. I just want to understand these issues better. 
Edited by MarceloMartins
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Objectivism holds that it is moral, in principle, to end one's life to prevent suffering. However, this should be preceded by a careful balancing of the positives and negatives of continuing to remain alive at a given point in time. Suicide should only be a serious option for someone if, after looking at things calmly and thoughtfully, it does not seem worth it to them to continue living after a certain point.

 

I have trouble believing that anyone would, after looking at things rationally as required by Objectivism, conclude that they need to end their life when they are healthy and young and things are going well, just in order to prevent the suffering that will come with old age a number of decades down the road. To me, it seems clear that the positives for a healthy and happy young person outweigh the future negatives.

 

Now, once the young person does reach old age, and their friends have died, and they face the prospect of a slow, painful death by cancer, it may become reasonable for them to consider suicide. But this is simply common sense, not the extreme nihilistic view you discuss in the OP.

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Objectivism isn't against suicide. It doesn't even discourage it, really. Seems like the quote above actually confirms that: staying in this realm "cannot be debated" means that there are no logical arguments for or against it.

 

I loved season one of True Detective. I've never read Ligotti, so I can only go by what Rustin said on the show, but he set up a false alternative, in which the only source of spirituality is religion, and the alternative is despair.

 

In fact, you can be spiritual, and view your life and your self as more than the sum of its parts, without relying on religion to delude yourself. A well lived life can have plenty of value, and be a source of contentment to a rational person, even at the end of it. (Especially at the end of it.)

 

By the way, is season two any good? I've been getting mixed signals on that.

Edited by Nicky
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Season 2 is not even close to season 1( not for lack of good acting). Its not terrible but it isn't close and it is about repression and projection and the predation of innocence primarily.

To the OP, as I recall Rustin actually changes his view in the last episodes ending.

Edited by Plasmatic
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Killing oneself because one is afraid of dying just sounds absurd. It's just bringing right away exactly what one doesn't want and could probably avoid for a long time. It's completely backwards. If one doesn't want to die, even though it is inevitable, the logical response is to avoid it as best as one can for as long as one can. One will die eventually, infinite life isn't an option, but any and all time living is something and something is always more than nothing.

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I was speaking with a context in mind of the contents of the first post. In that post, the only reason given for wanting to die was the fear of dying. My post is not about suicide in general, just about suicide in relation to this one particular motive. A case of, say, somebody who wants to kill themselves due to an incurable, constant, extreme physical pain disorder is an altogether different matter.

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Bluecherry, you say that "the logical response" is to avoid dying for as long as possible. I don't understand why that is the logical response.

 

I see the attempt at logic in Ligotti's reasoning: We live in fear of dying, which is unbearable torture, therefor life is not worth living. I don't agree with it, because I disagree with his premise (that, short of deluding ourselves with religion, we must necessarily live in terror of death), but I see how his conclusion does indeed follow from his premise.

 

I don't see how your reasoning is logical. You say that killing yourself because you're afraid of dying sounds absurd, which implies that it's a contradiction...but it is not a contradiction. Fear can be torture. Escaping torture is a reason for suicide.

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The right to life implies the right to dispose of ones life as one chooses, so yes, suicide is moral to the extent that it doesn't represent an aggression against anyone else.  And I agree with the sentiment that suicide is a selfish act.  However, morality is only relevant to a living being.  It's worth noting that Objectivism defines the right to life as:

 

"The freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life" (Life, Right to ~ ARL).

 

So with that in mind, Objectivism has the following to say about the morality of suicide:

 

"The freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life."

 

A corpse doesn't enjoy an end to pain and suffering.

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Bluecherry, you say that "the logical response" is to avoid dying for as long as possible. I don't understand why that is the logical response.

 

I see the attempt at logic in Ligotti's reasoning: We live in fear of dying, which is unbearable torture, therefor life is not worth living. I don't agree with it, because I disagree with his premise (that, short of deluding ourselves with religion, we must necessarily live in terror of death), but I see how his conclusion does indeed follow from his premise.

 

I don't see how your reasoning is logical. You say that killing yourself because you're afraid of dying sounds absurd, which implies that it's a contradiction...but it is not a contradiction. Fear can be torture. Escaping torture is a reason for suicide.

 "It's just bringing right away exactly what one doesn't want and could probably avoid for a long time." That's why it's an illogical response.
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   "It's just bringing right away exactly what one doesn't want and could probably avoid for a long time." That's why it's an illogical response.

That's begging the question. The whole point of the thread is: should we want to live of die?

The argument isn't that people live in terror because they don't want to die, it's that they live in terror because they fear death. You can fear things you want.

Edited by Nicky
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The right to life implies the right to dispose of ones life as one chooses, so yes, suicide is moral to the extent that it doesn't represent an aggression against anyone else.  And I agree with the sentiment that suicide is a selfish act.  However, morality is only relevant to a living being.  It's worth noting that Objectivism defines the right to life as:

 

"The freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life" (Life, Right to ~ ARL).

 

So with that in mind, Objectivism has the following to say about the morality of suicide:

 

"The freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life."

 

A corpse doesn't enjoy an end to pain and suffering.

 

DA:  you are confusing morality and politics. 

 

Also politics is derived from ethics, not the converse

 

Edited by softwareNerd
Considered moving to different thread, but abandoned the idea
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DA:  you are confusing morality and politics. 

 

Also politics is derived from ethics, not the converse

 

The right to life is a moral principle that we can hope is recognized and secured by politics, but it is not created (or enacted) by politics.  So when speaking of the morality of suicide, it is appropriate to recognize it as one of many moral actions that flow from having a fundamental moral right (being correct and proper qua Man) to the disposal of ones life, no?

 

EDIT:  I am differentiating morality from politics as it relates to the fundamental right to life.  Consider the following statement:

 

"You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most..." (Morality ~ ARL)

 

Clearly the reference to a desert island is intended to assert morality in general, and a moral right to life in particular, apart from a social context, i.e.,  the right to life, as a moral principle, precedes politics.  If I am confused about this, please enlighten me.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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Morality/ethics comes first. i.e. it completely antecedes rights and politics.  Determining what moral action is does not flow from a determination of rights.  Rights are defined on the basis of what the requirements are for a self-sovereign to live according to morality.  The only beneficiary of ethics is the self-sovereign and its standard is life.

 

You seem to be trying to invert the order.

 

As govt and society properly exist only insofar as they serve and benefit individuals, rights and politics must depend entirely upon ethics and morality (both of which are based on rational self-interest).

 

 

Observe also the question of suicide is in particular a question of individual action in regard to oneself.

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Life presupposes effort, and insofar as man is fallible, cannot control everything, is subject to accident and pain, life also presupposes some degree of suffering being experienced in life.

 

Ab initio choosing life involves the act of choosing the inevitability of suffering to some degree.

 

Some questions to consider:

 

1.  Is the choice to live amoral, pre-moral, i.e. antecedent to ethics (I think it is)?

2.  But once a person has chosen to live and has adopted an ethics, if that person changes his choice, can that changing of the choice be considered any longer a pre-moral choice, or because he has already adopted morality, does the consideration of such a choice require moral judgment ?  What morality i.e. what standard applies to that choice of changing ones mind about living?

3.  If the choice to change ones mind about the choice to live is one which falls within the domain of morality is the "weighing" of total suffering or disvalue over the long term against total happiness and value (in terms of the most likely outcomes) a valid standard? Can 51% disvalue and 49% value even be quantified as such and even if it could would it be rational to consider such a thing (or something like it) as determinative?

 

Seems like an arbitrary loophole for moral beings to completely throw out morality and life... as soon as they arbitrarily choose not to live... and the rest of us would have no right morally condemning it.  Perhaps I need to think about this some more.  Any thoughts?

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SL said:

Seems like an arbitrary loophole for moral beings to completely throw out morality and life... as soon as they arbitrarily choose not to live... and the rest of us would have no right morally condemning it. Perhaps I need to think about this some more. Any thoughts?

Do you see the same as applying to the Oist view of life boat scenarios?

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OP's focus appears to be a fear of "suffering" rather than a fear of dying.

Actually, I'd say fear of death is the basis of the suffering here. It's the type of fear induced by awareness of death, that suffering is caused by being aware that death will occur eventually. Ligotti's "cosmic panic" as described in the OP is caused by looking at death, seeing how deterioration is inevitable, then suffering from this recognition. So, it would be ironic and absurd to seek out the object of one's suffering - death. Ultimately, that "cosmic panic" is a fear of the end of deterioration, which is death.

Leaving aside the contradiction of seeking suicide with that mindset, and just looking at a person who says "life is only pain, it's better to just die", I'd say what William O said.

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The right to life is a moral principle that we can hope is recognized and secured by politics, but it is not created (or enacted) by politics.  So when speaking of the morality of suicide, it is appropriate to recognize it as one of many moral actions that flow from having a fundamental moral right (being correct and proper qua Man) to the disposal of ones life, no?

 

EDIT:  I am differentiating morality from politics as it relates to the fundamental right to life.  Consider the following statement:

 

"You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most..." (Morality ~ ARL)

 

Clearly the reference to a desert island is intended to assert morality in general, and a moral right to life in particular, apart from a social context, i.e.,  the right to life, as a moral principle, precedes politics.  If I am confused about this, please enlighten me.

 

An ethical question regarding an agent's action precedes rights in the conceptual hierarchy.  SO it is your very invocation of the right to life in a discussion of whether a certain action is moral which is the problem.

 

Rights are a reflection, i.e. are facts of reality which manifest in a resulting codification of what a society must avoid doing (rights being freedoms from interference) SO THAT an individual can be free to voluntarily live in accordance with a morality based on his nature and which morality's sole beneficiary is that individual. 

 

Rights are wholly based upon and do not give rise to morality.  Morality gives rise to rights and is wholly not based nor dependent upon the concept of rights.  If you want to talk about rights according to Objectivism you nee to understand the order of things.

 

 

"There's a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up." - Captain Miller - Saving Private Ryan

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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*scratches head* Was that big OPAR quote and the part after it always there? I feel nigh on blind to have missed it before. The question after the OPAR quote deals with a substantially different motive for suicide than the motive given in the section before the big quote. The third world country thing, specifics of an individual case would be necessary to say whether or not somebody was really in that hopeless of a situation or not that it would make sense to quit living. "That's begging the question. The whole point of the thread is: should we want to live of die?" I don't think that is the point of the thread. The first section looks to be about somebody who wants to live, that being the reason to have a negative emotional response to the notion of it ending, so we're already beyond the point of determining wanting to live or not. Wanting to live or not also has no "should"s though anyway because "should" is a moral issue and we can't form moral guidelines for somebody until and unless they've already decided they want live since morality is built upon what to do if you want to live. "The argument isn't that people live in terror because they don't want to die, it's that they live in terror because they fear death. You can fear things you want." Why fear death if they don't oppose dying? ". . . is moral to the extent that it doesn't represent an aggression against anyone else." The discussion related to this, in a nut shell, the problem with the line is that aggression against others is not the only immoral thing.

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An ethical question regarding an agent's action precedes rights in the conceptual hierarchy.  SO it is your very invocation of the right to life in a discussion of whether a certain action is moral which is the problem.

...

 

"A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.  There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life."  ~ Life, Right to - ARL

 

Note this statement equates right (quoted) as a moral principal; not the political reflection of a moral principal, but moral itself.  Whether or not a man is free to act in a social context, it is correct and proper (right) to his nature to have the freedom of action to own his life.  I think we agree that morality precedes politics, but disagree on the literal meaning of this right as a moral principle.  So I will ask, if the right to life is only a political entitlement, why refer to it as being inalienable, as in the following taken from ARL, Individual Rights:

 

"It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill—but the inalienable individual right of another man to live."

 

So we have by your logic delimited to a social context, a right that isn't a social right, and glaring contradiction in the way Objectivism presents the right to life as a moral principle.  Or we have a fundamental right that precedes politics.  I choose the latter.   

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Notice also that Ms. Rand says "freedom of action", not freedom from the action of others.

I asked about the life boat view in Oism because it turns some ideas expressed here on their head. Either one can treat emergencies as amoral, or one can choose to act on the principles that are derived from a context where moral, life sustaining choices are available. If one chooses the latter and chooses to pursue moral principles, the irony is that one will be acting against ones own life.

Example, a sick person is in a post hurricane disaster. They are an insulin dependent diabetic. They have no insulin and there is another person who is insulin dependent nearby and none else wise. You can either take their insulin and live, or choose not to live in a manner less than the rational animal-man qua man.... If you choose the latter, to treat this as a moral context, you must choose to jettison life in order not to jettison moral principles.

Incidentally, I often think I would choose the latter, so I am not picking on SL. I don't think I could sustain an untormented conscience by reminding myself that I had no moral choice but to accept that my life required me to behave like wild animals. But I am not sure.

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OK, well nothing kills a good conversation like staying on topic...

 

There is a certain dark logic to Ligotti's view.  Supposing that awareness of mortality leads to suffering, and suicide is painless, then painful life is bad and painless death is good. Que theme song (Suicide is Painless, by Manic Street Preachers):
--
The game of life is hard to play
I'm gonna lose it anyway
The losing card of some delay
So this is all I have to say
 
That suicide is painless
It brings so many changes
And I can take or leave them if I please
--
A common sentiment expressed at the death of a loved one suffering from a terminal illness is, "it's good that he's no longer suffering."  But I think this is grasping at comfortable straws because if given the choice to continue living with a tolerable amount of pain, death wouldn't be more preferable life.  Certain, but tolerable, suffering is part of the experience of living a mortal life, and to paraphrase Reagan (about abortion), I've noticed that everyone who is for suicide is still here arguing."
 
In order to have moral weight, there must ba a good choice vs a bad choice.  No choice carries no moral weight, and death is an end to choice, so it follows that choosing death is choosing an amoral solution.  That is essentially what I was trying to express to StrictlyLogical when our conversation got derailed; that a moral choice that leads to an amoral consequence represents a contradiction of nature.  For morality to remain valid, there can't be logical loopholes to moral consequences.  In order to avoid the contradiction, one must conclude that suicide (as a choice) is in fact immoral, not amoral.  Even if one argues that a painful life is bad, there is no good feeling that results from choosing death, because a corpse isn't capable of enjoying anything.

 

Suicide isn't an escape from suffering, it's the destruction of hope and therefore immoral.

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