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Life As The Standard Of Value For Suicide

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Styles2112
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When I mentioned people who choose to terminate their lives, I was thinking of suicides. Such people are usually hopeless. They may be a mistaken. Or-- as in many assisted suicide situations -- it is rational. Some recent threads have got me thinking about the philosophical error in hopelessness (not the psychological part), but that's is something for a different thread.

I'm not sure I follow your question. Could you elaborate? Why, for instance, would life be the standard of value?

SoftwareNerd,

Forgive me, please, as I'm not that great at articulating what I mean to say. Under Objectivist ethics, life is the standard of value from which all other values are derived. I suspect this is so, because without life there is nothing (i.e. we'd all be rocks, or the like...). So, in a "hopeless" suicide situation (i.e. not referring to a vegetative state, or terminal disease) the individual has simply chosen death, or, not to think anymore. However, despite what many might feel (probably a key word here), isn't being alive, in itself, meaningful?

I've seen a couple posts on here, and theoretical ideas of saying,"I can't live my live to my fullest potential (be it government issues, family issues, job issues, whatever...) so, THEREFORE my life is meaningless." I realize at this point I'm not sure how to phrase my question to get the most out of it, so please bear with me (if you will). Isn't having the life, to begin with, meaningful? Or is the suicide justified because of the "wrong" choice of "not to think?" (i.e. consequences of actions).

:)

I realize that I'm probably not getting much across, I can't think of a better way to say/ask this stuff. If you can figure out what I'm trying to get at, I appreciate your (or anyone else's) thoughts on it. Thanks.

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Thanks for the question. As I pondered it, I found it was more interesting than I first thought. If I miss the intent of your question, please correct me.

Your initial premise: Some people commit suicide because they wrongly conclude that life is hopeless.

I think you're asking two questions:

  1. How can one argue that they're mistaken (not argue to the point of convincing them, but what is the formal argument)?
  2. If they are mistaken, is their suicide justified, given that is was based on a choice that is outside morality?

I don't have answers, but I'll start the exploration...

The second question seems simpler. At first glance one might think that any choice to commit suicide is outside the province of morality. After all, morality is really a body of knowledge. It is a science of how to live. It gets you from A to B. It does not insist that you should want to go to B in the first place.

Take a contrived example of two suicides: one is a terminally ill person who cannot move, is in constant pain, etc.; the other is a person with a temporary and curable mental affliction that deludes him into thinking he is terminally ill like the former. Since the latter's affliction is temporary and curable it's clear to see that he is making a mistake; if he does not commit suicide, he'll be glad when he recovers. However, since his mistake is caused by an illness, it is probably not something for which he is responsible.

However, take a typical person who (naturally) wants to live and enjoy life, but who gradually makes wrong conclusions that lead them into depression and hopelessness. If these conclusions are wrong, they may be the result of evasion. They may not, but they may be. Worth exploring...?

How about the first question. How can we say someone is mistaken in their conclusion about life being hopeless? There seem to be two possible ways to make a mistake: not considering all the facts; or, weighing certain "negative/anti-life" facts much more highly than the available "positive/pro-life" facts.

Gail Wynand commits suicide. I think he knows all the facts. I think he concludes that he really cannot live with himself, with the reminder of all he has done. He delivers justice to himself, as his own executioner. Was he wrong...?

A prisoner in a Gulag is a different example. Here, the hopelessness is caused by others. Folks sent to such prisons don't commit mass suicide shortly after arrival. That speaks to how natural it is to want to live and "enjoy" even stark life. For such prisoners, the knowledge of human volition keeps alive a tiny spark of hope that one day things might change. However, I do not think that fully explains the fact that more do not commit suicide. Even if they accept their condition as contextually-metaphysical (unchangeable in their lifetime), I think they prefer to live and to extract the little that life has to offer. Are they right in doing so? If one of them decides he does not want live on those terms, is he right?

Those are extreme cases, but such examples are simpler, by virtue of being less wishy-washy. This post is long enough already. Other examples can wait for further discussion.

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So, in a "hopeless" suicide situation (i.e. not referring to a vegetative state, or terminal disease) the individual has simply chosen death, or, not to think anymore. However, despite what many might feel (probably a key word here), isn't being alive, in itself, meaningful?

I've seen a couple posts on here, and theoretical ideas of saying,"I can't live my live to my fullest potential (be it government issues, family issues, job issues, whatever...) so, THEREFORE my life is meaningless." I

I dont think its that simple. Have you ever felt incredibly bored - not because there was nothing to do, but because you simply didnt want to do anything? There were activities which you normally participated in but, in your current mood, you simply couldnt derive any pleasure from? This sort of boredom is, in a sense, entirely in the mind - even if you were placed in a situation where you would normally be very excited/happy, you still would be unlikely to respond to it simply because of your mood. I would assume that this is what severe depression is like - its not that 'life is hopeless/meaningless' in any objective sense; its more that youre unable to derive any pleasure/meaning from life. It's no good saying that these people should do X, for the same reason that it would be pointless telling the bored person to just 'do something interesting' (or telling someone whose wife had just died that he should do something fun to take his mind off it). The only real option is to wait until the mood has passed and youve returned to 'normal'. But if the depressed person didnt recover after several years, despite trying various different things (eg medical drugs), then suicide might become an option.

Edited by Hal
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So, one might argue that suicide is the "human" form of Natural selection. Those who choose to think, and those who choose not to?

SoftwareNerd,

Yes, I think that was what I was trying to get at. Apparently, there's no simple answer.

I'll probably have to think about this for a bit more before coming up with other questions or ideas.....Interesting thoughts though. Thanks for the response!

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Isn't having the life, to begin with, meaningful?

This question has been bothering me for some time. My answer is this, however: The concept of meaning cannot be applied to life since life precedes meaning; that is to say, life is what grants meaning.

Thus life is not valuable nor valueless, it is the standard of value.

But then this would lead me to believe that one cannot value life--which seems so counterintuitive. However, in general, when a man says, "I value life," I think he means not "life" per se, but that which life affords him (i.e. the chance to have pleasure, success, etc.)

Hopefully this helps ;)

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Rand's stance on suicide was something that bugged me for a while before I gained a good understanding of her ethics, but it's really quite simple; it's just stated in a somewhat unclear manner in most Objectivist literature.

As human beings, our most fundamental motivation is not life as such, but rather happiness. We desire the feeling of joy, success, accomplishment, etc. Every action we take is driven by our search for this deep sense of well-being, so our purpose in life its attainment. Happiness is, as Ayn Rand stated, the feeling which derives from the achievement of one's values. Happiness, then, is not itself a value, but a gauge of how well one is doing at achieving values according to some outside standard. Objectivism identifies that standard as life, meaning survival to the maximum extent possible over the course of one's entire lifetime. Happiness arises from taking the actions required to sustain and improve your life. If such action becomes impossible (as, for example, with a person confined to a hospital bed) then happiness becomes impossible, and the motivation to go on living is no longer there.

Essentially, life is only a value if you choose to pursue it, which is why the choice between life and death is "pre-moral." People who do not choose to pursue life are outside the realm of morality. However, those who do not make this choice are still motivated by their desire to achieve happiness, so individuals who choose suicide when they are not in a truly hopless situation are acting in an irrational manner, which is why Rand says suicide is only "justified" in certain, limited situations.

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Isn't having the life, to begin with, meaningful? Or is the suicide justified because of the "wrong" choice of "not to think?" (i.e. consequences of actions).
I personally would say that it's not life itself, but the quality of life that is meaningful. Quality being composed of both current status and future potential. Suicides when the quality of both parts is good would be wrong, and right(?) when they're bad. Suicides when only one's current state is bad, or only the future is dim are much more difficult to me, though.

And I agree that a suicide because of a choice to not think is bad, so long as these are differentiated from those involving an inability to think.

How can one argue that they're mistaken (not argue to the point of convincing them, but what is the formal argument)?
Hmm. I suppose we'd start with/decide whether there is an objective basis for such a person being mistaken, or whether the idea of him being mistaken is purely subjective.

If they are mistaken, is their suicide justified, given that is was based on a choice that is outside morality?
Probably depends on how honest that mistake was.

Essentially, life is only a value if you choose to pursue it, which is why the choice between life and death is "pre-moral." People who do not choose to pursue life are outside the realm of morality.
But, once accepting life as a value, is it ever totally rejected? If it is not, it might be arguable that suicide does have a moral status.
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which is why the choice between life and death is "pre-moral."

I'm not sure I agree with this yet, but it parallels something I have been thinking about related to committing suicide. Bear with me if this seems a stupid question.

While this exercise (this thread) is constructive for evaluating suicide and things to consider if one of our lives got to the point where we would comtemplate it, what is the point of pronouncing moral judgement on someone else who has already committed suicide? They have ceased to exist, so any judgment against them will have no impact on them. If their suicide was evil, their evil died with them.

The only point I can see in evaluating the morality of someone else's suicide is to gauge how it impacts me. (i.e. what is the is/ought of suicide for me, using another person's suicide as "case study" so to speak) That is something I find to be an excellent reason to judge the suicide of another. It is also the reason why I don't see the choice between life and death being "pre-moral".

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