The belief that suicide is always irrational.

To declare any given suicide as rational is unthinkable for most people. Even people who claim to support suicide only believe that it can be rational under “hopeless” circumstances, such as having an incurable disease and exercising “sound” decision-making. This begs the question, who is this hopeless for and who gets to evaluate the soundness of any suicide’s arguments? Why should any given set of factors be declared “hopeless” and all others hopeful?

Again we come back to the concentration camp standard: what if I think conditions far better than a concentration camp are still not worthy of living in? The only response possible from the moralizers is that they are personally disgusted by suicide/antinatalism. So what? The fact that you are disgusted is not a reason to ruin someone else’s life. You don’t get to choose for other people.

Why is it that in most cases we readily accept that someone is making a rational decision, and the only standard that we use in those cases is being of sound mind, but in the case of suicide this basic respect for other people flies out the window? We are so mired in disrespect for suicides that even the most rational suicide must be declared non-rational in order to maintain the belief that life is worth living. Here is a perfect example:

A BRILLIANT schoolboy shot himself in the head after carefully calculating the benefits of life and deciding it was not worth living…

After weighing up the pros and cons, he decided to commit suicide and planned it meticulously. He taught himself to use his father’s shotgun and worked out how to fire it with a wooden spoon. He then waited until neither of his parents was at home before carrying out the plan last month.

Dr John Burton, the West London Coroner, said it was clearly a considered process and Dario “came down on the side of suicide”…

“He was quite stoical about it. He did not fear death. He decided on balance that life is not good and points out that the mathematics he has used are indisputable.”

If there is an open-and-shut, clear case of a rational suicide, here is one. But as far as I read, the reactions to this story were either to mock this boy’s supposed lack of logic (which was merely assumed, but his logic was obviously rational enough for him, which is really all that matters here), because anyone who comes out against life is obviously a raving lunatic, or to mock him personally. This is not an exceptional reaction but rather a very ordinary expression of the hatred of suicide and what suicide reveals about life.

Let me ask you this, how many people who are anti-suicide take a long, hard look at life? Not their personal life, but life in general? I am willing to bet you that not one of them has the dedication that this boy had.

I know someone will bring up the irreversibility objection, and I have not discussed that one before, so I might as well address it here. Actually it was estnihil, an antinatalist, who brought it up on my right to die entry. My reply was that all decisions are final and potentially regrettable, including passing on a job offer or entering in a relationship. So why should we think suicide is more regrettable than any other decision?

One may then argue that suicide is a special case because it entails death, and from there no further choices can be made to palliate anything. But I think that’s an arbitrary standard meant to single out suicide. Plenty of decisions people make entail the risk of death, and we don’t treat those decisions as if they were special in the same way.

Does the fact that a suicide may come to regret eir decision later on mean that it is therefore always an irrational decision? But this is a bad argument. Of course many people who continue to live come to accept that they are alive, because they have in the meantime accumulated new values and benefits. Some do not accept it and continue to try to kill themselves, but those cases are never mentioned, again because they are inconvenient to the status quo.

True, a specific person has no way to know if ey will end up in the former or latter category. But the fact that a person at time T+1 believes that suicide at time T would have been regrettable does not mean that suicide at time T is actually regrettable. Suppose a person wants to leave an abusive cult, but is recaptured and brainwashed. This person may then state that their attempt to leave was regrettable. But the fact that the cultist at that time states that such a decision was regrettable does not mean it was regrettable at the time it was taken.

Granted, the example of a cult is extreme, but I used it to clarify my point. All our ideological positions, pro or con in whatever shades you wish, are reactions to the indoctrination to which we are subjected. There is no atheism without organized religion, there is no Anarchism without statism, and there is no antinatalism without natalism. We are subject to indoctrination against suicide and for life, so why should we be surprised that some people change their minds?

Now that I’ve refuted the irreversibility objection, I want to talk about the larger issue of irrationality. What makes a decision rational or irrational? If anything, it must be one’s willingness to confront the facts and correctly assess expected consequences based on those facts. Surely not all people who commit suicide have done this, just as a lot of people who take all sorts of decisions do not confront facts. But on the whole it seems rather more likely that the decision to kill oneself is much more rational than the decision to continue to live, which is rarely ever examined if at all.

Natalists believe suicide is irrational because life is always (or almost always) worth living. There are three ways to understand this. One is to say that their specific life is worth living. This may be the case, but has no bearing on the lives of people who contemplate suicide, since everyone’s life is different. Another is to say that the suicide’s life is worth living, but this is illogical since one cannot make a subjective evaluation for someone else.

The final way is to say that life in general is worth living. But this is an equivocation between lifespan and life-system, as I’ve explained before. The life-system is not worth it, but individual lifespans can be. But this only pushes us back to the two previous options, which are illogical.

Any given life may or may not be worth living, but one cannot make such judgments. It may be that having an incurable disease makes life not worth living. What about those people who have an incurable disease but still find life worth living? What about those people who do not have an incurable disease and still find life not worth living? We can’t simply posit that their life is worth living because we have defined it as such. That’s a circular argument.

I know there is an element of loyalty in the natalists’ arguments. I’ve already discussed the belief that suicide means “giving up.” But no one has a duty to keep living. The only substantial thing we can do during our lives is to help alleviate other people’s suffering. If one cannot help others in this way, for whatever reason, then one can fulfill no purpose in this world.

14 thoughts on “The belief that suicide is always irrational.

  1. anyasok March 3, 2013 at 23:59

    I agree fully. I regret every decision I make anyways (just like Cioran did) and death shouldn’t be treated any different just because its the end of this absurd game of life.

  2. David Ellis (@d5e5) March 6, 2013 at 09:39

    A ‘brilliant’ boy suffering from no economic or health problems that we know about decides to shoot himself and we have to call that ‘rational’ because he weighed the consequences of his action and gave no signs of being of unsound mind. That doesn’t seem enough, to me, to qualify an act as rational.

    People judged to be of sound mind make irrational decisions every day. You must agree with this if you believe that deciding to continue living is irrational, unless you assert that everyone who decides to continue living must not be of sound mind.

    I don’t think most of us have ever really *decided* to go on living and so have not made either a rational or irrational decision to do so. Speaking for myself, I have an extreme aversion to doing violence to anyone, including myself. That doesn’t mean I judge that suicide is always wrong, just that I feel that as a major obstacle to considering doing it to myself.

    That brings up the point that the boy considered the consequences of his actions to himself only. Wouldn’t it be rational to consider the extreme distress and grief that a healthy young person’s suicide would cause to family and friends? Did he somehow calculate that he would cause them just as much grief by continuing to live out a normal lifespan? I don’t know how he could rationally judge that the consequences for himself and the people he cared about worked out to a net gain.

  3. David Ellis (@d5e5) March 7, 2013 at 15:07

    You don’t believe continuing to live is irrational for *everyone*. However you do offer the boy’s decision as an example of ‘rational suicide’. Doesn’t that imply that, given the same subjective evaluations and the same logic, his decision to continue to live would be irrational?

    Shouldn’t the boy’s age be considered. Sure he was of sound mind *for a 15-year old*. At the age of 15 children are considered too young to sign a contract, buy cigarettes or have consensual sex with an adult — and rightly so, in my opinion. Isn’t that because we assume they may not have the maturity to make rational decisions regarding these actions, no matter how ‘brilliant’ they are?

    • Francois Tremblay March 7, 2013 at 21:14

      I don’t know the boy in question, but I assume that if he was able to do the math by himself, he’s probably mature enough to do all of those things.

      • David Ellis (@d5e5) March 9, 2013 at 14:50

        Granted that a child prodigy may have mathematical ability equal to or exceeding that of any adult. The difference is that a child lacks relevant experience that he will probably gain if he waits until at least attaining adulthood before making certain crucial decisions. A 70-year old has plenty of experience on which to base a prediction that the remaining decade or so of life will have net value. Whereas a child has a decade or so of experience serving as data for calculating whether the next 70 years will have net value.

  4. rach March 12, 2013 at 22:48

    I believe that suicide is always the most rational choice. As long as we are alive there is the possibility of extreme suffering or torture, often times coming out of nowhere, like on 9/11 or the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire . None of those people went to work that day thinking they’d be tortured to death in a burning building just hours later but that’s what life is, it’s hell opening up to swallow you when you least expect it and there is no safety net. I would have committed suicide long ago if not for my overwhelming fear of being sent to hell and refusal to abandon animals that need me.

    • Francois Tremblay March 12, 2013 at 22:54

      Oh geeze. Thanks for reminding me about that event… I was trying to forget it after reading about it in People’s History of the United States. And now you reminded me of it again. Great.

      But apart from that, I agree.

  5. Carlos July 23, 2016 at 00:22

    Agreed. Life is a gift but never an obligation.

  6. Bill October 21, 2016 at 02:27

    I suspect that the overwhelming objection to suicide voiced by the majority is simply the desire to be on the side of perceived moral rectitude. It is a form of virtue signalling on the part of people who are unwilling to give the topic much thought, the easy answer is to be opposed to suicide as a reasonable choice because only a small minority may criticise you for holding that view, therefore it is ‘safe’ in a tribal context. Mind you I’m not hot on the whole empathy front, so perhaps I am misjudging people.

  7. Castor October 27, 2016 at 18:31

    I would like to bring in Schopenhauer for a moment.

    The concept of death is of special importance in Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of appearance and Will. Death for Schopenhauer is the aim and purpose of life, that toward which life is directed, and the denial of the individual will to life. Despite his profound pessimism, Schopenhauer vehemently rejects suicide as an unworthy affirmation of the will to life by those who seek to escape rather than seek nondiscursive knowledge of Will in suffering. The only manner of self-destruction Schopenhauer finds philosophically acceptable is the ascetic saint’s death by starvation. Here the individual will to life is so completely mastered as to refuse even the most basic desire for nourishment, and thereby passes into nonexistence in complete renunciation of the individual will.

    Here is my question: Doesn’t Schopenhauer’s attitude toward suicide embody an inconsistency?

    If, as Schopenhauer believes, the aim of life is death, and death is an unreal aspect of the world as appearance, then there appears to be no justification why the philosopher should not rush headlong into it – not to affirm the will to life in an abject effort to avoid suffering, but in order to fulfill life’s purpose by ending it for distinctly philosophical reasons immediately upon arriving at an understanding of the appearance-reality distinction.

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