2014 Abstracts Stage 3

Morality and Suicide. Is suicide every morally permissible?

Sophie Hattersley, 2014, Stage 3

For centuries philosophers have attempted to understand the moral issues surrounding suicide and discover whether there is any objective standard by which we can truly know whether the act of suicide is a violation of our moral duties.
“There is only one really serious philosophical problem,” Camus says, “and that is suicide.

Aquinas, Kant and Hume all offer interesting arguments surrounding this moral issue. Whilst Aquinas looks at suicide from a purely theological perspective, Hume saw traditional attitudes toward suicide as muddled and superstitious; paving the way for a very modern outlook that suggests there is no rational basis for this and we can never object to suicide. Kant in contrast places significant emphasis on suicide as a violation of our personal autonomy and freedom.

Does suicide violate our duties towards God?
As reason gradually became predominant in moral discourse after the 18th Century, suicide was soon to be seen as less sinful and more rational.

Does suicide violate our duties towards society?
Whilst the law and popular practice in the middles ages sanctioned the confiscation of individual property and the denial of a Christian burial, we now regard it as a highly personal matter, rather than disturbing public order.

Does suicide violate our natural duties of self-preservation?
It is argued from a theological and a secular perspective that we have a duty to ourselves not to commit suicide as it violates our human freedom and autonomy. However we must understand that in many cases our emotions come before reason.

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