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Lecture 6: An Aid in Understanding Death and Suicide
(Adapted from Anthony Flew’s Dictionary of Philosophy, and
Thomas Nagel’s Moral Questions)
Instructor: Scott Dixon

DEFINITIONS:
death—the cessation of life. This includes many current definitions including: death as the cessation
of neural activity; death as the cessation of blood circulation; death as the cessation of a combination
of bodily functions—respiration, brain function, etc...

suicide—the intentional act of taking or ending one’s own life. It is important to note the intent of the
act. If a person does not intend to end one’s own life, it is not suicide. In those cases without intent it
might be considered an accident or a tragedy.

The Philosophical Significance of Death
There are many interesting questions surrounding the concept of death. Metaphysically, what counts
as someone or a thing, being ‘dead’? If the body is dead, does that imply that all is gone and nothing
remains? Or, is there a soul or spirit that survives, thus bodily death is not as significant? Does
consciousness survive or end with death? Epistemologically, is the neural definition the correct one
or is the combination of bodily functions the correct one? Ethically, is death something that should
be embraced or avoided? Or, should we be agnostic on it?

The Philosophical Significance of Suicide
The concept of suicide contains a myriad of philosophical questions. Is one entitled to take one’s own life?
Do we have obligations to others that preclude us from taking our own lives?  If we survive the body, as
the dualist would argue, can we be punished or rewarded for ending it? Is suicide a nobel act like the
contemporary suicide bombers believe?  Should suicide be avoided at all costs as in contemporary
cases of active euthanasia, leaving the person clinging to every moment of life?

The Readings

The Nagel piece, Death deals with both topics, although suicide indirectly. Nagel offers a contemporary
look at death, which is an interesting alternative to other conceptions.

Epictetus thinks that death is not something to be avoided, nor embraced—one should be indifferent
(V,XIV, XVI). It should govern how one lives his/her life (XXI). Suicide is an alternative for those that are
fully rational, that is, one should know enough to justify ending his/her life. The Stoics in general had
a wide range of views on suicide, some accepted it, others wanted no part of it.

Camus is against suicide because it is an acceptance of the absurdity of the situation (64). You must
recognize and struggle against the Absurd (54).  Death for the atheistic existentialists is the end—
there is no afterlife. Death is something to be acknowledged as not of one’s own free will and as
something that one can do a whole lot about (55).

Hume thinks suicide is a viable option for those that consider it. Ultimately, one must think that one's
    life is not worth living or keeping to do it.