Dear philosophers,

Read another response by Louise Antony, Charles Taliaferro
Read another response about Ethics, Suicide
Dear philosophers, I have 2 questions: 1. Do you believe that it is morally permissible for an unmarried person (who has no children to care for) and who has battled depression for many years to commit suicide ? 2. What is your opinion of Liberalism which asserts that a person's life belongs only to them, and no other person has the right to force their own ideals by which that life must be lived ? Thanks, William

William: I think Professor Antony's reply is deep and commendable. I would only add a minor point about self-ownership or the thesis that one's life only belongs to one's self.

"Belonging" can involve property rights (this house belongs to me) but it can also refer to what is good for a person (e.g. he belongs in a hospital, she belongs in a great school, etc). If you step back from your current state (a very difficult act of abstraction, I agree!), can you see that you belong in a caring, curative therapeutic process? I think if you can begin to begin seeing that, you can see a different path than self-destruction. In a way, part of an answer to your question will involve not just a matter of liberalism versus a conservative, paternalistic form of governance, but it will involve a philosophy of values and one's overall understanding of the cosmos. For example, one of the reasons Christian philosophers historically opposed suicide (even the dignified suicide of Lucretius which was valorized in Ancient Rome --see the early chapters of Augustine's City of God) was because they believed that the purpose of life included joy, a joy in creation and Creator. This was why some Chritians historically defined despair as a refusal of joy. Clearly this was NOT taking into account the clinical, organic roots of depression and despair, nor was this taking seriously ways in which depression or despair can be quite involuntary and not a matter of choice (refusal or acceptance). But I mention this to suggest that you might take seriously some worldviews that hold out joy as an attainable, desirable end, even if it must be sought out not just philosophically or theologically but through careful medical practice. To give a somewhat secular alternative example, you might look at John Stewart Mill's autobiography and his account of his misery and despair. He emerged partly through meditative readings of the romantic poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. I note this as "somewhat secular," as their poetry had a rich spirituality not quite akin to secular naturalism.

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