The certain thing about your physical life is that it will come to an end. Some aspects of your financial life may last a while before being absorbed into the general fund, and some tiny specks of your personality may survive for a while, if you have the skills and the ability for sustained hard work, like Shakespeare. Unfortunately for the seven point five billion people presently inhabiting the Earth there probably won’t be more than a hundred remembered in a thousand years, and no more than a handful in ten thousand years; and that’s if the world civilization survives. The implication of that simple projection is that for nearly all living people their best option is to make the most of the satisfactions available to them while they live.
That is the general thrust of Jennifer Hecht‘s book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. This book is a popular-scholarly book; that is, it is easy to read and filled with well-documented information. Perhaps the most potent philosophical quote in the book is from the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951):
If suicide is allowed then everything is allowed. If anything is not allowed then suicide is not allowed. This throws a light on the nature of ethics, for suicide is, so to speak, the elementary sin.
The ancient philosophers such as Epictetus (55-135) considered lying to be the ultimate sin because if someone lied about anything then everything they said thereafter would be corrupted by that lie being built into everything they said or did. One can argue that suicide is the ultimate form of lie that a person can tell to themselves, because it doesn’t give them the freedom to seek their best interests, but instead deprives them of all possibility of personal freedom forevermore. They enslave themselves to oblivion with a single act.
There is a wonderful story of the Roman woman Lucretia (died c. 510 BC) who committed a morality-based suicide, after she had been raped, to protect her matronly honor as chaste. Before she stabbed herself she made her royal kinsman swear to avenge her having being violated. This act brought about the war that founded the Roman republic. St. Augustine condemned her act as a murder, writing, “This crime was committed by Lucretia; that Lucretia so celebrated and lauded slew the innocent, chaste, outraged Lucretia.”
The philosopher Michael de Montaigne (1533-1592) wrote that suicide was wrong, claiming that “virtue, if energetic, never turns its back under any circumstances; it seeks out evils and pain for nourishment.” Pain tempers a person’s character, leaving one wiser and often happier for having endured it.
Part of the human social contract is to help your friends and not to injure them, and committing suicide is certainly hurting those friends, because it is murdering someone dear to them. How bad would you feel if some unknown robber murdered your friend? It leaves you no recourse but to suffer. The way we are good to our friends is by helping them to live more abundantly, and murdering one of their friends is the worst possible violation of that friendship. My living goal, and I recommend it to you:
Live long and participate.