Is suicide immoral?
April 12, 2011 Leave a comment
Immanuel Kant certainly thought so. In the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant considers the case of a person wanting to commit suicide in order to alleviate his suffering. Kant admits that a man in a state of depression may very naturally will that everybody else killed themselves too. However, he thinks it is irrational to will suicide because it is an unnatural act. According to Kant, the purpose of the human organism, just like any living organism, is to sustain growth; killing it would be to defy its natural course.
However, the root of the weakness in Kant’s moral assessment of this case lies in his absolute reliance on pure reason. It strikes me how conveniently Kant can suppose logical contradictions in the maxim of suicide without making use of any prior experience. Logical contradiction in mathematics I see as the only possible kind of contradiction conceivable by pure reason. But logical contradictions concerning suicide for instance, must require a basis in empiricism. I feel this way because it seems obvious to me that one cannot know what is natural or what is unnatural without first experiencing it. I’ll show you how:
Imagine a little boy, hitherto to have been raised by wolves, suddenly taken to a remote island, and left there, all alone. He has had no human contact, except for in his brief flight in the helicopter to the island. The little boy somehow survives into adolescence, and the only form of death that he has until now seen is that of wild animals. It never occurs to him that the same will one day happen with him also. The concept of death he sees only in the wild animals about him, and not in himself, until one day, when he is in his late fifties, he has a sudden heart attack. Only then does he come to realize that what had befallen the wild animals may indeed befall him too. The concept of death in a human being, therefore, he was unaware of until the time he had a heart attack. It is because he had no human contact that he learned this so late in his life, and eventually only through his own firsthand experience.
Lastly, the biological nature of the assumption that Kant makes about the purpose of the human organism cannot stand true for everyone. According to Kant, in fact to be fair, according to most people in the world, the basic natural function of the human organism is parallel to that of any other living organism, which is to survive. However, a radical Muslim may have a completely different view. The Muslim may see the natural function of the human organism as not to survive, but rather to give it up in the name of their Allah. They see no contradiction in committing suicide with the function of survival, because the function of the human organism that they understand is not one of survival, but of committing suicide in the name of their Allah anyway. Their view on the function of the human organism is spiritual, rather than biological.