The Ethics of Suicide: Historical Sources
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Is suicide wrong, profoundly morally wrong? Almost always wrong, but excusable in a few cases? Sometimes morally permissible? Imprudent, but not wrong? Is it sick, a matter of mental illness? Is it a private matter or a largely social one? Could it sometimes be right, or a "noble duty," or even a fundamental human right? Whether it is called "suicide" or not, what role may a person play in the end of his or her own life?
This collection of primary sources--the principal texts of ethical interest from major writers in western and nonwestern cultures, from the principal religious traditions, and from oral cultures where observer reports of traditional practices are available, spanning Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Oceania, the Arctic, and North and South America--facilitates exploration of many controversial practical issues: physician-assisted suicide or aid-in-dying; suicide in social or political protest; self-sacrifice and martyrdom; suicides of honor or loyalty; religious and ritual practices that lead to death, including sati or widow-burning, hara-kiri, and sallekhana, or fasting unto death; and suicide bombings, kamikaze missions, jihad, and other tactical and military suicides.
This collection has no interest in taking sides in controversies about the ethics of suicide; rather, rather, it serves to expand the character of these debates, by showing them to be multi-dimensional, a complex and vital part of human ethical thought.
charge of their women, with instructions to set fire to the pile and consume these unoffending and hapless females to ashes, the instant it was ascertained that the conflict had terminated fatally, and that the men were slain. In fact, on the morning which dawned in victory to the imperial arms, it was ascertained that the shot discharged by the royal Akbar had actually taken effect on the person of Jaimal Pátá, the governor of the fort, and at once decided the fate of Chaitúr and his own. The
Others took this way of gloriously ending their lives out of a sense of pique, or in order to vindicate their honor. In this latter case it was customary for a man who had something discreditable to account for, either on his own part or on the part of some member of his family, to publicly announce that he was about to die by singing the “brave-song” or “death-song” as he rode around the camp circle. This indicated that he would seek the earliest opportunity of losing his life at the hands of
of life are shunned, not its sorrows. The suicide wills life, and is only dissatisfied with the conditions under which it has presented itself to him. He therefore by no means surrenders the will to live, but only life, in that he destroys the individual manifestation. He wills life—wills the unrestricted existence and assertion of the body; but the complication of circumstances does not allow this, and there results for him great suffering. The very will to live finds itself so much hampered in
and sleep, in the human tongue, means to grow rich to and plunder, while to build one’s nest pre-eminently signifies—to plunder. Perhaps I may be told that one may arrange one’s life and build one’s nest on a rational basis, on scientifically sound social principles, and not by means of plunder, as heretofore.—All right, but I ask: What for? What is the purpose of arranging one’s existence and of exerting so much effort to organize life in society soundly, rationally and righteously in a moral
the selection presented resumes with Plato’s description of Socrates’ final actions as he asks for the cup of hemlock and drinks it. Whether this act itself is a suicide or not has been widely discussed in later literature. In The Republic Plato explores issues of justice and the ideal form of state. He envisions a utopia where wise philosopher-kings rule and where the balance of faculties in the just individual, where the appetites and emotions are regulated by the intellect, is mirrored in the