Applying Moral Principles to the Issue of Suicide

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  • 0:01 Definition of Suicide
  • 0:45 Conservative View
  • 1:53 Liberal View
  • 2:42 Utilitarian Principle
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson discusses the moral principles and arguments surrounding suicide. In doing so, it focuses on the opinions of the famous philosophers Aquinas, Hume, and Socrates.

Definition of Suicide

When discussing suicide, words should be weighed very carefully. Keeping this in mind, today's lesson will seek to objectively outline some of the moral positions held in regards to this very sensitive topic. As we do this, please keep in mind that this conversation in no way condones any suicidal act. It's merely a discussion of the moral perspectives surrounding it.

To begin, we'll define suicide as the willful, intentional, and voluntary taking of one's own life. Our discussion will not include those willing to die for a cause or sacrifice their lives for the life of someone else. We will keep our conversation centered on the more mainstream views of suicide.

Conservative View

We'll begin our conversation on the moral arguments against suicide, the main one being the conservative view. Under the conservative view, suicide is immoral. Very often, this view is linked to the religious belief that God is the author of life. Being the author, He is the only force all-knowing enough to create or end life.

Perhaps one of the most famous of all philosophers to discuss the immorality of suicide was St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas counted suicide as immoral because God is the only one with the authority to end life. He then added two more thoughts. First, suicide goes against the laws of nature. The desire to survive is inborn in us all. Suicide goes against this natural drive.

Second, suicide is immoral in that it breaks social obligation. It doesn't just harm those who commit it; it breaks faith with those left behind. In other words, it breaks the hearts and impacts the lives of many. To sum up Aquinas's views, suicide isn't just a sin against self; it's an immoral act against God and others.

Liberal View

Opposite of the conservative view is the liberal view of suicide. In short, this view holds that suicide can be morally justified. No, the liberal view doesn't disagree that suicide is harmful and destructive, however, this doesn't make it immoral.

As a proponent of the liberal view, the famous 18th-century philosopher, David Hume, argued that suicide for the avoidance of misery is moral. According to Hume, the idea of suicide breaking natural law is an invalid one. Hume asserts man taking his own life in order to escape misery or pain breaks no moral laws. Man has full authority and right to end his own life. Interestingly, the renowned Socrates, who history tells us actually committed suicide, shared Hume's liberal view.

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