Hume on suicide

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 24 (4):336 – 351 (1999)
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Anyone interested in the morality of suicide reads David Hume's essay on the subject even today. There are numerous reasons for this, but the central one is that it sets up the starting point for contemporary debate about the morality of suicide, namely, the debate about whether some condition of life could present one with a morally acceptable reason for autonomously deciding to end one's life. We shall only be able to have this debate if we think that at least some acts of suicide can be moral, and we shall only be able to think this if we give up the blanket condemnation of suicide that theology has put in place. I look at this strategy of argument in the context of the wider eighteenth-century attempt to develop a non-theologically based ethic. The result in Hume's case is a very modern tract on suicide, with voluntariness and autonomy to the fore and with reflection on the condition of one's life and one's desire to carry on living a life in that condition the motivating circumstance.



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