Reply to Nadler: Spinoza and the metaphysics of suicide

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (2):380-388 (2017)
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Abstract

Steven Nadler has argued that Spinoza can, should, and does allow for the possibility of suicide committed as a free and rational action. Given that the conatus is a striving for perfection, Nadler argues, there are cases in which reason guides a person to end her life based on the principle of preferring the lesser evil. If so, Spinoza’s disparaging statements about suicide are intended to apply only to some cases, whereas in others he would grant that suicide is dictated by reason. Here, I object to Nadler’s interpretation by showing that it conflicts with Spinoza’s metaphysical psychology. Even given Nadler’s interpretation of the conatus doctrine, the possibility that reason could guide a person to commit suicide is incompatible with the conatus of the mind. Spinoza holds that the mind cannot contain an adequate idea ‘that excludes the existence of our body’. Yet, as I argue, in order for reason to guide a person voluntarily to end her life, she would need to have an adequate idea representing her death – an idea that excludes the existence of her body. For this reason, Spinoza's system rules out the possibility of rational suicide.

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John R. T. Grey
Michigan State University

Citations of this work

Fear of Death and the Will to Live.Tom Cochrane - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
Descartes on Will and Suspension of Judgment: Affectivity of the Reasons for Doubt.Jan Forsman - 2017 - In Gábor Boros, Judit Szalai & Oliver Istvan Toth (eds.), The Concept of Affectivity in Early Modern Philosophy. Budapest, Hungary: pp. 38-58.
A Spinozist Aesthetics of Affect and Its Political Implications.Christopher Davidson - 2017 - In Gábor Boros, Judit Szalai & Oliver Istvan Toth (eds.), The Concept of Affectivity in Early Modern Philosophy. Budapest, Hungary: Eötvös Loránd University Press. pp. 185-206.
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References found in this work

Spinoza on Lying and Suicide.Steven Nadler - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24 (2):257-278.
Death and destruction in Spinoza's ethics.Wallace Matson - 1977 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 20 (1-4):403 – 417.
Spinoza on self-preservation and self-destruction.Mitchell Gabhart - 1999 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 37 (4):613-628.

Add more references