Schopenhauer on the ethics of suicide

Continental Philosophy Review 33 (1):43-58 (2000)
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Abstract

The concept of death is of special importance in Schopenhauer''s metaphysics of appearance and Will. Death for Schopenhauer is the aim and purpose of life, that toward which life is directed, and the denial of the individual will to life. Despite his profound pessimism, Schopenhauer vehemently rejects suicide as an unworthy affirmation of the will to life by those who seek to escape rather than seek nondiscursive knowledge of Will in suffering. The only manner of self-destruction Schopenhauer finds philosophically acceptable is the ascetic saint''s death by starvation. Here the individual will to life is so completely mastered as to refuse even the most basic desire for nourishment, and thereby passes into nonexistence in complete renunciation of the individual will. Schopenhauer''s attitude toward suicide nevertheless embodies an inconsistency. If, as Schopenhauer believes, the aim of life is death, and death is an unreal aspect of the world as appearance, then there appears to be no justification why the philosopher should not rush headlong into it - not to affirm the will to life in an abject effort to avoid suffering, but in order to fulfill life''s purpose by ending it for distinctly philosophical reasons immediately upon arriving at an understanding of the appearance-reality distinction.

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