Most of them are about suicide as an insult to God. Hume believes that suicide is no longer a rebellion against God, it is not the life of a person who dead or changes the position of something around a person otherwise. He reduces the time it takes to argue that this is an insult to others or to others' responsibility for themselves.
Hume argues that suicide is compared with retirement from society and it is claimed to be a complete hermit, but this comparison does not seem to prove that children and families after suicide become vulnerable. Regarding his liability, he thinks that everyone thinks suicide is stupid unless they first consider other options, but he sometimes reveals that suicide is desirable. Personal Identity, Immortality, and the Soul.
Nathan Oaklander - - Philo 4 2 The Moral Certainty of Immortality in Descartes. Michael W. Hickson - - History of Philosophy Quarterly 28 3 Martha C.
Beck - - E. Mellen Press.
Henry More: The Immortality of the Soul. Jacob ed. Descartes and the Immortality of the Soul. Oxford University Press. David Hume - unknown. Added to PP index Total views 28, of 2,, Recent downloads 6 months 9 , of 2,, How can I increase my downloads? Sign in to use this feature. This article has no associated abstract.
First, a summary of the essay itself: Hume approaches the question of suicide from the standpoint of the advantages of the philosophical temper over the superstitious disposition. He begins by suggesting that philosophy is the best antidote to superstition and false religion: many persons of great merit and achievement have lived in mental slavery, but once philosophy takes hold of the mind it inspires "juster sentiments of superior powers" and the false opinions on which superstition is based must vanish.
What is more, the person who lives a miserable existence in the clutches of superstition is prevented from putting an end to their misery: superstition adds further terror to our natural fear of death and thereby deprives us of power over our own destiny. Hume's ambition is:. He offers three arguments to defend this claim. The first purports to show that suicide is not a transgression of our duty towards God; the second that it is not a transgression of our duty towards society; the third that it is not a transgression of our duty to ourselves.
The first takes six pages, the second and third a page each. It is safe to assume that Hume's principal target was the theological argument against suicide: this is the great achievement of the essay. The second and third arguments are less compelling, for which reason there is still a discussion to be had about the moral status of acts of suicide.
According to Plato, Socrates argued against suicide the day prior to his own death, saying "the gods are our keepers, and we men are one of their possessions Suicide was not a penal offence in Ancient Greece and many notable Greeks took their own lives. Likewise there is no evidence of anti-suicide legislation in Ancient Rome. Again, many philosophers accepted the right of citizens although not slaves or soldiers to kill themselves, and many prominent Romans did just that.
Such tolerant attitudes did not survive long into the Christian era. The church's position on suicide was set out first by Augustine. Faced with a growing number of Christian suicides - some in order to avoid rape or torture by enemies and some motivated by a desire to leave this earthly existence as soon as possible in the hope of heavenly bliss - Augustine argued that neither the fear of death, nor the fear of loss of holiness, nor the fear of future sin on one's own part, were sufficient reason to take one's life.
Suicide contravenes the Sixth Commandment and as such is a sin. It shows weakness of character and lack of faith. There are no circumstances, Augustine tells us, in which it would be right for a Christian to take their life. The church established a series of punishments to discourage potential suicides: funeral rites and Christian burial were not allowed, nor were prayers for the dead.
The bodies of suicides were customarily buried at crossroads with a stake driven through the chest: this practice combined the desire to mutilate the corpse as a punishment that the person was no longer able to receive with the superstitious desire to 'pin-down' the ghost of the departed to prevent it from returning to haunt its ex-neighbours. Suicide also brought financial penalties: all goods and land were forfeit to the crown and did not pass to the family of the deceased. One consequence of these laws was that many coroner juries found the dead not guilty of felo de se ; instead they were found to be insane, which was not posthumously punished.
Hence the saying that there are two reasons for not committing suicide: if you fail they call you a criminal, if you succeed they call you a lunatic.
Challenges to the church's position began with Renaissance humanism: for example, Sir Thomas More allowed self-administered euthanasia on the island of Utopia. The first major work published in England defending the idea that suicide is not a sin under all circumstances was John Donne's treatise, Biathanatos. Written in it remained unpublished until , sixteen years after Donne's death.
Wherein the nature and the extent of all those laws which seem to be violated by this act are diligently surveyed. The three-part structure of the book, examining the laws of nature, the laws of reason and the laws of God, follow the Thomist definition of sin whereby all the lights of human judgement are impaired. Donne argues that in some cases suicide may be for the honour of God and thus cannot be sinful per se; he argues for an examination of context before judgement is passed, and for charity towards those who take their own lives.
With this book begins the rationalist tradition - later to be joined by Montesquieu, Rousseau, d'Holbach and Voltaire - which defends the right of the individual to chose to live or die according to their own reasoning. It is this tradition - despised by the Christian establishment of the day - to which Hume belongs.
I shall imagine Hume in a series of debates: first with the theological tradition which stretches back to Plato, but which finds its most articulate moments in the work of Augustine and Aquinas; second with Aristotle and Sir William Blackstone, on the responsibilities of the individual to the community and its leaders; and finally, on the question of duties to oneself, with Immanuel Kant. My view is that Hume is at his most convincing when refuting the theological argument.
His second and third arguments, while not wholly convincing, point the way towards a more reasoned and more humane approach to the question of suicide. The theologians used a number of arguments to show that suicide is wrong under all circumstances. First, it is against the Sixth Commandment. While the Ninth Commandment is circumscribed in its range of application - "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour" - the Sixth is not. To kill anyone, including oneself, is wrong unless, of course, it is at the command of God, or sanctioned by the law of the God-ordained ruler.
Hume relegates his comments on this matter to a footnote. Hume notes that there is no scriptural text that specifically prohibits suicide and, if he had read Donne's Biathanatos he would have known that in the Old Testament there are six recorded suicides, none of which is condemned and two of which appear to be commended. The only New Testament suicide is that of Judas Iscariot, the significance of which seems open to wide interpretation.
A second claim, made by some churchmen, is that suicide is an act of cowardice based on a miscalculation of one's future life-chances and the significance of one's death. Hume has little to say on this point. One could debate endlessly whether Cato, Brutus, Seneca and Lucretia were right to do what they did, when they did, but never convince anyone who took the opposite view. To establish a general principle about the morality of acts of suicide it is not enough simply to give a case-by-case account of celebrated examples.
Although, as I shall suggest later, if one can establish the general principle that suicide is permissible under certain circumstances, then a case by case approach would be needed to establish whether a particular case was morally justified. The third and fourth arguments are the most important. If there is an instinct to self-preservation in the human species, then the act of suicide would be to go against our nature and the maker of our nature. Suicide could be considered as an act of rebellion against God.
Likewise, if we are made by God and, as Plato suggests, our bodies and our lives are God's property, then to end our lives prematurely would be to deny their owner a rightful say over the disposal of their property. In another of Socrates' analogies, we are sentinels, watchers on the city walls, and we are not to leave our posts until our General commands us to. These arguments go together because both suggest that suicide is an act of defiance against our creator: we reject the nature we have been given and the lifespan we have been allotted; we reject both the sort of essence and the specific existence we have been given.
It is at this point that Hume, masquerading for the moment as a philosophical theist, steps in to refute the theologians. According to Hume, God rules the world neither by arbitrary intervention nor by executive fiat; he rules by law. These laws of nature include the laws that govern our existence and our behaviour; our lives, like the lives of the animals and the motions of matter, depend upon the laws of nature for their operation.
Given this we must consider whether, when a person kills themselves, they encroach upon these laws or disturb their operation. To arrive 'early in the presence of God' only fits as a description of suicide if to kill oneself is construed as being at odds with the natural laws.
Aristotle, c. However, this is consistent with their willingly choosing to die in order to satisfy their aims. But clearly it is not wrong, since God frequently permits us to contravene these laws, for he does not expect us not to respond to disease or other calamities. Nor does requiring that the individual wish to be dead Fairbairn , ch. This article will examine the main currents of historical and contemporary Western philosophical thought surrounding these questions.
Yet, says Hume, it plainly is not. All our actions interfere with the operation of nature, in the sense that we interact with the environment. These interactions are not, however, contraventions. They are as much a part of the natural world as rainfall, waterfalls and the fall of leaves in autumn.