On Suicide

dignitasDorothy Shaeffer wants to kill herself. This is not a view that she has come to lightly. She has been thinking about suicide fairly systematically for the last five years – ever since she turned forty in fact. She can think of reasons to live – her sister, for example, will miss her if she’s gone – but she can think of many more reasons not to live. She would say that she is not depressed exactly. It is more that she is profoundly bored: she is suffering from seemingly terminal ennui.

Dorothy has thought hard about the morality of suicide. She knows that there are religious objections to the taking of one’s own life. She is aware, for instance, that the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states that suicide  is ‘seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity’. But Dorothy isn’t religious, and doesn’t believe in the afterlife, so she isn’t much impressed by such pronouncements. She has taken into account that some people, such as her sister, will mourn her death. But she does not believe that their suffering will be very great, and certainly not great enough to outweigh what she sees as her right to do as she wishes with her own life – including ending it. She is also aware that she might feel differently about things at some point in the future. However, she thinks that this is unlikely, and, in any case, she is not convinced of the relevance of this point: certainly, she does not think that she has any responsibility towards a purely hypothetical future version of herself.

She has canvassed other people’s opinions about suicide, but so far she has heard nothing to persuade her that killing herself would be wrong. She is frequently told that she ‘shouldn’t give up’, that ‘things will get better’, and that she ‘should just hang on in there’, but nobody has been entirely clear about why she should do these things. For her part, she can’t really see that she stands to lose much of anything by ending her life now. She does not value it, and in any case, if she’s dead, she’s hardly going to regret missing out on whatever it is that might have happened to her had she lived.

Would it be wrong for Dorothy to commit suicide? If so, why?

Leave a comment ?


  1. I have no problem with her committing suicide. It’s an extremely selfish act but in her case seems justifiable, not that I feel justification is necessarily necessary.
    She could donate her organs, hardly used, and serve humanity some ultimate good. Perhaps she could donate her organs to those 5 in the canonical thought experiment who need organs to survive.

  2. There is love and beauty in the world.
    It is worth a life to witness these things.
    It is ultimately a personal decision, but what a waste of sentience when there is happiness to be had.
    Everyone enjoys something, one would hope.
    Why not fill your life with these beautiful, enjoyable things.

  3. I can find nothing wrong with Dorothy’s decision – although I’d prefer that she have the opportunity to talk to somebody about it before carrying out the act. To me this is a relatively non-controversial point.

    However I am interested by people (and there are a lot of them) who proclaim that suicide is selfish, because that doesn’t seem to me to have any relevance. At most it seems to be a signalling mechanism for people to register their felt moral disapproval without having to provide an actual justification for that disapproval.

    Ralph, can you explain a) why committing suicide is a selfish act, and b) why selfishness has any relevance to the decision?

  4. I agree with my namesake here: there is nothing selfish about suicide; if anything the selfishness comes from the side of those willing her to “not give up” – they would extend her suffering just to give themselves peace of mind. Those who take their life voluntarily should be admired for their courage; they were repulsed by the futility and inelegance of our existence and chose no longer to experience it.

    Saying all that, perhaps she should consider alternatives: if she has a job, quit it; if she has a home, sell it; go travelling; live outside the monstrosity that is our capitalist society; follow the advice of Voltaire and find and cultivate a plot of land in which to live out your days; none of us are doomed to be unhappy, we can change what we want when we want.

    When she decided that she would be willing to end her life, Dorothy gained the courage needed to achieve anything – the world became her oyster, if she would only open it.

  5. I agree with Camus that the only serious philosophical question — or at least the first one — is whether to live or die. We all are faced with that choice, though most of us slide away from the decision. And ultimately no one but a particular individual in particular circumstances can make the decision — and only for himself or herself. (Interestingly, Camus also says that what we wish for ourselves we must wish for others.)

    That being said, boredom seems like a poor reason to kill one’s self, like a failure of courage. That life is suffering is not news — the Buddha (and he wasn’t the first) discovered that going on 3000 years ago. The question is what to do about the suffering, or with the suffering. There certainly are circumstances in which the suffering is intolerable and in which suicide seems completely justifiable; nor need such circumstances necessarily involve, say, excruciating pain. But before she deprives the world of her potential contributions — a social responsibility? — I would urge Ms. Shaeffer to look deeply into the sources of her boredom with life. If she is honest with herself and rigorous in her looking, she might discover there in the heart of her boredom a reason to go on with life, perhaps even the seed of some creative act.

  6. The idea that she’s selfish because she’ll cause others pain seems like a dead end to me.

    If Dorothy’s suicide is a selfish act, it will be selfish because she is wasting opportunities for selflessness and shirking duties of selflessness (which she may not even realise she has).

  7. Why cant she take a look at her life and find whats making it boring or bad and change it, its never too late to change your life especially not at forty five, I think its a foolish choice if she decides to go through with it but ultimately it is her choice.

    Also I feel she should take a look at the world around her and see the suffering of others. Im sure there have been hardships in all our lives and people who have suffered alot more than her, but do we or they ever give up? Well i’ve had a difficult year but i dont think ending my life would be the best course of action,we keep going dont we? We learn from our problems and struggles and sort the problems not end our lives.

    In my opinion it is her choice wether she ends her life or not but she should at least try other things first and look at the imperfections of the rest of the world and see the beauty of life.

  8. Wow what a pessimistic crowd.

    “if anything the selfishness comes from the side of those willing her to ‘not give up'”

    So caring for another human’s life is now called selfishness? That is a logical fallacy that does not follow the definition of selfishness. What could other people possibly gain from telling someone not to end human life? And how on earth does that make them selfish? That statement really makes me angry.

    I do not believe that she should commit suicide because I have been in her position. I did not do it then and now don’t even know how I could have thought that.
    No where in this article does it say she has looked for professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist, people who help others understand and fight this urge every day. Professional help is needed before she makes the ultimate decision and takes her own life. I feel that when looking at it from another perspective she will soon find the will to fight her depression. Just like I did.

    Please no more encouragement of suicide, they are immensely offensive to many people including myself.

  9. Heaven forbid that this ignorant monkey should give advice to philosophers, but here it is anyhow. If you say the holy name a million times, it changes the way your brain works. If you do not know a holy name, try “Om mani padme hum” – that is a good one that anyone can use.
    Best wishes to Dorothy.
    ps this is physics, not magic
    pps it does not work for everyone

  10. In the example you offer, you seem to deliberately play down the impact on other people as well as the level of suffering Dorothy is enduring. It’s also hard to know whether Dorothy’s appraisal of her sister’s suffering is accurate and well-researched or if it is just based on a loosely formed sense.

    Anyway, if Dorothy feels her boredom and her right to kill herself outweigh her sister’s suffering then I think there’s scope for saying that’s a bit immoral. Impact on others is to me the only really ‘morally’ relevant aspect to suicide.

    There is some evidence suggesting that those who have been exposed to a loved one killing themselves are at an increased risk of suicide themselves as a consequence.

    Then again, her sister might not really care that much.

    There are many other good reasons why we might want to prevent someone trying to kill themselves. They may lack decision-making capacity for instance – or they may be unaware of some relevant detail. The morality of suicide is often neither here nor there.

  11. Hey Paul and Travis,
    I used the word selfish as per the dictionary “devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests.”
    She’s considering taking her own life for reasons which only concern herself and cutting her ties with everyone and everything. That fits the definition above, I’d say. I’m in no way denigrating her for this.
    I suppose there are circumstances when a person commits suicide in a selfless way, so in that respect I stand corrected.

  12. Jeremy,
    I’ve been bothered by your post ever since my initial response. There’s something not quite right about it. She’s figured out everything so carefully, calmly and rationally. She really doesn’t seem suicidal at all.
    Okay, her condition (if it’s okay calling it that) is correctable (again I’m not sure that’s the right word.) There are drugs that probably would work wonders on her, e.g. prozac (from personal experience.) Is this beside the point or is it the point? If her undrugged self wants to commit suicide, is that wrong when there are other definite options through relatively benign drugs?

  13. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem… I wonder if Dorothy has tried other options (ie. anti-depressants and therapy). If she’s tried them, why have they not been helpful to her? Maybe because she hasn’t believed that they would work? And then, of course they wouldn’t work! She’s not open to them and has already decided that nothing will work to make her not feel bored.

    Also, boredom, I would say, is a huge indicator of depression. If you’re feeling so bored, why not work on doing things to make you NOT feel so bored? It’s up to the individual to decide what will make his/her life fulfilling. I’m wondering if Dorothy has searched long and hard enough to make her life less boring. And it would be a shame if she hadn’t explored those things to make her life less boring and just said that this would be the solution to not being so bored.

  14. Travis,

    When I said “if anything the selfishness comes from the side of those willing her to ‘not give up’” I guess I had quite a specific situation in mind, namely that these people were just giving her cliched advice and not actually bothering to help get to the root of the problem. Admittedly this is a completely baseless accusation but it struck me as the most likely since, eg. the article implies she doesn’t have anybody who truly cares about her (excepting the sister). Personally I’d call this selfish.

  15. There’s Kant of course: ‘Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he uses a person merely as a means to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something which can be used merely as means, but must in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself. I cannot, therefore, dispose in any way of a man in my own person so as to mutilate him, to damage or kill him.’

    Whether or not it’s wrong to take your own life, Mill makes a case for the view that it’s wrong for us to let her do it. Complicated but interesting point, particularly as it comes from a writer as keen on liberty as anyone:

    ‘Not only persons are not held to engagements which violate the rights of third parties, but it is sometimes considered a sufficient reason for releasing them from an engagement, that it is injurious to themselves. In this and most other civilized countries, for example, an engagement by which a person should sell himself, or allow himself to be sold, as a slave, would be null and void; neither enforced by law nor by opinion. The ground for thus limiting his power of voluntarily disposing of his own lot in life, is apparent, and is very clearly seen in this extreme case. The reason for not interfering, unless for the sake of others, with a person’s voluntary acts, is consideration for his liberty. His voluntary choice is evidence that what he so chooses is desirable, or at the least endurable, to him, and his good is on the whole best provided for by allowing him to take his own means of pursuing it. But by selling himself for a slave, he abdicates his liberty; he forgoes any future use of it, beyond that single act. He therefore defeats, in his own case, the very purpose which is the justification of allowing him to dispose of himself. He is no longer free; but is thenceforth in a position which has no longer the presumption in its favor, that would be afforded by his voluntarily remaining in it. The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom, to be allowed to alienate his freedom.’

    So maybe it is wrong for her to do it and wrong for us simply to stand by and permit it.

  16. Is it moral to force someone to live against their inclination, regardless of whether the disinclination is indeed rectifiable through therapy? Who is the ultimate decider in the affairs of an autonomous individual? Does depression nullify the integrity of that autonomy?

    There are situations that are incontestably hopeless beyond redemption in terms of quality of life for the individual in question, and in terms of societal worth given that the individual is miserable to a paralytic insular degree. In such a case, suicide is probably the most noble and moral option since the quality of net human existence would be indubitably tweaked towards the happier end of the scale by subtracting a malignant contingent.

    Does intense existential ennui have less suicidal worth than intense cancer pain? Why should one scale of subjective life worth be superior to another with an alternate structural formulation ?

    Can humans be treated as mathematical moral quantities?

    What remains is the pure and simple fact that more often than not, a person’s subjective feeling towards their life’s worth and its consequent liveability is unchangeable by any objective assessment to the contrary by unanimous external parties.

  17. This is such an interesting question on so many levels. We (not this woman apparently) tend to instinctively protest an anti-life stance. We are primates (human ones, but still primates), and are still used to relying on the troop to which we belong to fill our needs and keep us entertained. What right does any one individual among us, regardless of how bored, depressed, introverted or antisocial, have, to disrupt the nice instinctive primate illusion we continually co-create that ‘together we can’? Should taking ourselves out, deactivating ourselves, deliberately, be a human *right*?

    She seems to have decided to walk outside the troop (on certain conceptual levels at least) and check out life for/by herself. She finds it boring. That is certainly apt to happen to a loner.. only, however, if she doesn’t keep on going and come to the next part, which is that even without a troop to engage one’s faculties, one is still never “alone.” Rather, one is located at some strange tip of a bustling community of living parts and cells communicating with and taking suggestions from a living nervous system that stretches continuously, in genetic code form, all the way back to the dawn, pretty much, of sensate life in which it evolved. This nervous system, highly conserved, is self-sustaining and spans everything within, including within her, from the sensation on the outside of her skin to her own construct of self. In my opinion, her self-construct, or “I”-illusion, does not get to trump the rest of her system. An exception might be if she were old, suffering from, and about to die from some terminal illness anyway. She exists because the life in her wants to exist and has a role of its own to play out. I do not agree that she gets to delete herself, her physicality and the life it breathes, in and out, all day and all night long – her life does have purpose, if only to continue to take in oxygen and recycle food, fulfilling her part of the physicality of life, until life decides to leave *her*.

    She wouldn’t be the first to renounce social life, life in a troop – there are entire traditions where others who are just as bored with external life as she become official ‘renunciates’ and go live in caves, etc., essentially removing themselves from the rest of the troop, harming no one including themselves in exchange for food. What do they do? – sit and breathe. That becomes their new job. Too bad we don’t have that tradition in the western world, so that people who have pierced through the veil, stepped into the void, to glimpse a searing vision of the pointlessness of (their own) life, can go off and examine their own relationship to it, peacefully, supported by and not intruding on the busy-making and peaceful collective illusions of others.

    Another suggestion I have is she might want to consider joining a gym or something, in order to more fully sense/become aware of her physicality, learn to feel how much it wants to live and throb and thrive, just for its own sake. Surely it deserves to live out its own life span, while she, the “I”-illusion embedded within, *could* learn to amuse herself by observing her humanantigravitysuit rather than be inclined to detach from/renounce it. Some anti-depressants and journaling might help too.

  18. To have become the sort of person that would think like that is a morally relevant consideration. For her suicide really is an end in itself, a line drawn under a banal balancing of the books which to me is an indication of disordered thinking. The idea that no one will be affected that much by your departure recurs again and again in the annals of the depressed who take their own lives. They are profoundly wrong. Her sister and others will for the rest of their lives ask themselves ‘why didn’t I take her seriously or why did she hate me so much that she would leave me with this residue of guilt’. Even those who didn’t know her will have that choice validated by her apparently rational double entry and single exit.

    She is not in an extreme situation. If she doesn’t love life it is because she doesn’t know life. If I give her ‘permission’ I cannot withhold it from any young person gripped by misery and nihilism. Even the materialist should think that we ought to protect our investment. Take the tablets. Is that coffee?

  19. That someone commits suicide tends to create feelings of guilt in relatives and friends, in this case, probably in her sister. One might imagine that her sister will spend the rest of her thinking that she failed Dorothy in some way, and maybe Dorothy should take that into account. It seems rather adolescent to commit suicide out of boredom in any case. I can understand commiting suicide because of a terminal illness or when one senses that mental senility is beginning, but out of boredom?
    Boredom is so easy to combat: buy a good book, go to a concert or a movie, take a walk or travel.

  20. Yes boredom is easy to combat, but “terminal ennui”, as a typical factor of depression, is not. The original post somewhat muddles these two concepts. Dorothy claims she is not depressed, merely bored, but is she being truthful? Is such a situation plausible?

    Either way I think it does behove her to try and change her situation. I suspect the crux is in the line “she does not think that she has any responsibility towards a purely hypothetical future version of herself.” If life has some kind of intrinsic value, if we have a moral obligation to promote lives worth living, then she has an obligation to continue her own life, and to at least attempt to make it one worth living.

  21. I find Osophy’s freewheeling libtertarianism somewhat disturbing.

    “Does depression nullify the integrity of that autonomy?”

    Yes it does, because depressive thinking is flawed thinking.

    “Does intense existential ennui have less suicidal worth than intense cancer pain?”

    To the extent that the former is more treatable than the latter, yes.

    “Can humans be treated as mathematical moral quantities?”

    Like you do in your second paragraph?

    “What remains is the pure and simple fact that more often than not, a person’s subjective feeling towards their life’s worth and its consequent liveability is unchangeable by any objective assessment to the contrary by unanimous external parties.”

    Do you have the data to back that up?

  22. Got to say guys, that I find the idea that terminal ennui must be pathological to be very dubious. Unless, of course, it’s just a matter of definitions, in which case I find the idea that depression is necessarily pathological to be very dubious (please note deliberate use of the word “necessary” there!).

  23. Ok not necessarily. But Dorothy doesn’t seem to have tried very hard, or at all, to discover whether hers is, and thus (perhaps) treatable.

  24. The whole idea that the world exists to entertain me is completely childish or adolescent and egocentric. Given such an egocentric view of reality (the universe should entertain me), Dorothy’s suicide seems even more selfish. By the way, it also seems typical of a culture that promotes passivity and consumerism: I doubt that many people commit suicide out of boredom in Somalia or Zimbabwe.

  25. Well, I think it’s clear from the scenario that Dorothy has thought very hard about her situation.

    I further think she’d want you to explain why she needed to explore the possibility that her feelings might change, if such a change had to be bought at huge personal effort or would only occur at some unspecified point in the medium or far-future (see last two sentences of 2nd paragraph).

  26. Given such an egocentric view of reality (the universe should entertain me)

    There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Dorothy has such a view. It is entirely possible to think both:

    a) The world does not exist for my entertainment;

    b) I don’t want to carry on living because I’m bored of life;

    The point about Somalia or Zimbabwe is interesting in a Maslowesque kind of way, but not relevant here.

  27. While there’s no logical or necessary contradiction between “the world does not exist for my entertainment” and “I don’t want to carry on living because I’m bored of life”, in my experience, people who are bored of life tend to be those who feel that the world and other people exist to entertain them. That’s my experience, not a general rule. People who don’t feel that the world exists to entertain them tend to entertain themselves, in my experience once again. Life is short, and there is hardly enough time to sample all its wonders.

  28. Well that may be true Amos, but you can’t assume it is true of Dorothy.

    It isn’t true of Dorothy. She doesn’t much like people; and wouldn’t be able to make much sense of the idea that the world exists for the purposes of her entertainment.

  29. Ok I will assume she has considered therapy and decided against it for whatever reason (“huge personal effort” perhaps, although I’m not sure where she gets that notion. If she has done research then hopefully she has discovered that e.g. CBT can have quite rapid results. And I doubt suicide is a walk in the park itself.)

    I still would just argue that, if she thinks that promoting worthwhile lives is a goal of ethics, then she has that obligation to herself as much as to anyone else.

  30. PS if you counter: suppose she has therapy and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t change her mind, what then? … ok I’m still thinking about that 🙂

  31. ” if she thinks that promoting worthwhile lives is a goal of ethics, then she has that obligation to herself as much as to anyone else.”

    Yes, but the point is that she does not believe that a goal of ethics is to facilitate the worthwhile life of a hypothetical future version of herself.

    In other words, she would simply claim that in the here and now she cannot live a worthwhile life. Sure it’s a possibility that some future version of herself might live such a life. But there is no good reason to seek to secure the well-being of such a person if in fact they never exist (which they won’t if she commits suicide).

    So there’s a thing about the continuity of personal identity going on here.

  32. There seems to be an unspoken assumption going on here that is in fact question-begging: a lot of you have suggested that Dorothy should seek treatment for her “condition”; Ledge says that depression is “flawed thinking”.

    Do we really have a justification for that? Perhaps it is the rest of us who are deluded about the value of life by our evolved primate survival urges, whereas Dorothy has, upon reflection, freed herself of that. We seem to be treating her depression as a “pathology” simply because it is abnormal; that doesn’t mean it is wrong, indeed, that is the very question at stake here. Dorothy doesn’t want to be cured, in the same way that someone in pain does.

    So to everyone who thinks that depression is a “condition” that should be treated: step back a bit, you haven’t engaged the question yet.

  33. I think the thought experiment is artificially limited and that we can’t think about it properly for that reason.

    She can think of reasons to live – her sister, for example, will miss her if she’s gone – but she can think of many more reasons not to live.

    That’s not good enough. Unless Dorothy is a true solitary – and that wasn’t stated – her sister is not the only person who will be upset if she kills herself. Does she have parents? Friends? A spouse? Children? Cousins, aunts and uncles? Colleagues? Students?

    Unless Dorothy’s sister really is the only person who will miss her (and missing someone is not the only reason to be upset by her suicide, so that suggestion is inadequate too), then she is not taking other people into account enough. That doesn’t mean she flatly shouldn’t kill herself, but it does mean this account of her thinking is thinned-out and impoverished.

  34. Sorry Ophelia, must agree with you.

  35. I disagree with Michael PJ, I don’t think it’s relevant whether or not Dorothy’s condition is pathological. Ok maybe she’s had a startling and true insight that we are all insignificant grains of dust in an inconceivably vast universe. But the question isn’t trying to undermine the whole ethical enterprise, we’re still assuming some basic value to human life here, and merely asking whether Dorothy has a right to end hers.

  36. amos @ September 25, 2009, 10:20 am, said:

    “I doubt that many people commit suicide out of boredom in Somalia or Zimbabwe.”

    Over the last several years, until the recent cessation of hyperinflation, there was a spate of suicides in Zimbabwe – of elderly white people on fixed incomes (the value of which had vanished to zero), and whose families had emigrated. They could no longer afford to buy food (or indeed anything else), and had no family nearby to care for them.

    Suicide was (and is) much rarer among black Zimbabweans because of very strong spiritual imperatives against it. The spirit of someone who commits suicide is believed to haunt and make trouble for his or her family for all future generations, seeking a solace which cannot ever be obtained. Of people who are not mentally ill, only an extremely self-centred person would thus contemplate it.

  37. I confess I didn’t read all of the existing comments, but I (at 30 years old) actually sympathize with Dorothy here.

    From experience, I can say that depression doesn’t necessarily mean being suicidal and sad all the time – at least for some people depression is the lack of meaning, taste and colour in every day life and routine. It’s the ultimate greyness and evenness of everything.

    The text doesn’t mention whether or not Dorothy sook medical and/or professional help, but even if she did, maybe it didn’t help. It’s also easy to suggest that you “change your life” – by quitting your job or moving somewhere else, for instance – but, again from experience, I can say that it’s easier said than done… and it may not change a thing. Personally I’ve lived in several different countries and worked and studied, tried to realise my dreams and so on.

    The monster that is depression – or terminal ennui, if you will – has followed me, because it’s not coming from external but internal factors.

    As for selfishness of suicide. True, it will cause sorrow to people who are close to her, but here is my question:

    How long do you have to live for other people’s sake?

    I have no religious or moral issues with suicide, although I advocate medical and professional help first, and not giving up too soon. We may also say that our lives are our own to do what we will, as long as we don’t hurt anyone else.

    Also, what about if she is so ‘bored’ that she can’t find any motivation to work, or get out of the house, or the bed? Will she then proceed to stay alive and live as a financial burden for the society? Isn’t that selfish too?

    If my view seems too harsh, I’m in a situation where I consider the worth of continuing my own life. For now, the weight of the sorrow of people who are close to me is more than my unwillingness to trudge on, but if they didn’t exist… What then?

  38. I’m wondering whether the existence of other people – à la Ophelia – who might be upset or saddened by Dorothy’s suicide is truly relevant. If Dorothy were to die in a car accident, the same people presumably would be upset or saddened. Why should suicide not be considered a natural occurrence, like cancer or a heart attack? If life has ceased to seem worthwhile, and Dorothy is not treatably depressed, but simply does not see life as worth living, what considerations must lead her to go on living? Do away with silly religious reservations, and there aren’t a lot of truly compelling reasons. Presumably, she has already assessed her debts to others, and does not find living for their sake sufficient to ground a decision to go on living.

    I am reminded of Richard Robinson’s statement that “the chief argument for the legitimacy of suicide is that life is a trap. We have not asked for it, and it can be terrible.” Well, all sorts of things can make life terrible. I am reminded that Sir Edward Downe died with his wife because without her there was no reason to go on living, even though he was not (as such) ill, just old and blind and almost deaf. He died with his wife because, presumably, he did not see some future version of himself having enough left to make going on with his life worthwhile. (How old do you have to be before you can do this without reproach?) And his family seemed to agree with him. There have been other notable suicides like this: Stephan Körner and his wife, Arthur Koeslter and his wife (who was much younger than he), and a husband and wife team (both theologians) at Princeton (or some such place).

    I don’t see why this could not be true of someone much younger; perhaps Dorothy has spent the last forty years trying to figure out what life was for, and determined that it wasn’t for anything. She would not have been the first to have come to this conclusion. Perhaps, unlike Dawkins, she can’t see the wonder of life, all she can see is the days stretching out ODTAA before her until some unknown time when she will die.

    Surely, she doesn’t have an obligation to accept one damn thing after another until she dies, just because she has a sister or a mother or any number of people who are trying to convince her to go on living. Perhaps they are all selfish. They want her to live, but don’t know how they can make life an inteteresting prospect for her, but do not want to be responsible (in some odd way) for her death, because they couldn’t convince her that life was worthwhile. In other words, she doesn’t need to be a true solitary.

  39. sisyphus

  40. She may as well live out the rest of her life because life is short — she will be gone soon anyway. Maybe she can help other people who are suffering somehow. Whether it be visiting lonely people in nursing homes, lending a helping hand at food banks or offering a shoulder to cry on at women’s shelters, suffering in the would be reduced in her corner of the world because of her actions. I wish she would step out of herself in another way other than death.

  41. Peter: I don’t doubt that people commit suicide in Zimbabwe, only that they do so out of terminal boredom or ennui. Commiting suicide because you have no money to buy food or because you’re about to be condemned to life imprisonment in one of Mugabe’s jails are of a different order than commiting suicide because you find life to be boring.

  42. Presumably, Pamela, for Dorothy life is not short. That’s what taedium vitae is all about. Minutes pass and seem like hours. Days pass and seem like centuries, sometimes, when time is particularly heavy, like millennia. Beginning a day can be a challenge, because there is a stretch of unredeemable time stretching out like an endless desert ahead of one. And every so often she will glance at the clock and realise just how many empty minutes are left that have to filled with something, with nothing there to fill them.

    By nightfall she will be relieved that sleep will take away her cares for a few hours, possibly deadened by pills so that she need not lay awake worrying about the coming of the morning, and another stretch of endlessly unforgiving minutes. And telling her to lend a hand at food shelters is just preserving life for people for whom Dorothy can have nothing but anguished alarm, that they cannot see the pointlessness of going on, and cling so desperately to what, objectively considered, is a burden and a pain. And lonely people at nursing homes might – nay, almost certainly would – just reinforce the bitter sense of the ultimate meaninglessness of it all, as she sees her life stretching into just such an old age. There they are, lonely and afraid to die, holding on to what, looked at from Dorothy’s point of view, is quite absurd, as absurd as waiting for Godot. Why should she want to do things like this, or feel that there is any purpose served by doing so?

  43. I reproduce Peggy Lee’s classic, now a cult piece, which seems to have some application here. Website address:-http://www.lyricsdownload.com/peggy-lee-is-that-all-there-is-lyrics.html

    I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
    I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
    in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
    I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
    And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire”

    Is that all there is, is that all there is
    If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
    If that’s all there is

    And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus, the greatest show on earth.
    There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
    And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
    And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
    I had the feeling that something was missing.
    I don’t know what, but when it was over,
    I said to myself, “is that all there is to a circus?

    Is that all there is, is that all there is
    If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
    If that’s all there is

    Then I fell in love, head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world.
    We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
    We were so very much in love.
    Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t,
    and when I didn’t I said to myself, “is that all there is to love?”

    Is that all there is, is that all there is
    If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing

    I know what you must be saying to yourselves,
    if that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
    Oh, no, not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
    for I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
    when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself

    Is that all there is, is that all there is
    If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
    If that’s all there is

  44. I look at it this way. It’s the only life I’m going to have: why not try to make the best of it?
    I agree with you Eric, that as one gets older, the possibilities of making the best of it become slimmer and the arguments in favor of suicide have more weight. A pertinent fact would be Dorothy’s age. Is she age 30 with ennui or age 75?

  45. Eric,

    All that might be true – but the post doesn’t make that clear. My view is that as stated it is inadequate. Dorothy’s shrug at what her sister will feel (how does Dorothy even know that?) is too easy, too quick, and too callous. The post doesn’t make clear that she is as desperately bored as what you talk about, and it doesn’t make clear that no one will be shattered by her suicide. I did say that the feelings of others don’t mean that she flatly shouldn’t kill herself – but I do think they mean that the story is (unless she is a real solitary) much more complicated than what we are given.

    Okay; of course that could just be the nature of this particular thought experiment. But…I think it’s less interesting than it might be just because so much important stuff is left out. Dorothy is a stick figure and her dilemma (if it is one) is a stick figure dilemma.

    Or maybe I just mean that if she’s really as callous as all that then fine, she should go ahead and kill herself, because who cares.

  46. This topic clearly gets people going! Ophelia, I dispute your contention that Dorothy is a stick figure; she may be a hollow person but that is exactly the sense that Dorothy has of herself. Ralph’s point about her selfishness is fine enough, but if Dorothy had a terminal disease and wished to commit suicide, I don’t think he – or you? – would consider her “callous” if she wished to end her own life.

    I find many of the points here quite interesting. No, terminal ennui or depression is not the same as terminal cancer, but then nobody is claiming that it is. Yes, depression can be treated; but some people feel that the person they might be after the treatment is not the same as the person they are now. It seems that what scares us most is the possibility that suicide may be a perfectly rational response to the prospect of an unbearable life – and it’s not for other people to tell Dorothy what she should consider “unbearable”, is it?

  47. I also note that most of the these posts fail to engage with the question of whether it would be wrong for Dorothy to commit suicide, instead focusing on reasons why she might want to live. The existence (or not) of such reasons are barely relevant to the actual question at hand, surely?

  48. Thanks, Ophelia. At 45, she should put her bored shoulder to the wheel and stop whining. She should start feeling concern for others (or about the environment or about animals) and stop feeling sorry for herself. End of sermon.

  49. Amos: comments such as the one you have just made are one of the main reasons why potential suicides are wary of talking to other people about their problems. Being told to “stop whining” is not a useful response to somebody considering taking their own life. I realise that Dorothy is a fiction, but please try to be sensitive.

  50. That sounds rude; I don’t mean to be rude. But I find the thinness rather frustrating. We are told that “Dorothy has thought hard about the morality of suicide” – but then what follows doesn’t look like a summary of hard thinking; it looks like a summary of very shallow thinking.

    She knows that there are religious objections to the taking of one’s own life. She is aware, for instance, that the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states that suicide is ‘seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity’. But Dorothy isn’t religious, and doesn’t believe in the afterlife, so she isn’t much impressed by such pronouncements. She has taken into account that some people, such as her sister, will mourn her death. But she does not believe that their suffering will be very great, and certainly not great enough to outweigh what she sees as her right to do as she wishes with her own life – including ending it.

    That’s not good enough. Unless Dorothy is very solitary indeed (which should be spelled out, because it’s unusual), that’s not an adequate account of the people who know her and might be affected by her suicide – the suicide of someone 45 years old who is profoundly bored but not depressed.

    Now, since we are 1) told that Dorothy has thought hard about the morality of suicide, and 2) asked at the end if it would be wrong for her to commit suicide and if so why, I think we need more adequate detail about her hard thinking. Without it she’s just a rather brutal stick figure, and our thoughts about her suicide can’t be all that interesting.

  51. Paul,

    Yes it does get people going, doesn’t it! It is interesting – so maybe my strictures are wrong. Maybe the inadequacy is part of what is so provocative.

    But all the same –

    I dispute your contention that Dorothy is a stick figure; she may be a hollow person but that is exactly the sense that Dorothy has of herself.

    Is it? Where does it say that? I don’t see anything like that. I can’t tell if Dorothy is really unhappy or just kind of lazy. As described, I think she pretty much deserves amos’s lecture.

  52. If Dorothy is really just bored – I tell you what she can do. She can do risky humanitarian work. She can go open a girls’ school in Afghanistan, or work for MSF, or help out at a refugee camp in DR Congo, or be an activist in Burma or Zimbabwe. She can go help Leo Igwe in Nigeria and risk getting beaten up by Pentecostalists who think children are possessed by witches and must be tortured or killed. There are a lot of things she could do that would carry a very high probability of getting her killed.

    I guess part of the problem I have with Dorothy is that it’s all about her. Now, if you’re so ill or disabled or in pain or depressed that life is intolerable, then you can’t help that. But if you’re just bored? Please. Dorothy should think about herself less and the rest of the world more.

  53. I take the “seemingly terminal ennui” to be the sense that nothing in life engages her, that she does not gain sufficient joy from the everyday human experiences that other people engage in, that she is unable to relate to them in an especially meaningful manner. You may feel that I am reading too much into the description, but if I am right it sounds as if she would view herself essentially as a hollow person.

    Note that she is not saying that suicide is a rational response for everybody, or that her sister would be unreasonable to mourn her. This is not necessarily an existential point that she would apply to everybody, or seeks to persuade other people of, so she would not necessarily see other people as hollow. Nonetheless, she looks into herself and finds little to sustain her; the “inner strength” that other commenters here seek to uncover in her simply doesn’t exist.

    This seems a reasonable description of Dorothy, but you may disagree. My question would then be, why would you disagree?

  54. Ophelia, what worries me about your response – and many of the responses here – is that it reduces to “if I’m not bored then Dorothy shouldn’t kill herself”. It’s not quite on the level of amos’ contribution, but it’s close. And once again, that doesn’t address the question of whether Dorothy would be wrong to kill herself – or am I missing something?

    p.s. As a professional aid worker, I should tell you that your advice on that account isn’t very useful for Dorothy either. Although she might find it interesting, for the most part it’s not as risky as you think it is.

  55. So, yes. It would be wrong for Dorothy, as described, to commit suicide. Why? Because her life could be useful for something. She should risk her life instead.

    One powerful reason for this is that anyone who would be upset by her suicide would (almost certainly) feel very differently about her death in action. Her sister would still miss her but everything else would be completely different.

  56. Ophelia, I’m confused. Your position now seems to be that it’s fine for Dorothy to end her own life as long as she does it while trying to help other people. Surely this reflects your own notions of the value of self-sacrifice (specifically rooted in the Christian tradition of martyrdom, I would suggest) more than anything else?

  57. Paul, no, I don’t disagree. What you say is compatible with what we’ve been told about Dorothy, though it’s not entailed. I’m not trying to uncover inner strength in her – I’m pointing out that, as described, her epistemology is lacking and her empathy is non-existent.

    No, it’s not “if I’m not bored then Dorothy shouldn’t kill herself” – it’s “if boredom is Dorothy’s only reason to kill herself and she hasn’t properly thought about other people, then that’s inadequate.” I don’t think other people have an absolute veto on Dorothy’s right to kill herself – but I do emphatically think she has to take other people into account. She has to do better than “Oh Rosalie won’t miss me much.”

    I don’t think all aid work is risky, of course. I didn’t say that. But there are certainly places where it is risky. She could simply choose one of those.

    Afghanistan is really ideal for the purpose – because schools for girls are closed down there precisely because teachers don’t want to be killed. Afghanistan desperately needs teachers who are perfectly happy to risk their lives!

  58. Paul –

    No. My position is that if Dorothy really wants to end her life – then she might as well do something useful in the process. That strikes me as a practical solution in many ways.

    No, it’s not rooted in the Christian tradition of martyrdom. I’m not fond of the Christian tradition of martyrdom. (Yes yes, I know, the thought is that I’m unconsciously drawing on it anyway. But I say I’m not. I’m drawing on the fact that teachers in Afghanistan really do get killed for being teachers.)

  59. Ophelia, when you say “her empathy is non-existent”, that is exactly what I mean by a “hollow person”. Healthy relations are what gives most people’s lives their true meaning, and if Dorothy does not feel those…

    If I was trying to help Dorothy, I would try to help her develop those relationships, which may be the argument that you’re making – but that’s not what I understand the question to be.

    The question for me, when presented with this set of facts about Dorothy, is would it be wrong for Dorothy to commit suicide. It might be callous, it might be childish, it might pathetic; but is it wrong?

    I can’t find a reason to call it wrong. But then again, I’m a moral skeptic 😉

    p.s. Afghanistan doesn’t need teachers who aren’t from the region and don’t speak the language, and an aid agency would be failing in its duty of care if they placed her in a position where she was directly at risk.

  60. Paul, I think there’s a confusion here. You have a lot of sympathy for Dorothy – I think because you take her as standing in for real suicides. I don’t think that’s the point of the thought experiment. I think it’s part of the point that she’s not actively miserable. I think part of the point is to ask if it is wrong to commit suicide merely because one is severely bored as opposed to miserable. If that’s right, then it’s a mistake to add extra misery to Dorothy and to urge us to be more sensitive. The absence of real misery is part of the point.

  61. Is it reasonable to say it’s callous but not wrong? Callous entails wrong, doesn’t it? It’s a boo-word.

    Dorothy could learn Pashtun. Are you sure Afghanistan doesn’t need non-local teachers if they’re the only ones available? Have you asked the girls who are kept out of school about that?

  62. Ophelia, I don’t know about the stick figure. But she has taedium vitae – I don’t think calling it boredom as such helps; she doesn’t see the point in life. And if she doesn’t see the point in life, she won’t see the point of risking it either. Whichever way you look at someone like Dorothy, she’s trapped. She thinks life is a trap, and she wants out of it.

    A bit like Jean Améry. In his book On Aging he builds up quite a convincing case that growing old is not only the pits; it’s not worth it. (I am beginning to understand! I’ve been virtually house bound since June, and couldn’t go to Toronto as I had hoped on Friday, because of another flareup of my gout! It’s the pits!) So, he took his own advice not so much later and ended his life. A bit like Dorothy would like to do, and for similar reasons. Why should we find her morally at fault for doing that? You may say – but of course your outlook is different anyway – that she should try something else. But why should this weigh with Dorothy? Why should it be important to her that her life might be useful (to someone else)? What you hope she will find (presumably) is a reason to live, to find her own life important and worthwhile, but presumably she’s already considered that. She doesn’t, and she doesn’t want to try to find out. Should she? Is this even a moral question?

  63. Without wanting to sound snarky, it sounds as if you want Dorothy to risk her life doing something that you consider useful. Presumably you wouldn’t be so happy if she decided that she should risk her life by doing something that you disapproved of. I find this suspicious – it doesn’t sound as if you’re interested in Dorothy giving meaning to her own life, but in using her as a tool to further your own interests.

    I really don’t mean that to sound rude. Consider this: a terrorist group might approach Dorothy on exactly the same basis, telling her that she can make her suicide into something worthwhile by joining them. What I’m trying to get at is that from a philosophical view, your prescription for Dorothy could lead equally to a martyr-prone schoolmarm or a suicide bomber. And I don’t think you’d be happy with the latter, which suggests that your interest in Dorothy is instrumental. She would be right to be suspicious!

  64. If I was trying to help Dorothy, I would try to help her develop those relationships, which may be the argument that you’re making – but that’s not what I understand the question to be.

    No, that’s not the argument I’m making at all (and you’re right, that’s not what the question is). No, I’m saying Dorothy should pay more attention to what other people will feel, unless there are no such people, which we haven’t been told. I’m saying it’s not just about Dorothy.

    Dorothy, as described, is a terrible narcissist. As I said: she needs to think about herself less and the world more.

  65. As the insensitive one, let me clarify my insensitive position. Dorothy, as she is presented, that is, bored with life, needs a kick in the behind, to stop feeling sorry for herself (life is tough for everyone) and to show some concern for others, in Afghanistan, if she likes risk. (That sounds like the plot of Graham Greene novel). Now, if Dorothy suffers from a very severe depression, which does not respond to treatment and therapy, which may be the case (but that is not specified), she may have no alternative except suicide.

  66. I think that terminal ennui is very much miserable, and as such is deserving of our understanding rather than our condemnation. Jeremy says she’s not depressed – which I take to mean depression in the clinical sense – but depression is not the only form of mental anguish. A rogue commenter above simply wrote “Sisyphus”, which is actually bang on – the horror of Sisyphus is the tedium of joyless repetition, it’s own suburb of hell.

    Are you sure Afghanistan doesn’t need non-local teachers if they’re the only ones available? Have you asked the girls who are kept out of school about that?

    I haven’t asked the girls personally since 2002, but broadly speaking – no Afghanistan doesn’t need non-local teachers unless we want to condemn it to another 20 years of aid dependency. But that’s a different story.

  67. Amos: on a personal note, please don’t consider going into counselling as a career.

    Further: there is no indication in the description that Dorothy feels sorry for herself, or that she feels life is particularly tough. That’s partly the point: she doesn’t feel life is much of anything, and thus she places no value on it.

    I am still waiting for somebody to identify what is wrong with her committing suicide. I think the grief of others is a reasonable objection, but it still doesn’t seem strong enough as an objection to overcome her other thoughts.

  68. Eric,

    Well calling it boredom may not help, but it’s what we’ve been told! And it’s all we’ve been told. We haven’t even been told she has anything as grand-sounding as taedium vitae. :- )

    And we haven’t been told that she is suffering from the effects of aging. We haven’t been told that her reasons are similar to those of Jean Améry. We haven’t been told very much! I think there’s a lot of reading-in going on here. I think people (perhaps including you!) are reading backward – she wants to commit suicide therefore she must be really miserable – but the point is that she isn’t really miserable – she is “profoundly bored.” Granted profound boredom is a bad thing – but is it intractable? Is it a condition? I think that’s doubtful, in the absence of real depression.

    Yes I think it is a moral question unless there really are no people who will be affected by her suicide. And possibly for other reasons too.

  69. No – I specifically said that the grief of others is a reasonable objection, but it simply doesn’t seem strong enough to me. So I was disagreeing.

  70. Just one last thing…

    I think the grief of others is a reasonable objection, but it still doesn’t seem strong enough as an objection to overcome her other thoughts.

    What other thoughts? All we have is that she is profoundly bored (and that she expects to continue to be that, and so on – but no other substantive thoughts about her reasons for suicide). You really think that being profoundly bored is more powerful than the grief of others? I don’t buy it. Not unless we’re explicitly told that there are no others or that no one likes Dorothy much.

  71. To me the most important sentence in the original post is:

    “…she does not think that she has any responsibility towards a purely hypothetical future version of herself.”

    It is, frankly, a mistake to assume that we will still possess this thing called ‘existence’ from one moment to the next. Everyone is talking about all the things that Dorothy could do with her life were she to grasp it, but, to Dorothy, she doesn’t have a future self to be able to do the grasping. When one lives exclusively in the past/present there is no sense in which life and death differ, and, with no consequences to contend with, the notion of morality is redundant. It is just an arbitrary choice between two states.

    Of course, Dorothy may not take her statement to its logical end like that, but, as a pure thought-experiment I find it quite interesting 🙂

  72. We have a Paul D and a Paul C? Come on…

    :- )

    True enough about the future self – but I nevertheless think that is compelling only if Dorothy lives in a near-vacuum. And even then I think there is something to be said for the idea that if she’s going to go, she might as well do something useful on the way out. Why not after all?

    Apart from anything else it would be less boring…

  73. Paul: I’m not considering a career in therapy, but you’d be surprised at the number of people bored with life who have asked me for advice, who have received more or less the same advice I give Dorothy and who have benefited from it. Of course, those who seek advice from me probably know beforehand more or less what I’ll say, so I probably don’t deal with a representative sample of people bored with life, but my sermons do work in some cases.

  74. Well, perhaps, Ophelia, I am reading something into the words ‘profoundly bored.’ But I think someone who is so profoundly bored as to fell that life is no longer worth living has something that is as grand sounding as taeduum vitae. Webster defines it as weariness or loathing of life, both of which, apparently, Dorothy has. You have to have both in order to think that ending your life is an option. Doing this is a very specific act. It is not something that is done in a fit of forgetfulness. It is done from a motive of repudiating life. This may be because one is stricken with great grief, or a great loss of some kind, of from depression, etc. But if it is done out of ‘boredom’ it is, I should have thought, adequately described as a sense of profound boredom, a sense that life itself is of no value.

    Of course, we are not told this, but if she is prepared to end her life on the strength of it, she must have given it considerable thought. The fact that she does not value the interests of a possible future self, is an indication of this. In this case, considering her sister, perhaps she just has to let go, unless she can give her sister a reason to go on living, which apparently she cannot do.

    Is this selfishness? Would it be selfishness on Dorothy’s part? I’m not convinced. Besides, if the one person who benefits from keeping her alive can’t make her see the worthwhileness of life, surely Dorothy’s situation is not only someone with a deepseated inclination, but with a settled disposition, based on her own assessment of the value of life. How could you call such a person callous? If she cannot value her own life, she certainly will not easily consider what her value to others might be. I think we’ve got enough to go on here.

    Some people, like Peter Wessel Zapffe, thought that life was, ultimately, meaningless, but he had many avocations, besides writing his law examination paper in verse. A mountaineer, a poet, an environmental, and several other things besides, he led a very full life, but was deeply pessimistic. All he had to offer as an answer, he said, was a silly smile. Dorothy evidently can’t find even that silly smile. She’s not a whiner, so far as I can tell. She just doesn’t think it’s worthwhile going on, and that whatever she did would be pointless.

    In what way is this different from the Buddha, for instance? He thought about life in precisely the same way, and sought to divorce himself entirely from it by disappearing into nothingness/Nirvanna. What if Dorothy had told her sister that she was going off into the desert to meditate into some sort of blown out state (Nirvanna)? Would her sister have thought that an appropriate compromise, I wonder? The Bohdisattvas, remember, are different. They stay, and help others escape! But the primary aim is to escape from life, because life is suffering, after all.

    I can understand Zapffe’s silly smile.

  75. Eric –

    Webster defines it as weariness or loathing of life, both of which, apparently, Dorothy has. You have to have both in order to think that ending your life is an option.

    But that’s what I mean by reading backward. You’re treating her like a real person and then reading backward from her intention. But it’s a thought experiment, so it doesn’t work to treat her like a real person. If I understand the TE correctly (and I’m not at all sure I do) the fact that her reason is thin is part of the point. I think the question is, is she wrong to commit suicide on grounds that seem less compelling than outright anguish? So I think trying to intensify her anguish kind of misses the point.

  76. Ophelia: I can’t see why her “reason is thin”. What, then, is a good reason for comitting suicide? ‘Outright anguish’ is subjective – some of us have a far lower anguish-threshold than others, and, to Dorothy, 5 years of constant ennui is evidently her limit.
    Would you accept it as reasonable somebody who wanted to die because they were in intense physical pain? The sensation of pain is, at root, purely mental anyway, it’s all nerves and signals, etc. so this wouldn’t really be consistent reasoning.
    What about someone who is terminally ill? Well, let’s face it, we are all terminally ill: it is a fact of our existence that it will end in death – nobody can know when it’s going to happen so at the end of the day it makes no difference when or how we die.

    One could make the same argument for any other situations where one reason for suicide is seen as ‘more acceptable’ as another, which leaves us with the basic question as whether, under ANY circumstances, it is moral to take one’s own life. The prevailing attitude seems to be that it is, so there you go 🙂

  77. Paul D

    True, profound ennui might be enough for some people. But the post is written in such a way that it seems to be part of the point that her feeling isn’t terribly intense. I take the point to be that many of us agree that it’s not wrong to kill yourself if you’re very ill/in pain/very miserable and the like, but what about reasons that fall short of that? So the point isn’t that she is actually very miserable, but rather, is there anything wrong with suicide for weaker reasons?

  78. That’s what I’m trying to get it: this isn’t a ‘weaker’ reason. It’s just a different reason.

  79. …which deep down is actually the same reason. Everyone in this situation has one overriding thing in common: they want to end their life.

  80. Well, now, Ophelia, you may be quite right, and I am missing the point of the thought experiment. I often do, since thought experiments so often leave out aspects of humanity without which the situation is no longer believable.

    For instance, Dorothy is profoundly bored, she apprently knows her sister would miss her deeply, but this doesn’t register with her as a consideration, and yet she has thought about things enough to be able to dismiss the possibiliy of a happier later self being reason enough to hang around. And on top of this we are to suppose that, almost as an act of forgetfulness, she is going to end her life. Now this is not only thin. It doesn’t provide us with a human being, so how on earth are we going to apply moral concepts here?

    I don’t see how thinking like this helps us. We can ask ourselves what reasons a person might give for ending their life. And we can think of a whole range of reasons. When we get to trivial reasons – and we have to imagine it on a note left behind – like “I was bored this afternoon.” Well, that’s not much of a reason, and we’d be bound to look more deeply at that person’s life, precisely because it is so thin. That’s simply not enough. (If you read Waugh’s Vile Bodies or watch Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things you’ll get an idea of how cut out people like that look.) But: “I’ve been so profoundly bored for so long that I simply don’t have the will to go on. I’d rather be dead than live a life like that.” That makes a bit more sense, and is certainly more human.

    Is that a good enough reason? I don’t know. People actually take their lives for more trivial reasons, but they are usually (in my limited experience) mentally unhinged when they actually try – based, at least, on conversations with two young people I know who tried to shoot themselves and failed to do it properly. (One of them had what might be called an out of body experience watching himself do it and wondering why.)

    I guess I think, thin as it is, to be believable, Dorothy’s condition must seem anguished. That’s what ending your life is usually about. So, am I just misunderstanding thought experiments – which often, I grant don’t make any sense to me at all? And if I am, can you please help me understand the point of this one? Because, as you describe it, it makes no sense to me at all. Besides, if I didn’t have someone to disagree with, life wouldn’t make much sense at all!

  81. Reasons why Dorothy should end her life:

    1. She’s 40 and apparently unaccomplished.
    2. She’s 40 and obviously never married or had kids (probably a virgin).
    3. She’s 40 and lives with her sister (lots of cats).
    4. She lacks the conviction to simply end her life, and conducts a survey (pathetic).
    5. The fact she is looking for reasons to live suggests she is a drag at parties (and why she’s not being invited out more).
    6. Five years contemplating suicide? Grow a pair!

    If I was a 40 year old virgin lacking confidence, I would either start dating more, or off myself. Besides, one less person on this planet would save valuable environmental resources for all.

  82. Ophelia, from your posts I gather that since the original outline didn’t define Dorothy as a “real person”, we shouldn’t try to make her so (by trying decipher her life or personality from the information given). But isn’t the point of the exercise exactly that? Otherwise the question should be something like “Is suicide morally wrong? Discuss.”

    Anyway, I understand that you’re saying that suicide *is* wrong; I would like to know why you think so. If it’s because it’s a waste, then a waste of what? You seem to be saying that everyone should be somehow useful, but isn’t it right that overpopulation is a major problem on the planet… so suicide is actually making a small contribution to solving that problem. Or is that not useful enough? 😀

  83. OK Jay Doe, you made me chuckle. Thanks 😛

  84. She’s 45.

    Why is not marrying a reason to kill yourself?

    Why is not having children a reason to kill yourself?

    A pair of what? And how would that help?

  85. Eric, the way you phrased it makes it sound more convincing. I’m probably the one who is misunderstanding! The way the post is written it looks more willed than that…more cold-blooded, less emotional, more kind of shrug-like. Maybe I just have it wrong!

    Shame about Toronto by the way. I hope the gout stops plaguing you soon!

    Laura, no, I’m not saying that suicide is wrong in general. But I think frivolous suicide is at least arguably wrong for people who have strong ties to other people.

  86. Eric: Jean Amery was 66 when he killed himself. He had lived through torture by the Gestapo and then Auschwitz, which probably means that he didn’t reach age 66 with the same vigor as someone with a normal life does. He had written several excellent books, including On Ageing, which you cite and which I recommend, as the most honest account of the ageing process that I know. At age 63, with several chronic health problems, I can see that there may come a time, even without a terminal illness, when it is no longer worth it to continue. However, I look at my 92 year-old mother, totally deaf, unable to walk a step without a walker, in pain because of a hernia which cannot be operated because of her age, and I am amazed at her force of character, alertness and love for life. In any case, Dorothy, far from being a person like Amery, who participated in the resistance against the Nazis and wrote noteworthy books, at least as I imagine her and apparently others do too (they imagine that she is a virgin, for example), is one who has done nothing with her life. Why not give it a try? Afghanistan? It matters little whether Afghanistan needs teachers, because the name is a metaphor for seeking a place or a situation where people need you.

  87. this is an issue of property rights. people own themselves and have a right to dispose of that and any other property that they own as they see fit. the morality of the opposing side (collectivist) is that the community has some right to your property. once you go down that road there is no coming back… totalitarianism.

  88. The Metaphysician will see you now Dorothy:

    I see your problem as being that of absorption in second thoughts. This thing of being bored is the result of your being stuck in reflection on what you take your life to be. Inward morose pondering is now your life and you are at a remove from its direct lived reality. I postulate this because boredom is manifest as perception of ones life as oddtaa or ‘same old, same old’. That this is not adequate to the variety of life is clear. The problem is how to jar you loose from besetting thoughts. You need to get out of your mind more. If you were a musical person you might write an opera based on the life of a stone or start humming ‘is this the way to Amarillo/every night I cry on my pillow/. Risky.

  89. wow, I’m a bit late to the party here… but its an interesting topic. I haven’t read all the comments, I apologize, so I won’t be responding to anyone in particular.

    For those who are advocating that she should not be allowed to commit suicide, perhaps this argument may find something valuable… Often many people consider euthanasia as morally allowable, precisely because of the quality of life that a person is living because of some condition, usually a disease or illness.

    Now apply it to this circumstance. Dorothy’s quality of life is not worth living (a completly subjective evaluation. You can argue with her, but ultimately she determines it). It’s caused by the lack of interesting things in the world. (again subjective, but so is pain and suffering).

    Why should she not commit suicide in this circumstance? To say that one is caused by a disease, and the other caused by the world, doesn’t seem sufficiently different to draw a moral distinction.

    Imagine that you’re locked up in a strange prison. The prison is a planet that is completely uniform in nature. There arn’t any hills, there arn’t any particularly different things from one place to another. Just a planet full of boredom, and you are its only inhabitant…. would you say that its wrong to kill yourself? Now populate it with two people. Dorothy and her sister. Her sister LOVES this planet (for whatever reason) and Dorothy can’t stand it. Her sister pleads with Dorothy not to kill herself because the planet is so fun! Dorothy doesn’t see it.

    Does the mere fact that Dorothy is not alone now make a significant difference? Why?

  90. Since we’re still at it, I wonder why it is racist to send Dorothy, even if she is white, to teach in Afghanistan. It may be a misguided idea, since a Westerner may not be able to understand the culture of Afghanistan enough to teach, but that something is misguided doesn’t make it racist. Racism implies bias, prejudice, a sense of racial superiority and generally, hostility. What if Dorothy goes to Afghanistan without hostility or a sense of superiority and an openness to learning from the Afghans? Would that make her racist? Were whites who worked with the African National Congress in South Africa to end apartheid racist? Were whites who joined Martin Luther King in the U.S. South racists?

  91. That should read “with an openness to learning…”

  92. I think the situation Wayne Yuen has described it is best resolved by by considering the amount of misery on the planet when both sisters inhabit it. If Dorothy removes her misery there from then we merely have to consider if her demise generates any misery in the surviving sister. I do not know how to quantify misery but can only assume that Dorothy’s was massive and apparently the sister had none at all whilst they both lived. If Dorothy’s death would generate in the sister the same or more misery than Dorothy had when living then the suicide is not a good idea. If it generates in the sister less misery on the planet than before, then the suicide becomes more appealing. There is a sort of inverse ratio here the smaller the generated misery the greater the appeal for suicide.

    In a real life situation it is a great rarity I would think, for a survivor to become more miserable that her deceased pathologically miserable sister. This is a very difficult thought experiment due to the paucity of data such as would enable better and more realistic judgements to be made.

  93. The article is interesting, but only marginally relevant, since Kerrie was not, like Dorothy, simply profoundly bored. She was suffering from an apparently incurable emotional instability that made life intolerable to her. She had made efforts to take her life before this, and this time, because she had a properly signed directive, which stated that she knew what she had done and the consequences of doing it, her rights would have been violated had the doctors saved her life, and she would probably have had a good case in law to sue them for civil wrong.

    Recently, in Toronto, I believe, a man was taken into custody by paramedics who had been called to the scene after 911 had been alerted by his adult children who were afraid that he was going to take his life. What is odd about this is that, in Canada, it is not against the law to take one’s life, and yet, apparently, a person can be detained without warrant, at least in the province of Ontario, if he is believed to be a danger to himself.

    There seems to me to be an inconsistency in Canadian law at this point, and so far as I know, advanced directives do not have the same force in Canada as in Britain. We may raise moral questions about Kerrie’s decision to take her life, but not quite the same questions as in Dorothy’s case. I think that it is clear that Kerrie did not do anything morally wrong by acting as she did.

    Of course, we may also, if we like, raise legal questions about the doctors’ decision not to save Kerrie’s life, or moral questions regarding the British law concerning advanced directives as they pertain to cases like Kerrie’s. But these are surely very different questions to the ones raised by Dorothy’s question about whether it would be morally right to take her own life in the circumstances described. Or did I miss the point again?!

  94. I’ve read most of the comments,and surprisingly enough, I’ve found myself sharing various opinions and beliefs with most of people who commented on this topic. This means that I don’t have a firm position to hold on the matter, but, on the other hand, something puzzles me and in search for consistency, I’ll try to post it here.

    It seems to me that we are in fact seeking answers to -at least – 2 different questions when we ask “Would it be wrong for Dorothy to commit suicide?”. Imagine asking this question before Dorothy has committed suicide or after she presumably has. If we are to be consistent, then the answer we give to this question should be same. Answering the question will take slightly different efforts to find arguments.

    The point I’m trying to make is this: saying that a decision to act in a certain way is wrong is not like saying a certain pencil has a certain color. We tend to show that a decision was wrong on two fronts: first it was issued out of a flawed reasoning (but this again tends to be a vicious causal circle), and second, saying it was wrong has something (like a rightful decisive influence) on NOT bringing it into act (we expect a pragmatic consequence of saying “this is wrong”, namely a policy to prevent this action).
    In my opinion, I would be careful not to blend arguments between these two lines. Why? We can imagine cases where the two meanings of “wrong” do not intersect. Dorothy is such a case. We can imagine talking to her, showing her that whatever reason she has can be changed (therapy,empathy,facing her with great sufferings around the world etc) and nevertheless -if we can imagine that – whatever we say to her doesn’t change her mind. This makes her irrational only if I am perfectly rational in arguing. In this case we really have a great issue on ethical ground. Namely how much of reasoning is purely logical and how much of it tends to be persuasive.

    Secondly, let us assume that whoever she talks to and, for that matter, all the world thinks that what she is about to do is “wrong”. Why would that has to change her mind? Maybe she can convert this line of thinking by saying that it’s precisely one reason for which she is “bored” (a terrible uniformity and predicament of human minds- why should she value some things over others?).

    Now if Dorothy has indeed committed suicide and her beautiful journal tells us her story. How would you answer the question now? Would look around and start counting how many people are suffering because of this? Read her journal and decide if she had the “good reasons”? Or perhaps we should use counterfactuals and decide that she could have put her life to a better use.

    I don’t think we can give a perfect reasonable answer to both of these questions because they target different things: one at the objective-pragmatic, the other the subjective-evaluative. Although we can give arguments hoping that the other person will reach the same conclusion, actually the decision process is not that automated. On a daily basis, we consider boredom a shallow and selfish condition, but I think that trying to conclude this out of a mere description of one’s life has a gloomy presupposition behind: that we know exactly what to look at when we hear it[terminal ennui and its symptoms], that we know the precise relevancy of motives and moreover, that our view is extremely accurate [i.e. not biased].
    Justification and evaluation tend to be based on different grounds altogether.

  95. Sidestepping the glaring question – regarding the justification behind the act of suicide – which begs to be asked and consequently answered, if not with the brutal effrontery of scientific reasoning, but at least with an integral proportion of intellectual honesty, without, to say the least, succumbing to the appeasing warmth of societal dogmatic assertions – which when repeated sufficiently frequent enough makes one forget the very foundation upon which the truth, or rather claim, of this lay in the first place – about the sanctity of human life, the train of thought presented here would be to primarily make an attempt, albeit in no way purporting to be a complete one, to expatiate as to why one chooses to kill oneself; I skirt away from the morality aspect of it simply because it is not an aspect of morality. Simply put, justification to pursue the act lies within the plausibility and desirability of the act [1].

    Cause and effect:

    In ever failing attempts to rewrite history, we perpetually fall into the one circular trap that has, time and again, created a stagnation in our efforts of solving a problem (by a “problem”, it is meant a process of going from a pre-defined “here” to a predefined “there”; its ubiquitous analogy with a weed in a garden will be seen later): the trap of failing to distinguish cause from effect; a stagnation that is generally called a “rut”, in modern parlance. To clarify: when we interpret effects as causes, we come to a dangerous stand-still; this is when the rut begins to feed upon itself; the disparate repertoire of effects, that once seemed to form a cogent meaningful conglomerate, will suddenly start to disintegrate into fractions even more horrendous than what was started off with. The ensuing confusion is what I call the rut, when we treat symptoms and not causes.

    The usage of the word “treat” brings back the topic of weeds and problems; leaving aside any scope of the preceding arguments to form an all-encompassing theory of suffering and human misery, I want to focus on the specific question of suicide. Are factors like depression, pain, guilt, boredom causes of suicide? Or are they effects of something else, suicide being another effect? That is, in continually trying to make the “suicidee” eliminate his/her suicidal tendencies, strenuous efforts are put in to eliminate the above feelings from the person’s life; if these above are indeed the causes, the direction is the right one, in the case that one desires to remove the suicidal tendencies (it could still be argued that even with this right direction, there will ensue a conflict: a conflict between “the what-is and the what-should-be” [2], a point I want to emphasize later). If, however, these are merely effects on an equal footing with the suicidal tendency, then the efforts to eliminate these will simply result in a confused yarn of over-broiled emotions.

    On the other hand (which to me is a serious hand indeed worth considering), if one does not desire to eliminate the suicidal tendency, there will be no conflict between the what-is and the what-should-be; the person feels alive in experiencing the feeling; this feeling of pain, desperation, suicidal tendency will then, constitute yet another proof that one is alive (in fact a rather strong proof, for one could say that one feels so very alive at such times that one cant take it any more!). Hence, if one fosters the suicidal feeling, cherishes it, nurtures it – subconsciously or consciously – then there must be a reason or two for furthering it, whether the act was merely contemplated or successfully completed. These reasons are what I want to posit; not the origin or primal cause of the suicide, but the reasons why the suicidee furthers the idea to whatever extent. A proportionate sense of victory seems to underlie all three reasons.


    The situation of utter despondency and helplessness, generally associated with the suicidal tendency, that one finds oneself in tends to leave a mighty scar on the ego. The conviction sets in that one is not mentally strong enough to not be perturbed by an upsetting of one’s plans; the start of this despondency signals such a conviction to enter the psyche and a spiralling vicious cycle of weakness sets in. No trivial situation seems to not disrupt ones composure; no trivial situation seems to have a solution. This then becomes a major blow to the inbred egoistical idea that one is indeed master of, if not the external world, the internal world. Unless, one can still prove that one can overcome one’s inner conflicts and weaknesses by some means, and that the ego is still powerful and capable of resolving its weaknesses. That is when the suicidee conjures up the notion that he/she can still eliminate this feeling of weakness and subordination (that everything else is eliminated is a mere coincidence); that he/she can feel important once again; that he/she can feed the ego like before.

    The suicide is, then, no longer an escape from misery and situations, external or internal; it is simply a magnanimous boost to the ego; a solution for regaining the lost sense of importance: importance not in the eyes of the others once the suicidee is dead, but regaining the importance in one’s own eyes.


    When events and circumstances and resources change from a habitual routine, the individual must do the same in order to survive in the new hostile (the opposite of habitual) environment; this is clear from the dicta of natural selection. The individual must hence adapt to the surroundings; these adaptations, slow as they may be, are passed on. However, there will be individuals who will perceive their adaptations to the hostile environment not only insufficient, but also damaging to the remainder of the population. For, so the individual reasons (in all likelihood not at the conscious level), if such an individual were to continue to survive, he/she will not only lead to the quicker onset of a “Malthusian crunch” [3] (at which point he/she would get eliminated anyway), but also to a greater degree of struggle amongst the populace now. Thus the logical solution would be to risk a weaker self to perpetuate a stronger species. This is especially so, since a member of the human species can choose to do it as opposed to other animals who cannot make this conscious choice to improve their species in this way (the stories of lemmings and scorpions committing suicide are just that: stories; they do kill themselves, but not with the intent of killing themselves, since they do not make a distinction between life and death).

    The suicide is, then, no longer a willingness not to fight; it is simply an altruistic sacrifice: an altruistic victory for the individual and hence for the species.


    In an environment which undergoes constant disintegration (by which is meant, in physical terms, an increase in the entropy), there is a pressing requirement to put in a continual conscious effort to reduce this entropy: to ingest low-entropy food and egest high-entropy waste, thus keeping our bodies in low entropy [4]; to clean ourselves so as to wash off the continually accumulating unhygienic materials; to stimulate ourselves mentally, intellectually so as to nourish the dying brain cells. This constant involuntary repetition of actions constitutes, to a large extent, what one may associate with the torments of a slave to a master. The one way, surely, to end this conscious submission to the flow of entropy (and hence time), is to eradicate this consciousness; the body may linger and still succumb to physical laws but the consciousness will not be a slave any more.

    The suicide is, then, no longer a submission to the disintegrating force of the universe; it is simply the final death-blow to the physical laws: a grand climactic victory for the individual.

    [1] David Hume expounds (the validity of) this statement, with 3 concrete reasons, in his essay “Of Suicide”.
    [2] A frequently used phrase by Jiddu Krishnamurti in his talks.
    [3] A phrase used by Daniel Dennet in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, in connection to the development of Darwinism.
    [4] Roger Penrose explains this in an elegant way in “Emperor’s New Mind”.

  96. Goodness Vipin! This is the internet, a place for random made up “facts” and basesless name calling. We certainly do not site our resources in cyberspace! Shame on you. . .

  97. I think there is a problem with the hypothetical. It says “She can think of many more reasons not to live,” but then only follows that up with bordem. So, there must be other reasons.

    The answer to the question depends on the strength of those reasons. So if you imagine it’s cheifly depression, than suicide is not reasonable. There is a whole host of licit and illicit drugs that can combat depression and bordem. On the other hand, if she has gone through the hedonic caculus and decided that her all pleasures and contributions, potential and actual, aren’t worth her carbon footprint, then she has a decent moral argument for suicide.

    I also have an issue with the verb in the first sentance. There are only three reasons I could think of to “want” to kill yourself: mental disorder, sexual fetish, or art. All of those seem screwed up to me. In my opinion, the only moral suicides are dispassionate ones— and those are certianly rare.

  98. James B says:

    There are only three reasons I could think of to “want” to kill yourself: mental disorder, sexual fetish, or art.

    First of all, why do you put the word ‘want’ in scare quotes? Second, there are no doubt some with mental disorders who simply kill themselves for reasons hard to understand, and for that reason, perhaps, unreasonable – perhaps because they have heard voices telling them to. But clinical depression, as a mental disorder, does not necessarily impair a person’s rationality or competence in making decisions. And it might be quite reasonable for a chronically depressed person to take their life.

    The reason a depressed person might choose to die by suicide might be that his or her suffering had become intolerable, and that life was no longer, for that reason, worthwhile living. Such a reason is not contemptible, especially if the depressed person had already tried to obtain relief by medical treatments and therapy. The same goes for people who are dying in uncontrollable pain, or who are living with chronic or degenerative diseases of other kinds (not depression, or otherwise mental, that is). These might well be very good reasons for hastening death, and are not screwed up at all.

    I have no comment to make about reasons of art or sexual fetish. These do, on the surface, seem to be, as you say, screwed up.

    Vipin, your language is certainly flamboyant. Unfortunately, even with references, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, and what I think I understand seems to me to be false.

  99. I’ve read through all the comments and here’s a theory. While it is not wrong for Dorothy to kill herself, it may or may not be right. Also, it would seem to be wrong on our part to do anything besides try to convince her not to kill herself (if only for her to serve the collective, or because we value her future hypothetical self.) Regardless of these two sides to the argument, it is ultimately her own life, owned by her, and is therefore up to her. While it is right for us to try to convince her to live, it would be wrong for us to force her.

  100. Well, I was attempting to highlight the word. Specifically, the word ‘want’ carries a connotation of desire that another word like ‘choose’ would not convey. So, I agree with you that someone with an incurible condition, mental or physical, might choose suicide quite rationally. However, much like someone choosing to go to the dentist to avoid future pain, it wouldn’t be something they desire or “want”.

    On the other hand, some depressive patients do desire their own death in a quite unreasonable way. They have contructed a specfic senario and grown it into a fantasy. (In my own case, it was always the subway at rush hour.) I think this kind of thinking would disqualify you from making rational descision in this matter. Certianly we would get rid of a judge that had fantasies about delivering justice or freeing defendants.

  101. James B, I take your point about ‘want’ and ‘choose’, and think it is an important distinction. Indeed, I think you are right, and that most people who do choose assisted dying do not want to die, but make a reasonable choice to have life brought more quickly to an end. Thank you.

    Regarding depression and choice. I don’t know a lot about depression, but there is apparently no clinical evidence correlating depression with the desire to hasten death. What evidence we have is anecdotal, but, as Ron Lindsay says in his book Future Bioethics, at least one study of depressives found that there was “no significant effect of depression on decision making.” In other words, depressed persons may be able to distinguish fantasy from reality, as you have done. And this might suggest that chronically depressed persons might reasonably choose, after long, dreary experiences of trying to cope unsuccessfully with depression, that life was no longer worth living. In such a case, if there is a desire to bring life to an end, this might overlap with a reasonable choice to bring this about.

    This is what makes Dorothy’s case, perhaps, rather unique, in that she has no particular desire to do anything at all, and her question about bringing life to an end is really, in some sense, attended by neither desire nor choice. It was for this reason that I thought the storied Dorothy unlikely to find an instantiation in real life. I may be wrong, but she seems, to some degree, unreal. But if not, it would be difficult to see how she would ever make a decision, having neither the desire, nor able to make a choice, to die by suicide. Such a person might well fade away in terminal boredom.

  102. Eric MacDonald

    In retrospect, I would have to say that I take back the grounds on which I wrote my views, if not the general methodology of the argumentation; for I have come to the conclusion that it is meaningless to conduct gedanken experiments or intellectually theorize on the rights-and-wrongs-and-desires-and-wants of an individual. It is a matter of experience: the decision of the person is the sum result of a life full of unique experiences and that cannot be understood or put into sufficient words to explain the meaning behind the decision. To try and explain it (justify or dissect or crucify or criticise or otherwise), apart from being fruitless, is to strip the person of his/her uniqueness and individuality.

    A 40 minute eulogy cannot substitute a 40 year experience.

  103. I see two issues here:

    For one, her act won’t hurt her when she’s gone but it WILL hurt everyone around her. The family and loved ones of a suicide will grieve for years afterwards. While her life is her “property”, to intentionally cause such terrible pain to loved ones around her is wrong.

    The other issue is what she describing as “bored”. Lack of joy, fun, or any emotion in general may be a sign of a mental illness. I feel she needs to explore this first with a good psychiatrist. Her feelings may be a Disassociative disorder. Or it may be just how clinical depression affects this one person. If she is found mentally ill, it will affect her abilities to make a rational decision. Therefore, a decision about one’s life and death, should be delayed until she back restored to her “right mind” so to speak.

    That being said, I feel a person’s life belongs to nobody but themselves and it should be something only we, not our church, government, or doctors should control.

  104. ophelia- you mention
    “But the post is written in such a way that it seems to be part of the point that her feeling isn’t terribly intense.”
    surely that’s the problem. the only emotions i’ve really had for the last couple of years have been sadness and love(which is why i’m still here btw) so i as i understand it the lack of connection is why she wants to give up….. perhaps someone should give a reason to live- i find making that person hate you enough works remarkably effectively [just to say- it also destroys that friendship :)]
    *AMOS might have realised that from some of the people he gave advise to 😛

  105. Na-chan: Hate certainly is a motive for going on living. Revenge for example. Do you know the Robert Frost poem, Fire and Ice? Here it goes:

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    For what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think that I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    You’re sad and you love, you say. Freud affirms (as you probably know) that depression is aggression turned against the self. Maybe you should turn that aggression against others, hate someone or some group. Hate me, if you want to. Love is really over-valued by our culture: all that stupid pop music about love, not to mention the Christian bullshit. Hate is part of human nature.

  106. I say if you want to die there should be nothing that should stand in the way of that decision. I understand Dorothy’s desire to die completely as I see myself feeling the same way when life will inevitably become mundane in my old age. Its not due to depression but rather boredom as the artical states. There is a point where some people are ready to move on from life. Not because life bad in the least but because they are ready to move on. I strongly believe that suicide due to depression is always wrong because depression is an altered state of mind that makes the suicidee unfit to make that decision. If Dorothy ends up committing suicide it should be viewed as a personal decision she made and not as tragedy.

  107. Whether or not it is wrong or right is up to her, it may be right for her but wrong for her sister.. If her sister really loves her than Dorothy has no idea of what it will do to her. If Dorothy cares about her sister she could still live her life of unhappiness (which may not last) to prevent two lives being destroyed. Unless someone has lost a sibliing to suicide, it is not possible to know what suffering it entails, from personal experience it feels excrutiating and leaves you a very changed person. Throw caution to the wind instead, do everything possible to enjoy life – go mad and be hedonistic, become an adrenaline junkee,
    potentially save a life by adopting, give your life up for a good cause. Try a different counsellor, psychologist, or person who has felt or feels like you. As you dont seem deeply depressed at least try something different or radical, life is so random, you cant possibly tell the future. Become a buddhist, have no highs and lows. I dont know how much Dorothy has done to experiment with life or if she has just been passive and biding her time. I think its wrong until she has covered every possible, what is there to lose?

  108. She should not, because if she do, many other people might too realize that their life is like a game and can end it whenever you like (if you are atheist)… Whats bad about closing a video game when you get bored anyways?

    Also aging brings pain, you can never live a life as complete as yourself when you are young, ex: unable to learn as your mind dull, unable to see as your eye becomes blind..etc… there is a chance for more happiness, but there is a definite chance of pain, a hard option to chose

  109. The act is immoral in that it leaves other people in a state of grief and suffering. However Dorothy cannot see this and has rationalised the situation by telling herself that only her sister will be affected and then, only minimally.
    Humanity is very odd and many of us will feel a slight sense of satisfaction when someone ‘cops it’. It is as if we have a renewed sense of our own aliveness and a feeling of escaping what is, an inevitable fate, even if that involves slowly aging to the point of death. Death, to the alive is a release. Its good to know we are still on the life journey. Also we are reminded that there are lots of people out there still to annoy. Killing ourselves will only make them happy.
    Poor Dorothy has lost her sense of purpose. Her action could be unselfish in theory although I doubt that she is that unloved that noone is going to mind. Perhaps I am wrong.

  110. I am unable to understand why some contributors to this discussion have assumed that the surviving sister will be overwhelmed with despairing grief at the death. It was in any case, a condition when this problem was posed, that Dorothy believed her sister’s suffering would not be very great. Different people respond differently to such an event and I do not think that the survivor is likely to have more misery than her sibling, who I am assuming, has reached “rock bottom”.

    I personally would hate the thought that a sister of mine after all things possible had been said and done, was in the final analysis, just prolonging her condition of abject misery for fear that I would be upset on her demise. It seems possible therefore that I could feel guilty if she lives on in agony, or guilty if she dies. I think I would opt for possible guilt generated in me by her suicide, at least I would I know that the poor woman was now at rest.

  111. I am in agreement with some of the points made by Laura (September 27, 2009) about the evenness / ultimate greyness of things one feels, and with Vipin (October 4, 2009), particularly about the role of subjective experiences in deciding suicidal questions for an individual.

    I would like to make some comments about the origin of permanent ennui based on my own experiences. I personally think that an individual with pessimistic / cynical attitudes (like myself) is more prone to suffering from permanent (or some form of) boredom because something about the world just doesn’t seem right all the time and they are unable to attune with the world. There is also the issue of the individual not being able to find their true role / disposition towards the world – an overarching purpose that life could be dedicated towards – and realize the effort put into searching for one starts to feels prohibitive at some point. Thus a sense of alienation in the world coupled with an introspective bent which leads to an acute sense of contradiction between the seeming vividness of life and its total annihilation in the event of death could lead to deep disillusionment and a total lack of interest in the world, because everything just seems pointless from here on.

    Although, I do not think this condition necessarily leads up to thoughts of suicide as a logical next step. It is certainly touched upon but not dwelled upon so much. And perhaps, here is where subjective attitudes of an individual come into play and determine how they choose to carry on with life in the face of the absurdity / boringness that they harbor.

  112. Very well said Ranjit, I can see a lot of similarity in my thinking and your post.

    I think that Dorothy just happened to stumble upon the uselessnes of life. Some people stumble upon this early in their lives, others very late, and some people just don’t at all.
    Once you experience and know that life and everything it includes is pointless, it’s all about how you deal with it.
    For me, it gives me strength in doing what I like to do, as I see enjoying what you do the thing coming closest to something useful, while ofcourse still being pointless.
    Dorothy decided that she saw no further point in herself living on, and is in her very right to think so.
    When a person commits suicide, he or she is done with his or her life, for whatever reason that may be, in my opinion ofcourse.

    But I guess suicide is one of those topics that will continue to be a very heavy, almost passionate, subject to be touched.

  113. I read from a lot of people that her main concern should be whether or not the misery she causes her sister or unknown others is greater than her own misery. If a loved one of mine decided to kill themselves, I would hope for a couple of things:1, that they talked to me about it, and 2, that they’re considerate enough of their loved ones to leave things in order, so as to not put any undue hardships in our way.

    I don’t have a single loved one that I don’t respect enough to make this choice on their own and and try to find immediate peace with their decision…not being miserable about it and then blaming them for my misery.

    Why can’t a mature reconciliation with suicide replace this idea that everyone owes society at large their life even at their own great cost. “Stay alive and miserable, because I can’t bear you being gone, even if it’s what you want!” And the one committing suicide is branded as the selfish one.

  114. Sorry I didn’t make clear with my previous post, but I also think that the attitude I expressed also allows for the valuing of human life and experience above most other things. Maybe the only thing I would argue to value more is your own autonomy. .

  115. Assuming Dorothy is real and not some philosophy professor’s exam question to drive his students mad with possible answers, however meritorious, for some book he’s writing, I’m signing on as one of those misguided individuals trying to impose her will/ morality on another.
    Dorothy, if indeed as you say, you wish to commit suicide because of boredom, don’t do it. I’m inclined to believe that boredom is not a valid reason to commit suicide. Why?

    Does life which includes our community, society and world, our environment, the universe owe us entertainment?

    We are living organisms with a self preservation system that keeps us, or tries to keep us alive. Like other commentators have said, from living organisms and primates we have become human beings with a neural network that includes our thinking processes, feelings and emotions.

    Dorothy, please think back, did you ever enjoy your life? Did you ever feel the curiosities that fill our lives each and every day? Did sights, smells and touches give you pleasure? If your current ennui has been a staple in your life, then you don’t have a standard to set your life to and may see life in shadows similar to the Plato myth. But if you have experienced the pleasures of life and are now “bored” then do think back when you were enjoying life. At that time your brain’s chemistry was probably “in situ”, and possibly in its best expression or situation. You were performing well and experiencing things well. Possibly, most things went well for you and you were content. Your chemistry was “well”.

    What changed? Perhaps your brain’s chemistry has changed, “those reserves” or chemicals that were helping you with your feelings and emotions may have depleted and need recharging. That’s why they say that exercising and eating certain foods can help you regain your energy and creativity. They help you recharge your brain’s chemistry.

    But, you say that you don’t have the energy or will power to follow a strict regime that will help your endorphins and other important chemicals kick into gear? There’s where the challenge comes in.

    For reasons unbeknownst to us, our chemistry has taken a nosedive. What we need to do to kick our brain’s chemistry back into gear similar to the regimes we follow to combat a number of addictions. We need to adopt a system of cold turkey, and break the “habit” that we’ve fallen into over the years by changing the rules.

    Dorothy, you need to get back to being you. By that I don’t mean the old Dorothy, she’s gone. I mean the Dorothy who feels and enjoys life. Why would you feel that you are bored with life? Excuse me, but isn’t that so egocentric of human beings. We think we know it all and we have the audacity to be bored?? We need to let go and get out of ourselves and look out, expand!!

    Nature’s self preservation system is there for a purpose. Like Diane Jacob said (see comment), your being wants to live. Do you believe that Nature would design a thinking process for your self=preservation, so that you could stymie it and self destruct?

    When I have feelings similar to yours I say to myself, “you are not well”, because to self destruct goes against my Nature. And without dismissing the possibility of the existence of reasons that may justify doing so, I don’t think being bored qualifies as one of those reasons.

    Good luck to you, my dear, May nature’s chemistry bloom for you again and again.


  116. The quote from Mill “The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom, to be allowed to alienate his freedom.” from James Garvey, I am wholly unable to agree with. Freedom surely implies the right to do as one wishes with ones freedom – even to alienate it. In that case Dorothy surely has that right. To claim she is selfish is to impinge on her freedom even if it is an entirely undesirable self-centredness. In my experience the will to recover from depression comes from within. It can be fostered from without chemically and psychotherapeutically, but it lies within. If Dorothy cannot bring herself to have it thus fostered she has the freedom to terminate her existence and we, her sister, any one else, may suffer from it but that is a depressive factor we have to deal with, not Dorothy.
    I have seen depression defined as “an inability to see a personal future” and from experience agree although it seems more a symptom than it is the depressive condition itself. Dorothy appears to classically suffer this. If Dorothy absolutely cannot define her personal future then her freedom is still inalienable, even if her vision of a personal future has been alienated

  117. If Dorothy’s cogitations are the result of a mental illness, and if mental illness is a brain-based disease, then her plans to end her suffering are not different from any other individual afflicted with a non-brain-based disease.

  118. There is a serious problem with hypotheticals: they may lack the ‘true’. I take it that this is a thought experiment. If it is not an actual case then we are constructing ourselves and Dorothy (Jeremy Strangroom) is our teacher.

    A Christian might quote St. Paul: “You are not your own…” (1 Corinthians, 6:20). I believe the meaning of this phrase applies at the level of everyone’s psyche: we are in some part each other. Hence another’s death is our loss too.

    Would that the one who’s thoughts turn to suicide, grasps the hope in their own familiar lives and is appalled by its ceasing.

    ‘Post death’ is an absolute unknown to those alive.

  119. “She is aware, for instance, that the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states that suicide is ‘seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity.’ But Dorothy isn’t religious, and doesn’t believe in the afterlife, so she isn’t much impressed by such pronouncements.”

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on just how vacuous a response this is to a strong metaphysical claim. Whether or not she believes in continued personal existence or celestial rewards and punishments (interesting how that theme of selfishness keeps coming up, by the way), she doesn’t seem to have anything to say about the justice or even the charity of suicide. It doesn’t sound like she has thought very hard about the morality of suicide at all. The passage quoted from the Catechism doesn’t say anything about eternal resort packages, but it implies a lot about human worth, metaphysics, and the meaning of moral actions. As infuriating as I find her lukewarm attitude toward the magnificent world of sentient life, Dorothy’s lack of intellectual curiosity is the most infuriating thing of all. I’m not going to let her do herself in until she shows a little more effort and attention to the question at hand.

  120. Dailyn Hutchinson

    It is a matter of if she has done enough to experience true bliss within heaven. Other than that it would not hurt to leave this life. Those are just people using the same propaganda from generations ago. Which is suffer mistreatment and you will see it is right. Don’t take life for granted, it is very cruel. Trying to keep us from entering into heaven. It is easier to believe that you have done enough rather than staying persistent enough and enduring the problems in order to make it into heaven. Most have to live as great as they can, still to come up short, which will then take up a miracle,which a close relative would have to be strong enough and have the opportunity to pull the rest of the way. Man is not fair. But this cruel life we live in is. Once you see that, you will see how arduous this journey is.

  121. Ever since childhood, I have wondered why people around me are so much against suicide. The only answers I have come up with are:

    (1) that people can conceive of decisions they would rather never make–would/could I kill an enemy in war? Would I kill myself?

    (2) many seem to need the approval of others to such an extreme degree that they would never decide to do a thing contrary to what they think is the general will–would I have my body cremated, if I lived in a community opposed to cremation?

    I take the position that I am responsible for all my choices and decisions. I am what I make myself to be. Relying on others for my decisions or insisting that I or my group can make others` decisions for them, is repulsive to me.

  122. Why do we think killing any person is wrong? If Dorothy was contemplating killing her sister because she was bored, or if someone was contemplating killing Dorothy because she was bored, wouldn’t we think that is morally wrong? Why is it any different for Dorothy to kill herself? It still seems morally wrong to me to take a human life. Yes, there are cases when one may regretfully take a life, when there are other ethical considerations that outweigh the bad act, such as taking a life to save your own or a loved ones or many innocent beings. Perhaps suicide may be similarly excused if it is a freely made decision that would allow the person to avoid great pain. But surely not because one is bored. Whatever laws we may agree to on this point, it seems to me it is clearly ethically wrong to commit suicide in the scenerio given.

  123. Laurie Milliard
    I think Dorothy’s ethical code differs from yours. So there is surely no infringement of any code.
    Were she of the same ethical persuasion as yourself then other, may well be the case.

  124. The British actor, George Sanders, left the following suicide note:
    “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.”
    The major problem with suicide is that it is contagious. The shame and taboo status of suicide is to protect society.

  125. Philosophers scare me.

  126. Re: Ray Foster

  127. Don: A good question. Philosophers ask questions.

  128. Amos
    I can see why some questions might be scary as in “when do you think you are going to die?” I cannot see why Philosophers should be singled out as scary questioners. Outside of Ethics I cannot off hand think of any scary questions in Philosophy. Although I do remember my young daughter aged about 9 becoming discomforted when I explained Idealism to her. I cannot see Philosophy as more scary than any other subject but I may be wrong. It is something to think about.

  129. AMOS
    A brain in a vat: That’s a bit scary on reflection.

  130. Sorry, Don. I don’t mean to imply that philosophers ask scary questions, just that they ask questions, more questions than the average person does. If someone says, “dentists scare me” in a blog for dentists, they would probably try to reassure the person, instead of asking “why”.

  131. Hi AMOS.
    I would have thought that before reassuring a person who is fearful it would be wise initially to try to ascertain the exact nature of their fear. One could then, more positively and directly, bring one’s reassurance to bear on the essence of the fear, or as it may turn out to be, multiplicity of fears.

    For instance a fear of the dentist could be any, or combinations, of the following:-

    A dread of anaesthesia, a fear of pain, a dread of being confined in a room for a period, an overall dislike of any medical procedure, a fear that dental examination could reveal a malignant oral condition, the knowledge that a close relative or friend died as a result of dentistry, A fear of the deprivation of freedom, whilst others are in sole charge, etc.

    Without some knowledge as to ‘WHY’, one’s reassurance could sadly, be way off the mark.

  132. It seems easier to imagine why someone would be scared of dentists than of philosophers.
    Of course, it may be that his fears are justified and thus, there is no way to reassure him.
    For instance, drunk drivers scare me, and it would be difficult to reassure me about drunk drivers.

  133. Do philosophers believe ideas are more important than people?

  134. Ray

    Philosophers won’t have a unanimous view about whether or not ideas are more important than people.

    However I suspect that most philosophers would argue that if you don’t get straight about ideas then it will often prove to be very difficult to cash out what it means to think that people are important, and to determine how you should act if you think that they are important.

  135. Laurie Milliard

    Don Bird:

    Well, what if Dorothy’s “ethical code” was such that she thought it permissible to kill her sister because she (either Dorothy or her sistger!) was bored? Doesn’t that seem wrong to you? Similarly, don’t you think it would be wrong for someone else to kill Dorothy, even if she was contemplating killing herself sometime later that week?

    I think the reason suicide has been considered a sin in the Catholic church – besides attempting to get people not to do it – is because it is wrong in the same way it is wrong to murder someone else. Of course there can be extenuating circumstances that may justify killing oneself or someone else (great pain and suffering, or to save the lives of many others, or because one is being attacked, etc.). We can argue about what constitutes a good reason, but still agree that it is ethically wrong to kill people.

  136. Do philosophers believe you can “get straight about ideas”? Isn’t that un-philosophical (il-philosophical, dis-philosophical, anti-philosophical)?


    After replying to your posting dated Oct 28th I realised I had left myself open to exactly the reply in the first paragraph of yours of Nov. 2nd.

    I think it can be agreed that the ethical codes of some, are such that no reasonable person could possibly entertain them. The law of the land usually ensures that harmful components of such codes are controlled by suitable penalties. Thus if Dorothy kills her sister or vice versa than the killer has committed the crime of murder and is dealt with accordingly by the law. In UK the law normally takes no steps in suicide provided it is satisfied that deceased did it with no intervention or inducement whatsoever by any other party.

    There are some whose ethical beliefs permit and encourage then to kill members of their own family if it is considered that person has brought disgrace upon the family. As I understand it in some parts of the world this practice is tolerated and not illegal. However again in UK if this belief is acted upon the killer/s is/are rightfully charged with murder. Again there is a clash of ethical beliefs here, as the likes of you and me could never understand how one could kill a family member, in particular a child.

    I am very wary of religious beliefs and moral codes as they seem to demand strict adherence under all circumstances. Every difference makes a difference and it is accordingly impossible for any rule in the nature of “Thou shalt not kill” to cover all states of affairs. Man’s inhumanity to man does appal me, as does the situation in Iraq.

    Concerning Suicide v Murder: I feel that faced with a potential suicide my best course of action is to try to somehow make the person see this is not the best option. If failing all efforts on my part and perhaps those of others, the person persists in his/her intention then I feel that one’s life is one’s own to do what one will with it, subject to legal constraints. This does not equate to murder, which is unjustifiably, depriving another person of their own most precious property, their life. I can see some justification for assisted suicide but again it is dependant on the circumstances of the case.

  138. Do philosophers believe you can “get straight about ideas”?

    Yes. Not all ideas, but certainly some ideas.

    Isn’t that un-philosophical (il-philosophical, dis-philosophical, anti-philosophical)?


  139. What ideas can Philosophers get “straight about” please?

  140. Well it depends how you define ideas. But, for example, if you’re committed to causal closure (i.e., “No physical event has a cause outside the physical domain.”), then it is possible to get straight about what wouldn’t count (e.g., Descartes’ ghost in the machine).

    Of course this isn’t to argue that there is no complexity left. There will always be complexity. But the idea that philosophy is just an endless series of questions isn’t right.

    Obviously there’s more to be said about this stuff. But not on a thread about suicide!

  141. as long as she doesn’t leave a big mess for others to clean up.

  142. Nope, she should join the military or do volunteer work. If she is already dead mentally then there is nothing really for her to end, and her body is useful for other things. I mean, she isn’t using it right? If and when she does die from being in dangerous places doing dangerous work she can give her organs away.

    I mean, she doesn’t have anything to lose, and most people care at least a little for others.

  143. ‘She doesn’t have anything to lose’ so she may as well volunteer or join the military?

    I do not see how she has any responsibility to society. We do not choose to be born so why shouldn’t one voluntarily die if life is a burden?

    As to ‘too bored with life’ not being reason enough to die, I don’t see that being too far-fetched either. Most people are bored with sewing (or dancing, or reading or socializing, etc) so how can there not be a few people bored with all matters pertaining to life? Or just the overall situation of life (if not all the small distractions some are happy to live for.) Living just to breathe (or read, etc) is more bizarre, imo.

    And as to selfishness I think it more selfish to expect something of someone who is choosing to not expect anything more from you as soon as their plan is put into action, nothing that doesn’t need to be done for every other person once(<<-their death) as a consequence of their parents deciding to have sex (as that is a given for everyone).

  144. Great. My friend read this and she’s suicidal. I hope you’re pleased with yourself. People in her condition should read things that will encourage them to live. Not this. The fact is that most people who commit suicide suffer from mental illnesses when they decide to do it. This is NOT a rational decision as it is portrayed here. The woman seems to be suffering from chronic depression.

  145. Oh don’t be ridiculous. The idea that it isn’t permissible to discuss the ethics of suicide because somebody might kill themselves as a consequence is ridiculous. Not least following that line of argument will likely preclude critical discussion of any subject matter that a potential suicide holds dear to their heart. For example, no discussion of atheism just in case it’s the catalyst in a believer’s suicide.

  146. Well it is said that there is but one truly philosophical problem and that is suicide, judging whether life is worth living or not amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy i can’t say i’ve never considered the same just because i’m bored suicide is an interesting topic though and If you will notice by looking at the comments there are several different perspectives on this topic all amounting to only two sides that say end it or don’t but in the end everyone dies sometime so if she doesn’t end her life then it will end and she will still be bored.

  147. The first reason to not kill yourself is if you will hurt people in the process. I suffer from a chronic condition, and while I fight fight fight on a daily basis to live a functional life, there are dark times when I know suicide would end the futility. We ALL die, it is just a matter of time. Further, the aging process really sucks, especially as your body starts to go.

    Why don’t more people check out early?

    The answer is that people have an in-born drive of self preservation. Also, people fear that killing themselves will banish them to low levels of spiritual existence (hell or low astral levels, or become a ghost).

    Dorothy sounds to me like someone who sees clearly that death is inevitable, and that she does not want to be in this life (the why doesn’t matter). Why shouldn’t she have the right to end her own life?

    Aren’t all these debates really about convincing that all lives are worth living? That humanity is kind, good, loving, or that some humans don’t suffer bad luck or cursed lives?

    Well, some people live such lame and even fearful lives that life IS their living hell and suicide is their ticket to the astral realm to chuck of this meat body and be one in spirit.

    For some, life is unfair. I don’t believe in hard work = success. I believe some people have such an easier time of things, and others have a dark cloud of evil that stalks their lives, making them not worth living (metaphorically and literally speaking).

    So if Dorothy has logically deduced that suicide is a good and ethical path for her to take, so be it!

    Just because SHE does, doesn’t mean YOU have to. You don’t live HER life and if you did, you’d probably come to the same conclusion!

  148. Jose Manuel Lopez Noya

    tell her to harry up …otherwise she will die of natural causes

  149. Jose Manuel Lopez Noya

    Ray…there are about 6 billion people and not single idea(of ideas are more important than people)

  150. I’m 20 and feel the same as Dorothy, although I haven’t been contemplating it for as long as five years, I have calmy come to the conclusion that life just isn’t worth living.

  151. I am in the same boat as you at present. Boredom has become my new, best friend. When somebody says to me, “oh Holly, go out clubbing, watch a movie with friends, read a book, study, go for a walk” etc, I look at them and think to myself, glad that works for you. You see, I have done it all before and do not desire to do it again. I honestly see no point, because this hollow feeling inside, sense of nothingness in fact never leaves me. Nothing seems real. There is decline in that special kind of magic in the world. I envission myself doing many great, influential things yet I am stuck. I know I can yet will they see it. Will they feel it. Because if they do not then there is absolutely nothing stopping me from ending my life. Who knows what comes after this? No one. I do not believe in God. I do not intend on making a fool of myself worshipping something I cannot see. Words are a stain on silence and nothingness, so why don’t you all shut up!? Dorothy… I feel you. Katy…I feel you.

  152. Holly – Yeah, there just is this constant struggle against crushing ennui.

    Mind you, you could cheer yourself up by reading the latest round of new atheist in-fighting. That’s always damned amusing (even if it is a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose). (Though actually, come to think of it, as an amusement it’s probably an acquired taste!)

  153. Holly, I’m sure that you’ve heard what I’m going to say before and that it will sound preachy, but I’ll say it anyway.

    A close woman friend talked of suicide for years: her life was a failure, nothing meant anything to her, she cried and cried.

    Finally, after a particularly embarassing situation in public, we persuaded her to see a doctor.
    She received medication, which she began to take, although previously, she had rejected the idea of being “drugged”.

    She is now, if not joyful, no more unhappy than most of us normal people. She is beginning to meet new people, to explore the possibilities of her own sexual or gender diversity, to see that she is not a failure because she is not obliged to succeed in life in the terms that her family expects her to.

  154. Malik Muhammad Shakur.

    If you believe in not one God,then, worship yourself. You are God. But, it is still a competition. Not all of us want what is good for us, but, you must obtain enough strength to have some of those things you want. I know, open doors are the way to success. Still, find your way. Live for today or tomorrow. I live for tomorrow. Guess what. Success for today depends on success for tomorrow. I can plan for tomorrow. Can you plan for today, those who live for today?

  155. The fact that you say you envision yourself doing many great and influential things and that you know you can suggests to me that you do have some pride in yourself and your abilities. That being the case somehow you have to find a way of giving it your best shot. Do not be afraid of failure either, it is all part of the learning process and dealing with it strengthens us.
    I am not clear so far as your reference to ‘they’ is concerned. Who are these people what sort of hold do you think they have over you? Exactly what is it you want them to see and feel. If it is acclaim you want you will probably get it in some degree if you try hard enough.
    I note AMOS has given some good advice in this matter which you should consider. Personally I do not think you really do want to depart from this life which can be, health permitting, a most fascinating experience.

  156. Holly, I feel you too. You’re depressed. You sound like I feel. All I can say is, I’ve been here many times before, and each time, I come back and achieve something genuinely great before sinking back into the s***-pit.

    I don’t really know what to say to you. We’re talking about living with chronic depression. It isn’t easy to keep having to haul yourself out of the toilet. I do know that it gives you greater depth as a person than the average blando.

  157. Holly: I am projecting. I’m the one with chronic depression. You never said you had it. I hope you do not. My advice is truly to hang in there because everything passes like the seasons, and one day you’ll feel motivated again.

  158. Yesterday, reading this website for the first time caused me to change my mind about killing myself and to take the POSITIVE ROUTE instead.

    Well done, people!

    The reason is that it would be unforgiveably selfish for me to take my own life. I have a niece aged 10 who adores me, and several friends for whom I am a “rock”, one of whom I have made an honorary daughter and for whom I am supposed to be “daddy no. 2”. Plus of course there is my mother.

    I am not like the lady in the test case. She doesn’t have anyone who would really miss her. In my case, I would certainly damage my niece’s whole life, quite possibly to the point where she could not function as an adult. (Like me!) My other friends would be sad and bitter. My “little girl” would have been sorely let down. As it is, I’ve been ignoring everyone’s phone calls for the past two months.

    I have been an ingrained suicide case for all my adult life, and usually I find that commentators on the subject are “pitiful fools”. I find that you lot are very open and honest and questioning about the whole thing, and that is what is needed.

    I saw that my peers (i.e. you’s) would see my action as shockingly selfish. This is enough to educate me in the proper human way to behave and to put me off doing something very harmful and very irreversible.

    Luckily there are consolations in staying alive: not least in the friends and relatives I mentioned, who are all very wonderful and I know I am lucky to have them.

    Soon after I changed my mind, I opened an e-mail from a young lady I am keen on, saying that she wants to come and stay with me and “we can be friends together”. Great! Now, does anyone else recognise this spooky phenomenon? – I see her request as my “cosmic reward” for doing the right thing and for behaving bravely and unselfishly for the good of someone else. People – this happens every time. A freakishly appropriate reward comes out of the blue, at the right time, in response to my good actions. It is regular enough that I can expect it and rely on it. I don’t know what causes it. Some people say it’s the angels, some say God. I think it may be your “guardian angels”, those departed spirits of our ancestors who decide to keep a helpful eye on us. I don’t know HOW. I just know IT IS.

    This is an important part of my philosophy. I firmly believe that “God helps those who help themselves” (although I’m an atheist). If I make a special effort to help someone, or to help myself, in a healthy unselfish way, then it appears that, mysteriously and cosmically, I draw towards me beneficial and helpful influences and people and situations. The reason this is important is that I know that if I try and behave positively again, I will be amply helped and rewarded along the way by the Universe at large.

    I observe that this happens. I have no idea how or why. But if you think about it, we can observe the same thing happening in a direct way in everyday life, for example in our relations with other people or with our own work.

    Anyway. I know that if I Try, then I cannot fail to receive extra Help from all directions. This strengthens my position.

    Thanks for reading these 500 words. I hope you have been rewarded.

  159. Holly: how are you today? Would you post again, and let us know you are still alive? I feel concerned for you, and I feel I understand your situation, in essence, well. Reading what you wrote, I’ve been there 20 times before, and I’m experienced in feeling it and coming out of it and living with the threat of it and being influenced by it and being crippled by it. I am an intelligent person who is not afraid to think the unthinkable. I would like to talk to you, to try and help you. I think I could help. Will you write something back? There are six billion people out there: maybe you’ve come to the right place, and between us we here can help you out of your depressed rut. You sound like a very intelligent and sensitive person: not the kind of person people want rid of. I am sure you have a lot to give the world and I know it brings pleasure to give it. Holly – come back, man! Don’t go!

  160. Katy too. Don’t ignore the quiet ones!

  161. Simon: Great to hear your decision! One reason for not committing suicide, besides the ones which you mention, is not to give those bastards who fucked you over in the first place the further satisfaction of seeing that they defeated you completely.

  162. Simon – I too am pleased to hear of your decision; and agree with you that the fact there are people depending on you makes a moral difference here.

  163. Re:- amos 16th Oct.
    I think the best satisfaction one can have concerning the F*****g B******s is not so much your personal survival, but the knowledge that you have achieved as much, or preferably, more in life than they.
    Nil illegitimi carborundum.

  164. “Living well is the best revenge”.

    George Herbert
    British poet and clergyman

  165. People say suicide is sin and against god. Certain percent of suicide can be rationally and morally justified while others are stupid. But 100 percent of these people, who blindly mock others and the ideas like “sin and against god”, are stupid.

  166. Interesting topic. I know philosophy shouldn’t be done like this but off the top of my hat and after only a cursory reading of some of the comments: since Dorothy seems to have put a lot of thought into her decision I presume she has indeed tried all reasonable options to alleviate her ennui (psychotherapy, medication, travelling, religion…), both for her own sake and her sister’s, and thus has acted rationally. I watched professor Kagan’s classes on death and suicide online (podcasts from Yale university to be found here: http://academicearth.org/courses/death) and I agree one should differentiate between the rationality and the morality of suicide.

    On the morality front I see no truly valid reason for denying a person the right to commit suicide since self-ownership is the basis of liberty and life without liberty is senseless and not in keeping with human dignity. The only good objection one might raise is that if a person has children who depend on them it would be wrong to do it (presuming waiting until a later date is a valid option) since it was their decision to thrust them into the world (knowing full well life contains a lot of suffering and the certainty of death) so at the very least they should care for them until they can do so themselves. Assuming we are not slaves to the gods or our fellow man (or society as a whole) which seems to be the founding premise of our modern western culture suicide shouldn’t be a taboo subject and least of all a judicial one but one of the fundamental rights granted to all who come of age and aren’t seriously mentally defective (low IQ).

    Whether suicide is rational or not depends on the situation: a teenager who takes some pills because her boyfriend left her is clearly not acting rationally but an adult (someone whose brain has fully matured and who has shown he can deal with life’s problems) who loses his life partner and has previous experience of loss and the overcoming of grief can reasonably come to the conclusion that life is no longer worth living (he considers it unlikely that he’ll ever meet someone like her again) and put an end to their existence for that reason. I found it to be quite funny when reading psychological and psychiatric handbooks to discover that depression and other mental illnessses make one incapable of rational thought and prone to suicide (an assertion, not a fact) while some of the greatest philosophers known to man have voiced their belief (supported by arguments and observations) that a) life and suffering are inextricably bound together to the point that there’s no escaping it (Buddha’s first noble truth) and b) that life as a whole is pointless and has no meaning (existentialism). Camus called suicide the greatest philosophical enigma and I tend to agree with him: since life has no objective meaning all there is left is subjective preferences and cultural constructs… If those aren’t enough for some people (as is the case with Dorothy) suffering is the result and the rational mind turns to the question of death as a release from this suffering (i.e the final solution) since with the loss of conscienceness all negative experiences fade aswell as positive ones. I conclude with Seneca’s statement on the question of suicide: ‘if you like it here stay, if you don’t you can go back to the place you came from’ (paraphrase). There is nothing more to it: if your experience isn’t pleasant and rewarding in itself (especially in the long run) why should you go on living? People are motivated to actions because of rewards (whether internal and external): to continue doing something that offers no reward of some kind is irrational and pointless. As to the question of the effect it might have on others: in my mind it should be put into the equation and given some thought so as to act as a counterbalance to rash, impulsive decisions but in the end if others can’t make your life happy and worthwhile they should understand and accept (assuming they actually care about you instead of just themselves) that there are situations that are so bad life becomes a burden to you and that without real hope of easing that burden all that folows is the accumulation of suffering which serves no-one. In everyday life we don’t expect people to be saints (i.e living purely for others without any regard for our own well-being) and sacrifice everything for their fellow man so why should we expect it in the case of suicide?

  167. It may be wrong in the minds of some who know Dorothy.

    Since Dorothy is old enough to have enough life experience to make sound decisions it may not be wrong to her and that is what matters. If boredom is enough for her to choose self inflicted death then I support her in her choice.

    I do not see it as wrong either.

    Because all human ideas pertaining to maintaining life at all costs seem to be rationalizations for people to deal with the harshness of existence.

    I’ve read the multitude of comments that said that Dorothy should think about others and the world more than herself.
    And those that said that her death would be more acceptable to them if she died serving others.

    I have yet to see a rational explanation why any human is actually ‘obligated’ or has a ‘duty’ to anyone or anything. Yes, helping others does make society run more smoothly and it would be nice if a utopia could exist. But generosity and kindness is a personal choice rather than an automatic aspect.

    It is funny how many of us accept and keep people in our lives who cause hurt to us. We forgive and tolerate it out of companionship. Yet when one plans suicide, then all bets seem to be off. Thing is people can lie to one or betray one multiple times as long as one remains in their confidence. But a successful suicide is one act. It cannot be forgiven and accepted?

    And there is the fact that it would be hypocritical for me to say Dorothy is wrong.
    I have pancreatic cancer which can be treated but I am foregoing treatment in order to end my life by my own means. And before someone points out that my sickness is different, the reason I’m foregoing treatment is because I’m around Dorothy’s age and I see no point in living anymore.

    All that awaits me is old age and that is something that is horrific to me.

  168. I am a philosophy Grad student working on my argument/definition/justification for/of suicide – one category under what I’ve termed “the philosophy of the macabre/morbid.” – There are an awful lot of comments here, so I admit not reading all of them (in case someone has already said this), but I’d like to address the initial response by Ralph, and I’m sure by many others even if not in this dialogue.
    -There is nothing “selfish” about suicide either by “dictionary definitions” of the term, which are arbitrary, or any other philosophical reasons. Suicide is putting an end to the “self.” That is the extreme opposite of “selfishness.” – The argument that suicide is selfish has a definitive religious undertone as it implies some sort of afterlife in which one’s “self” goes to after death – this implication, itself, negotiating the conception of suicide as a selfish act. – What is selfish about it? – There is no self in it. – One is putting an end to the self.
    I’d also argue against the notion that suicide is an act of cowardice (I have this argument with my wife.) – It takes extreme courage, actually, to put oneself to death. Think about it. Think about the very thought process of suicide. Where is the cowardice in it. – Everyone who argues that there is “so much beauty” and so forth in the world are full of it. In psychoanalytic theory this is called disavow – “you know very well, but do it anyway.” – Rationally we know that life is vanity – we are all going to die. You can jog (especially in an urban setting breathing in car exhaust) all day and eat carrots as much as you like… you’re not going to escape death. You’re simply putting it off. – Life is suffering. Life is full of suffering. Life is overflowing with the objectification and oppression of people by other people who dare to tell someone who faces this tragic existence without some rationalization that they are selfish or cowardly.
    People live under the delusion that that there’s so much to look forward to in life… What? Other people???!!! Children, who will grow up to be just like the full of crap parents who raised them, who, themselves are more selfish that the suicider because they want immortality by having children, and want to live vicariously through their children, bring more people into existence who have to suffer, take up space, consume more of the world, and be in conflict with others. – Also, let’s not forget that everyone who argues against suicide is trying to impose his/her own morality upon suiciders. That is a form of objectification and violence in itself. You are trying to foreclose the suicider’s own radical freedom, which is my next point.
    The suicider is a figure of the most radical freedom possible. Those who shun or are afraid to face up the even the mere question of suicide are, in fact, more cowardly. If you cannot face death, even if you don’t kill yourself, that is the real cowardice.
    -I’m not telling anyone to go out and kill him/her self. But I’m arguing against the argument against the foreclosing of the politics of difference that keeps the space for suiciders open as one of the most authentic of radical freedom. It is a space which undoes the very moral and political agenda against the act, which by default, undoes itself in the name of the concept of freedom which it claims to uphold.

  169. Humans are hedonic creatures, in addition to calculative creatures. That is not to say we are solely motivated by pleasure and pain, but the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, does explain a great deal of our behaviour. Thus, we (some more than others) have the ability to figure out whether our future likely has more pleasure and less pain in store for us, or more pain and less pleasure. If our future is found wanting (likely, to be wanting), and, being self-conscious and conscientious creatures, having an awareness of life and death and all that these processes likely entail (life = presence of experiences both positive and negative, death = absence of experiences both positive and negative), some of us, especially the more hedonic among us, may decide that no experience is better than to continue experiencing a life of consecutive and consistent disappointments, hardships, anguish and dread

  170. I feel it is a basic human right to die with dignity at a time of one’s choosing, REGARDLESS of circumstances, situation or medical condition. To this end I believe that Dignitas style clinics should be made available for all those who need them in as many locations as necessary.

    At present this right is denied to so many thousands of suffering individuals purely to satisfy the whims of a religious and natalist driven orthodoxy. If we do not have rights over our own bodies, then we do not have any rights at all. In my view it is unforgivable keeping someone alive against their will and who no longer wants to be here. Society condemns so many to die alone in agony, to die from very violent deaths or continue living in pain from botched suicide attempts. It is a simple enough request to have drugs like Nembutal (Pentobarbital) readily made available, to aid a peaceful and dignified exit from this world. And not to have Big Brother dictating to us what is in our best interests. We are all adults and capable of making life (and death) choices for ourselves.

    So I now suggest there is an immediate change in the law to allow not only assisted suicide for those who desire it, but also drugs like Nembutal to be made available on prescription for the purposes of ending life. Suicide is not illegal and should be made much easier to carry out, without incurring discrimination, blame, stigma or criminality of any kind. It is indeed the human rights issue of the 21st Century.

    The people running our societies are generally smart enough to know that keeping a maximum number of people breathing isn’t a goddamn moral issue, as they pretend it is when pandering to the majority, but a matter of maximizing the product (soldiers, farmers, tax payers) of the state.

    Even a kid dying of cancer represents a sweet profit.

    Profit and power. It’s the reason why even the most liberal governments will never fully decriminalize suicide.

  171. This matter boils down to two questions: a) does free will exist and b)should individual freedom be allowed in society?

    If the answer to both questions is yes then it’s not wrong for her to end her life.

    As to impairment due to mental illness: since no mental illness can be shown to exist objectively (i.e without resorting to subjective interpretation which is open to debate, value-laden etcetera) it’s impossible to rationally determine who has it and who hasn’t and thus the whole question becomes moot. When people claim others are unable to make sound decisions simply because they don’t meet their subjective criteria they don’t state facts but merely their opinion and desire to have others conform to their views. Proclaiming others to be mentally ill is not a statement of fact (anymore than it would be to call person X an idiot when you simply don’t agree with them or find them unpleasant) but an expression of one’s Will-to-Power and perceived superiority over said person.

    As for me I believe it would be better if chronically unhappy and/or suffering people would end their lives. Both for them and for others: what’s the point of living if one isn’t satisfied with life? What’s the point of wanting others to stay around aslong as possible when it’s clear they themselves don’t see the experience as worthwhile?

    Aslong as they aren’t coerced I don’t see a moral problem. To me preventing a person to end their life is about as evil as taking it away without permission (murder or manslaughter): in both cases they are denied their will and freedom to do as they please. To me this is of vital importance therefore I want the law to allow for maximum freedom.

    In this society (nearly) all proclaim to love freedom, untill they’re faced with undesirable consequences of that very same freedom.

    Most people aren’t moral, they just want their desires fulfilled and their ego’s stroked. That’s why they are against suicide aslong as it doesn’t meet their goals.

  172. Zara,

    The main problem with this is the idea that… “She is also aware that she might feel differently about things at some point in the future. However, she thinks that this is unlikely”… when it is not unlikely at all, much the opposite. The vast majority of people who attempt suicide and get rescued (that is, are not allowed to die) or fail in their attempt (like in a botched attempt that doesn’t kill them) come to change their minds in the future and to feel grateful for having been saved (or for having survived). This in itself invalidates her whole edifice of argumentation.

    Does she have a right to do it? Yeah, sure, in certain regards, depending on where she lives (more on this below). Should she do it? Hell, no.

    And also I can’t really accept this: “It is more that she is profoundly bored: she is suffering from seemingly terminal ennui.”

    Oh, come on. ENNUI?…. Give me a break. All that she is doing is a big rationalization, in huge denial that there is something wrong with her – such as anhedonia. Yes, allowing boredom to prevail over the survival instinct does indicate in my opinion a very pathological state, because it is certainly not what the *natural* state is. I’d tend to call this, abnormal. At the very least, it escapes the statistical concept of the norm, because the norm is that most people want to survive.

    Whether or not she has a *right* to do it depends exclusively on a societal judgment. In certain societies euthanasia is allowed; in others it is banned.

    “Rights” are conventions. I don’t think they are inherent to someone. I think they are *granted* by the societal organization that precedes and succeeds that someone (a society is larger and more enduring than an individual). In my view, it’s as simple as that. There is no real self-determination in society. If the society in which she lives grants her this right, then she has this right. If it doesn’t grant it, then she doesn’t, in the views of that society, and that society would be justified in trying to stop her. Of course she most likely would still do it. People who are really adamant that they want to die (that minority of those who don’t change their minds), end up doing it regardless of the help they get. They always find a way. You can’t put them on suicide watch forever, so eventually they’ll do it.

    But the effort of psychiatrists is to try to avoid it, exactly to give that person the opportunity to change her or his mind, which most of them do.

    All this self-determination, apparently ethical stance of respect for the person’s autonomy, is actually in my opinion a form of neglect. The decent and humane thing to do given the fact that most suicidal people change their minds, is to step in and avoid the event as much as possible. Failure to intervene would be neglectful, just like if you see a blind person walking towards a cliff, you wouldn’t just cross your arms and say “oh well, he has the right to walk in whatever direction he chooses” – that would be grossly neglectful. You’d step in and prevent the fatal fall from the cliff.

    Now, you’d say, but if the person is really determined and is one of those who won’t change their minds about it, it’s a violence done to them. Sure, sure.

    But the number of people who are what we could call victims of this violence is *far* outnumbered by the number of people who change their minds, therefore it is also ethically defensible, in the name of the larger good, to intervene.

    Just like rights are relative, ethics are also relative since they have conflicting approaches.

    There is the ethic of personal autonomy, but there is also the ethic of the larger good. Traditionally, in Western thinking, the latter outweighs the former.

    This is why I *am* in favor of forceful suicide watch to prevent someone from committing suicide, and most states have ruled that attempts to harm oneself are grounds for involuntary civil commitment.

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