Saturday, 24 December 2011

Do we have an obligation to live?

I've touched on this quite a bit before, actually, here. But I've never exactly put this into words, as such. When we are forced into this world, I emphasise, without our consent, we might wonder how exactly we are to alleviate the suffering that has been imposed on us against our will. For some there's love, for others there's sex, some soap operas, others westerns, some psychotropic drugs, and some self-mutilation. And so on. But for those of us either burdened with an amount of suffering disproportionate to that dealt out to others, one might be tempted to start thinking around the required reading necessary for existence. One might turn to philosophy, for example. But for those of us who are maybe, a little more critical or sceptical than others, we still can't acclimatise to life. We still don't settle down into a neat fixed pattern, like the animals we actually are (despite our species's collective pretending). Eventually by word of mouth or otherwise, we come across the interesting theory that we might have a choice in this matter after all. That suffering need not be a necessary thing, and that it could be ended - though of course this would mean the end of all our joy, too. Though if the joy is almost negligible in our lives, then, no one should really be surprised if we do think about that act - suicide - a lot more than others. Now we may say, "I didn't want to be born, I didn't ask for all this pain, so why can't I end it if I so choose? It's only undoing the evil that was started so long ago", but there really is that looming presence of one's loved ones' wishes. Can you really just state that since you are being harmed, you are allowed to do everything in your power to stop being harmed? But that seems to me, to be looking at things in too simplistic a matter. It's not just you who is being harmed. Everyone is being harmed. Every second someone is being harmed. Your decision isn't based upon whether you can prevent your own harm without affecting anyone else, you will be, whether directly or not, causing harm to other people by acting in such a way. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you commit suicide, you will not suffer. But if you do so, others will suffer. So my main point is, I believe that if you have a lot of loved ones, you really must have an obligation to live, based upon your own morality, unless your potential suffering really does outweigh theirs. Which is actually quite scary, in my opinion. I like to believe that there is always an escape route, but with life, in some cases, unless, as I've said, you are a psychopath, there really is no escape at hand. You just have to wait it out.

So in summary: everything I've said before, except with that ominous phrase: "You are obliged to remain alive".


  1. I don't think you have any moral obligation to stay alive for your parents, especially since they didn't give you any choice about coming into existence. If you really like your parents, and staying alive is something you want to do for them, that is up to you. I don't think there is any obligation for you to do so, however.

    A good argument can be made that someone who has children has more of an obligation to stay alive, since that person brought children into the world without their consent, and therefore has an obligation to take care of them. I don't know if for sure I would consider it an obligation for parents to stay alive for their children, but I think someone can make a reasonable argument that a person is obligated to stay alive to take care of children he or she brought into existence.

  2. What I was trying to say was really that if you are someone who values the non-suffering of everyone, regardless of who they are, to some extent you really are obligated by your own morality to not kill yourself, unless of course, you have proof that your pain outweighs the pain of those who would be affected by your death. To commit suicide in an instance where that action causes more pain overall to the world than it relieves would be performing an action which goes against your moral values, which is something I take for granted that people do not want to do.

    I don't think the traditional 'your life, your decision' works here, because suicide is not an action that is neutral with regards to your values - that is to say, it really does affect those around you quite badly. You may be driven against your judgement to do so, but if you are making a calm decision about the matter, you must definitely take into account your own moral values, as you must do so in every action - and if you are a person, again, that values the non-suffering of all beings, then you may actually have an obligation to live, as per the fact that others around you may suffer more than you relieve your own suffering.

  3. You can kill yourself and redistribute the organs among the needy.