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Suicide

Definition Plays a Key Role in The Phenomena

Suicide prevention is a valiant effort in which billions of dollars are devoted each year to convincing people to not to take their own lives, and, from this perspective, suicide is certainly a social problem that justifies every effort toward prevention. Many programs today aim at the prevention of suicideHowever, from a philosophical perspective, suicide may not always necessarily be a problem.  Scholars and philosophers have debated for centuries, in fact, over whether suicide can at least occasionally be justified. The following is a very brief summary of this interesting, age-old, discussion.

At the heart of the debate – as with nearly all matters of philosophy – is definition. The precise meaning of suicide necessarily plays a huge part of any judgment of the morality of the act. The case of the body guard who “takes a bullet” for his employer is but one scenario in which saying “suicide is always wrong” can be a troublesome proposition. Nevertheless, if one adheres to a definition of suicide as, simply, any act in which death is self-inflicted, then he or she must also be willing to condemn the courageous body guard to whatever eternal penalty may await.

Many theologians over the centuries have, indeed, taken such a unwavering view of suicide, and, well, the morality of that, in itself, is questionable. Emotional harm is sure to come, for example, to a family who hears from the pulpit that its beloved, patriarch will in fact suffer eternally for a final, heroic act.

But, emotional issues aside, the point is certainly worthy of debate. If the body guard was a kind, caring, hard-working family man and his employer was a hedonistic, irresponsible drunkard, for example, might the bodyguard have been doing society a disservice by 'taking the bullet'? The question is an intriguing one, and those with a hard-line definition of suicide who argue that the act is always wrong would certainly have ammunition (please pardon the pun) for an argument.

Some actions deemed honorable or even valiant can be seen as suicideThe question of the morality of suicide dates back to even Ancient Greece where the famous philosopher Socrates was sentenced to poison himself with a cup hemlock for debatable crimes against the democracy of ancient Athens. Many scholars insist upon classifying Socrates’ death a suicide, while others say simply it was an unjust death sentence. Those on the side of suicide in this case point out that Socrates put up an uncharacteristically weak defense at his trial, and even some of the judges who were his supporters even felt obligated to vote against him because of this. The same charge has been made against Jesus Christ who chose not to defend himself before his crucifixion.

Logically speaking, both of these classic cases can arguably be labeled suicides, but doing so is certain to stir controversy – especially if the follow-up argument is that suicide is always wrong.

So we have seen several cases in which suicide can, indeed, be a heroic – and certainly morally sound – act. That, philosophers and scholars will tell you, is something to think about the next time the subject of suicide prevention arises.

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