The topic of suicide has received attention from several scholars and thinkers. While some felt that suicide is a criminal act and a great violation not only to God but also to oneself and the people around, others felt that suicide is not a criminal act. Established on this hypothesis, they have given arguments that justify the act while discrediting the other position which incriminates suicide. One of the thinkers who have given his views justifying this act was David Hume. In his argument, Hume feels that suicide is not a criminal act. This paper seeks to examine Hume’s arguments and hence ascertain the fact that suicide is actually not criminal.
In his article “Of Suicide” (1783) as quoted by Crocker, Hume expressed his views concerning suicide. He brought up his arguments within the framework of Thomas Aquinas’ Thomastic approach. His arguments aim to show that the society’s perception of suicide is simply superstition and does not actually exhibit the real situation. Initially, the society’s position on suicide was grounded on Thomastic approach which argued that suicide was morally wrong because it made one violate his duty to God, his duty to other people and finally his duty to himself. Putting this in consideration, Hume takes this position to be baseless and without thought. According to Hume, suicide does not violate one’s duty to himself. It is normal and acceptable that humans seek to have a happy and fulfilling life. However, when one’s state or conditions of living change, it is very difficult for one to cope. This drives one into “disorder, weakness, insensibility, and stupidity” (Crocker 48).
To some extent, this argument holds water. If a person is used to a certain life which is characterized by comfort and happiness, it becomes very difficult for him to cope with changes. These changes include sickness, old age or unexpected accidents that could result into incapacitation of the individual to undertake certain activities that he easily undertook before. When such changes make life more difficult than death, it is justifiable to commit suicide (Crocker 56). A good example is that if a formerly successful man who excelled in a certain sport was involved in an accident and ended up with spinal injuries, he might not be in position to anything constructive in life. Let’s say the person becomes unable to stand, think normally or attend to the call of nature on his own. This becomes a terrible life. If objectively analyzed, is it better for this person to live in such conditions or die? Dying becomes a better option.
This leads us to the second argument by Hume. Does suicide violate an individual’s duty to others? Hume argues that one’s existence should benefit the society in the same way the society benefits him. This any imbalance in this position becomes unfair. For instance, befitting the society at the expense of oneself is unfair. Equally, benefiting oneself at the expense of the society becomes unfair (Crocker 57). Considering this argument, if one finds that his existence is not benefiting the society, it is reasonable not to exist. As for the case above, the individual is justified to commit suicide because his existence is not beneficial to the society. In fact, he becomes a burden to the people who are forced to do clean up and pay close attention to him. If this person committed suicide, will he have violated his duties to others? The answer is no. Contrarily, he will have lessened their burden.
Finally, Hume argues against Thomastic position that suicide violates one’s duty to God. On this supposition, Hume seeks to point out the weakness of this argument by asking; where is the bad part of suicide in relation to the divine order? If committing suicide means tempering with God’s plan, then prevent death through medication or averting a stone from hitting someone to death is also violating the divine order. Therefore, if shortening one’s life is a crime because it violates the divine plan, then prolonging one’s life is also a crime (Crocker 59). Secondly, if natural laws as created by God were meant to give us happiness, then why should suicide of this once famous sports person who is currently in a vegetable state not commit suicide which will bring happiness not only to him but also to others who feel that he is suffering in his present condition?
Hume’s arguments are very reasonable. It is reasonable to argue that suicide should not be considered a crime just because the society believes so. The reason for this suicide should be examined. If by any means the suicide served the best interest of the person and those around him, then there is nothing wrong with it. However, if one was living comfortably and this suicide acted as a way of causing sorrow in his life, then such a situation will exhibit a criminal suicide. However, can one commit suicide if this will cause unhappiness to him? This is impossible. This means that suicide is actually a form through which the individual seeks for happiness. Suicide is therefore a way of escaping from unbearable conditions and hence attaining happiness. It should not be termed criminal.
Crocker, Lester. “The Discussion of Suicide in the Eighteenth Century,” Journal of the History of Ideas 13 (1952): 47-72.