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In all of the different western cultural periods, suicide has been a phenomenon of

fundamental concern although, there are varied degrees of importance and concerns to

these epochs; not all have an equal reception of the discourse. Goethe seems to put this

clearly, when he says “suicide is an incident in human life which however much disputed

and discussed, demands the sympathy of every man, and in every age must be dealt with

anew”.1 The discourse has not been limited only to the western region but reasons differ

on the interest in suicide. While in Feudal Japan, suicide is an ultimate act of honour,

redemption or union. In the western world it has always posed as fundamentally

problematic, against the background that suicide is a voluntary self-destruction with no

element of social constraint and obligation. At the heart of these concerns, are existential

characteristics; life and death, the relation of man to fellow man and the relation of man to

In the early eastern writings, the pre-occupation was primarily concerned with

either suicide’s desirability or morality taking cognizance of particular cases of suicide

with strict reference to the intentions and situations. The fundamental thoughts of suicide

to be studied as a normative action, concerned with the problem of man’s relation to God

and man’s relation to man, develops in the nineteenth century. In the hierarchy of duty

sequel to man’s obligation to his creator, is man’s right and duties to himself.

Fundamental and premier amongst these is that of self-preservation; self-security is

The International Encyclopaedia of the Social Science, 1968, ed., s.v “Suicide” by Jack D. Douglas.

deemed necessary which in fact is the direct and instinctual reaction to the basic drive for

self-protection. Suicide qualifies as an antithesis to self-security and existentialism.

Over the years, many have come to understand the problems suicide pose to the

world. In the attempt to resolve the hitches, arguments in favour and against suicide have

been advanced by great individuals of all times. Prominent amongst them is a great

philosopher of the 19th century, Arthur Schopenhauer.

Arthur Schopenhauer, born in the city of Danzig, lived from 1788 to 1860. His

thought took shape early in his life, in the decade from 1810 to 1820, yet until the 1850s

he was virtually unknown, and the period in which he became a powerful influence began

only in the second half of the nineteenth century. 2 Certainly, he is one of the greatest

philosophers of the nineteenth century and had more impact on literature and on people

than concentrating on academic philosophy. He was greatly interested in the philosophy

of Plato and Kant and these influenced his philosophy to a great extent.
He retained Kant’s notion of the thing-in-itself but recognised that it could not

exist as a separate order of real objects over and above the phenomenal objects of

experience. Unlike Kant, Schopenhauer maintained a careful use of the singular rather

than plural when referring to the thing-in-itself and describes Kant’s Copernican

revolution as incomplete by describing the ordinary objects of experience as phenomena

but leaves the impression that things-in-themselves are the real objects. He develops a

strong sense of aesthetic value, coated with Platonic cast and apprehended only by

intuition. Beauty occupies a central place in his thought just as other philosophers have

Christopher Janaway, The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2006), p.1

done. His aesthetic realism is a great advance over Kant's moralistic denial of an objective

foundation for aesthetic reality.

It is sometimes said of Schopenhauer that he was not a very systematic thinker

and many of his discussions of individual issues in his works tend to wander and it is not

always easy to see how different arguments fit together3. Philosophers upon whom

Schopenhauer did have a strong effect, like Nietzsche and even Wittgenstein, nevertheless

could not put him to good use since they did not accept his moral, aesthetic, and religious

realism. Schopenhauer is all but unique in intellectual history for being both an atheist

and sympathetic to Christianity. Schopenhauer's system, indeed, will not make any sense

except in the context of Kant's metaphysics

He was the first to speak of the suffering of the world, which visibly and glaringly

surrounds us, similarly with confusion, passion, evil which are as a result of human

desires and will. His metaphysical thought is also about the will, but now in terms of the

denial of the will. The denial of will, self, and self-interest produce for Schopenhauer a

theory both of morality and of holiness, the former by which self-interest is curtailed for

the sake of others, the latter by which all will-to-live ceases. Schopenhauer's greatest

eloquence about the evils, sufferings, and futility of life, and its redemption through self-

denial, occur there.

He wrote a lot of works and essays but his chief work is his classic The World as Will and

Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 1818, 1844, 1859 -- E.F.J. Payne's

English translation, Dover Publications, 1966), also On the Basis of Morality, trans. E. F.

J. Payne (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995).

D.W Hamyln Schopenhauer (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1980),p.1

Life is such that everyone has to continually make decisions; some of which are

trivial, others are very much important as to affect our entire life. The conscious and

deliberate choices that characterise our behaviour are resultant from our will including

suicidal acts. Suicide is an existential concern that ferociously stares at humanity right in

the face as it threatens the co-existence of humanity starting from the individual in

Schopenhauer did not believe in individual will rather he thinks they are simply

part of a vast and single will that pervades the universe as the driving force of endless

striving. He adopts a pessimistic view to life as a painful misery therefore casting lots

with death as the aim and purpose of life. Despite his profound pessimism, he vehemently

rejects suicide. It is obvious that there is a dis-harmony in this thought and that forms the

crux of the problem; how suicide can be rejected from a pessimistic view that holds death

in value.

This essays stands to ethically evaluate the issues of suicide basically as it is a

direct assault on existence, souring the value of life and man’s ultimate duty to himself,

thus unravelling the silent and effective means of quelling this plague, which has not only

rapidly accelerated in the eighteenth century, but wax strongly even till date.
A proper formation and restructure of individuals’ conscience and ideology will be

a veritable way to achieve the reduction and ultimately, the termination of suicidal acts,

even in the worst of suffering world. This is to be done explicitly not neglecting to show

various justifications that make existence and co-existence continually meaningful and

eventually celebrate the requiem of suicide.

To all of humanity in the contemporary epoch, where the loss of sense of personal

security ramified in the acts of suicide has pervaded all facets of the world, the

importance of this work is invaluable. The work more evidently is an epiphany of the

sacredness of human life to all and sundry by reinforcing in their consciousness that life is

a gift from God and devoid of cultural or religious sentiments in moral decisions,

individuals will preserve their lives and by extension help preserve the lives of others.

The revelation of suicide in the light of Schopenhauerian pessimism of this essay

is catalogued into four chapters with the tripartite methodology of exposition, analysis

and evaluation.
The First Chapter deals with the holistic understanding of suicide taking into

consideration, the problems and factors that interplay to create an ambiguous concept of

suicide, nonetheless we shall develop a working definition of suicide as a guide through

course of the project; the causes, the means and the development of the suicide through

the different cultural epochs.

The Second Chapter discusses the primacy of the will mainly as it is a sine qua

non for an individual to issue an action. It exposes the nexus between the will and bodily

actions focusing also on the question of freedom and determinism.

The Third Chapter handles the metaphysical thoughts, visions and values of

Arthur Schopenhauer against the backdrop of Kant’s metaphysics, taking into

consideration his major step stone situated in his ontology of the will.
The Fourth Chapter evaluates suicide in the light of Schopenhauer alongside other

philosophers, as well as basic ethical principle geared towards self-security.

Regardless of the persuasive arguments advanced to justify the permissibility and

morality of suicide which has intensified in recent times, infinitesimal attention has been

paid to the development of an adequate definition of suicide. This is as a result of diverse

and multifarious factors that interplay especially in determining the status of human

actions that qualify as suicidal. Confusions are generated on the very nature of suicide

because difficulties emerge when we even attempt to characterize suicide precisely and

attempts to do so introduce intricate issues about how to describe and explain human

actions. More so, identifying a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for suicide is

especially challenging and it has compounded the task right from the ancient to present

Among the many factors there are that affect the understanding of suicide, is the

effect of social and traditional views essentially to the development of suicide within a

culture. Beliefs Traditions, Value system usually form the bond and the ideology of a

particular community. This would mean that if suicide is not acknowledged by a

community, then its definition obliterates any form of laudable action from the realm of

suicide. By way of explication if the termination of one’s life is vehemently repealed in a

society, while enormous merit is accorded being buried with one’s spouse, then, the act of

ending one’s own life so as to be buried with one’s spouse may not be termed suicidal. 4

This point is predicated upon social convention and cultural relativism from which
Tom Regan, ed. Matters of Life and Death: New Introductory Essays in Moral Philosophy, 2nd ed. (New
York: Random House, 1986), p.79

cultural relativists see morality as a product of culture hence other cultures are not wrong

but different.5
Another factor that fuels the definitional problematic of suicide is subjectivism

which comes to the fore especially in assessing the intention for suicide. The intention for

suicide is subjective and latent and this denies the possibility of a precise evaluation or

knowledge for suicide. An act of self-termination for personal relief or one’s own sake is

labelled as suicide while on the contrary if done for the sake of others, it assumes the state

of sacrifice usually seen as heroic. The question that comes to fore is, what would be the

status of the following actions either as suicide or sacrifice; a person who stops using life

support machine in order to relieve the family of huge financial expenses OR a terrorist

who decides to blow up himself in the midst of hostile powers for the sake of his cult or

nation, OR a confidant who takes lethal poison to avoid divulging information / secret to

some external force? The problem arises owing to the fact that the intention for suicide is

not fully apprehended by any other person other than the individual involved in the very

act, so to label an act as suicide or sacrifice is difficult.

A third factor to consider here is supernaturalism. Supernaturalism allows a pride

of place of an action if accepted by the Divine.6 This invariably means that ‘X is good

because God desires X and bad if God detest X’. The appeal to the dictates of the divine

especially as expressed in some kind of Divine law is responsible for the worthiness or

worthlessness of an action and in this case if suicide would be encouraged or condemned,

Harry J. Gensler, Earl W. Spurgin and James C. Swindal, eds., Ethics: Contemporary Readings (New York:
Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2005), p.14

it would be determined by the acceptance of the Divine. Austerity and self-denial are

exceptional to religion as principled ways of life but if taken to the extreme as in the case

of fundamentalists or fanatics, it could consummate in the termination of one’s life. So, if

asceticism which is validated by supernaturalism, taken to the extreme leads to death,

would it count as suicide or natural death? Sacrifice is another way of life encouraged by

religion and as we have tried to develop the problem above, the question would be the

same if self-death under the guise of sacrifice would be excused as being suicidal?
All of the above factors shape the problem of grasping the very nature of suicide.

Be that as it may, we shall proceed in a conceptual fashion to analyse suicide and in the

process attempt to provide a working definition.

Suicide is an enigmatic and disconcerting phenomenon not devoid of conceptual

slipperiness. Suicide is a spinoff of two Latin words, ‘sui’ which means ‘of oneself’ and

‘cide’ which means ‘a killing’. The term indicates self-killing usually meant to convey

self-professed or self-intended inclination to death.7

Suicide is an important issue in recent times for three reasons; firstly,

contemporary, psychological and sociological studies of suicide raise serious moral

questions about suicide, secondly, the idea that suicide is a way to avoid pain and

indignities in life and thirdly, the attempt to give human beings absolute freedom.8
Perlin argues that suicide is not a disease but a form of behaviour that is influenced

by historical, cultural, religious, social and personal relationship and no single

psychological, social or medical theory suffices for its comprehension and prevention. 9
The International Encyclopaedia of the Social Science, 1968, ed., s.v “Suicide” by Jack D. Douglas.
Regan, Matters of Life and Death, p.79
Seynour Perlin, A Handbook for the Study of Suicide (New York: Oxford University Press. 1975), p.147

Definitions of suicide tend to vary with the social approval or disapproval of suicide and

the assessment of motives leading to the act.10

In an attempt to answer the question of what makes a person’s behaviour suicidal,

one prevailing definition is that suicide occurs when there is an intentional or deliberate

termination of one’s life. Consider the following cases;

1. James gambles away his fortune and shoots himself

2. Jake climbs a rock without guide, he falls and dies
3. Joe drinks coffee and dies

Presumably, we can agree that all three are cases of self-killing but from the

definition of suicide only (1) is a case of suicide while the other two would count as

accidental death. The first case clearly shows a profession of an intention to death because

of a misfortune, hence the deliberate self-extinction while the other two cases are only a

result of accident. There is the distinction between self-killing as suicide and accidental

death, thus what appears essential for a behaviour to be suicidal is the individual’s

intention; the individual in question chooses to die. It follows thereof that suicide as an

attempt to inflict death upon oneself is intentional rather than consequential in nature. 11

Apparently, an act would be suicidal if one acts (or refrains from acting) in such a way as

to bring about one’s own death. In other words, suicide should not be equitable with

wrongful self-killing in the way that murder is equated with wrongful killing of another.12

Regan, Matters of Life and Death, p.79
Gavin Fairbarin, Contemplating Suicide: The Language and Ethics of Self Harm (London: Routledge,
1995), p.58
The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2009 ed., s.v “Suicide” by Michael Cholbi

The principle of intention and inclination to death is one that causes an action to bear as

Contrary to this understanding and explanation of suicide as an ‘intentional and

deliberate’ act, is the definition issued by the renowned French sociologist, Emilie

The term suicide is applied to all case of death resulting directly or
indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself which he
knows will produce this result.13

Durkheim’s understanding of suicide is contrary to the first definition and rejects it

because it appeals to the presence of an intention to die. If we cast our minds back to the

problems of the definition of suicide, the intention for suicide is subjective and latent

hence cannot be easily verified. This forms the basis for Durkheim’s rejection of the first

Durkheim’s concept of suicide albeit it relinquishes the primacy of intention

substitutes it for the knowledge of self-death by the individual indulging in certain actions

‘... which he knows will produce this result.’ This substitution of epistemology for

intention by Durkheim is highly contestable; nonetheless we can comprehend his premise

for a modification of definition of the concept based on the fact that intentions cannot be

accurately ascertained.14
But on the other hand an acceptance of this definition allows for a vulnerability to

obvious counter examples. An individual, who knows the health risk of smoking or

skydiving, engages in these behaviours and dies as a result could be said to be causally

Emilie Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, trans. John A. Spaulding and George Simpson (New
York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis e-Library, 2005), p. xlii
Regan, Matters of Life and Death, p.81

responsible for his / her death but not to have committed suicide. If Durkheim’s concept of

suicide is to be accepted, then the mere fact that the individual knows the risk of such

endeavour and goes ahead to partake in it, is suicide.

To consider a similar scenario, if Jack throws himself on a grenade to save his

friends and the explosion kills him in the process, it does not still count as suicide. The

devastating and injurious effect of a grenade cannot be underestimated especially as we

see in wars or suicide bombings; but if Jack had thrown himself on the grenade, it was

because he wanted to save his friends and does not propose to death. This rules out the

action of Jack as suicidal because he may have believed that, it is not his death that saves

his friends but his covering the grenade; perhaps with luck he might have survived while

still achieving his goal.

The first definition seems to serve the understanding of suicide as an intentional

self-inflicted death, but it is really knotty and with shortcomings. For what is it to intend

by one's behaviour that death result? Scholars have argued that the nature of the intention,

which has to do with the precise reason for the action, as well as the circumstances under

which the intention was nurtured should be considered even though this definition does

not take that into consideration. From the above scenario, would it be the case that Jack

committed suicide?
Usually there is a distinction between intentional self-killing for self serving

purposes and self caused death for reasons other than the self. This arouses the problem of

sacrificial death if it is indistinguishable from suicide or not mainly because both involve

an intentional act. In an article Tom Beauchamp asserts that,

The key notion responsible for our not classifying some intentional self
killings as suicides may be sacrifice. Perhaps those who sacrifice their
lives are not conceived as suicides for an interesting reason: Because
such actions have from the suicide point of view, plausible claim to
justification for other regarding, not self regarding reasons, we exclude
these sacrificial acts from the realm of the suicidal. We may not regard
them as actually justified, but rather as justified from the viewpoint of
the agent who causes or perhaps fails to prevent his / her own death.15

In any case of self killing therefore, the reason for the act is considered and

following from Beauchamp’s assertion, ‘... other regarding not self regarding reasons’

might possibly be a defining factor to discern between suicide and sacrificial death. Both

sacrificial death and suicide involve an intention but the difference lies in the motives or

aims that drive that intention. It is clearly seen that, in suicide the intention is to

exterminate the self from its present existential state, thus having its ends for the ultimate

purpose for the self. But this is antagonistic to sacrificial death which its intention is not to

die per se for the self’s emancipation but for other selfless reasons.
Another challenge in the effort to cognize suicide is the problem of treatment

refusal, which is apparent in hospital life. This problem is stimulated chiefly by the ‘right

to refuse treatment’; well informed patients with decision making capacity have an

autonomous right to refuse and forego recommended treatments. But following upon their

decision, if death occurs, would this count as suicide?

According to Beauchamp, these acts can be suicides for the reason that any means

productive of death can be used also to the ends of suicide. ‘Pulling the plug on one’s

respirator is not relevantly different from plunging a knife into one’s heart, if the reason

Richard Brandt, “The Morality and Rationality of Suicide”, in Seynour Perlin, ed., A Handbook for the
Study of Suicide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p.101

for putting an end to life is identical in the two cases.16 The point of Beauchamp is that, if

(for example) a seriously wounded soldier turns his gun to himself and intentionally kills

himself, that would be suicide; and if a patient who suffers a terminal illness – (renal

failure), refuses another dialysis and dies as a result, it would also be suicide.
The logical underpinning here is the active and passive distinction of suicide. The

former takes the active and the latter, passive. The terminally ill patient might be using the

passive means as a socially acceptable way of ending it all because the passive means

somewhat resembles a naturally caused death. Nonetheless, in view of the agent’s

intention, not all naturally caused death can be eliminated from considerations as suicide. 17

Thus the active as well as the passive means are cases of suicide, so people of this

category cannot be exculpated from suicidal act; the intention is present even in the

passive means.
An act is not suicide if one is caused to die by a life threatening condition that is

not brought about through one’s own actions. 18 To cause one’s own death in order to die is

tantamount to killing oneself, but to have death caused by some ailing predicament stands

out from being suicide. In exercising the right to refuse treatment, the individual evidently

causes his death and that fulfils the second element above, but it does not fully explain the

individual’s intention to die. The refusal of treatment need not necessarily be for self

regarding reasons but other, and if this is the case, then the problem is complicated

because, the refusal of treatment for other regarding reasons other than the self would

Joel Feinberg, “Introduction to Sanctity of Life” in Tom Beauchamp, William Blackstone and Joel
Feinberg (eds.), Philosophy and The Human Condition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall, 1980), p.29
Regan, Matters of Life and Death, p.86

transverse with the nature of sacrificial death. On the whole, a greater willingness is

exhibited to categorize self killings intended to avoid one’s misery as suicides than self

killing intended to benefit others.19

The death of a person is suicide if the individual’s death is intentionally caused by

the individual in question for self reasons. But some scholars would like to add another

element so as to get the concept clearly. Apart from the individual causing his own death,

the action would not be suicidal if the individual is coerced to bring about his own death.

Typically, coercion denotes interference by others to carry out an action either through

force or threat. Based on the issue at hand, we can imagine a situation whereby a spy

threatened with torture unless he relinquishes a vital military secret, would not be spared

so he goes ahead to poison himself. Some would vie that he did not commit suicide

because his subjugator constrained him to take his life.

Although theorists about suicide often fail to divorce questions about whether an

act was suicide from whether its motives were admirable or odious,20 Beauchamp upon

critical analysis avers that, the sacrificial nature of an action is not a legitimate reason for

excluding it from suicide because there is an intention to die. The point here for

Beauchamp is the distinction between the acts as suicide from its motives; an act can be

suicidal but its motives may be laudable or abhorrent.

Suicide is an enigmatic and encyclopaedic concept which cannot be easily

encapsulated in a one sentence definition. This brief attempt of conceptual analysis of

suicide illustrates the frustrations of such an endeavour owing to the unclear notions of

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2009 ed., s.v “Suicide” by Michael Cholbi

suicide apparently replaced by the unclear notions of intention and coercion.21 On the one

hand is the principle of intention and on the other hand is the principle of coercion; not

until these subjects are clarified, a seeming exactitude in the conception of suicide might

not be possible. However, the imperative aspects of an adequate analysis of the ordinary

language concept of suicide have been laid down to transmit the discussion on the

assessment of suicide; an intentional and non-coerced self killing in which the conditions

causing death are self arranged.22

Death is the fixed inevitable consequence of life, the moment we begin to be, we

have advanced one step towards that period we shall be no more. 23 There are anomalies in

the usual length of life of a man and one factor among many that counts is suicide. The

previous consideration centred on the concept of suicide, thus launches the present agenda

of surveying the aetiology of suicide. The causes of suicide are multifarious but all of

these can be subsumed into two categories

Psychological cause

Sociological cause

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2009 ed., s.v “Suicide” by Michael Cholbi
The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 1998, ed., s.v “Suicide” by James Fieser, and Bradley Dowden
Robert Fellowes, A Brief Treatise on Death: Philosophically, Morally and Practically Considered
(London, 1805), p.6

Psychological cause of suicide would involve individuals who suffer from mental

or psychological chaos and often end up committing suicide. It is not the case that these

disorders are directly productive of suicide but gradually and ultimately puts the

individual in a state of imbalance; for example, serious depression can lead to specific

changes of the DNA in the human brain which leads to pathological or psychological

disturbances. When the individual is at this stage he seeks for some kind of immediate

relief from the anguishing situation, thus a subscription to suicide. Patients in mental

hospital do have particularly high suicide rates especially those with depressive

disorders.24 Psychological problems that precipitate suicide are numerous if they be

enlisted but these problems range mainly from Depression, Manic Depression and

Melancholic Disorder.
Emilie Durkheim in his book, Suicide discusses the sociological tinge of suicide.

The basic theme of Durkheim’s work is that suicide which appears to be a phenomenon

relating to the individual is explainable aetiologically, with reference to the social

structure and its ramifying functions.25 The currents of suicide would be related to social

concomitants to understand and place any individual suicide in its proper aetiological

setting. Consequently suicide as a social factor would be explained by means of other

social factors – Religion, Marriage, Cosmic factors and Economy.


L. I Dublin, Suicide: A Sociological and Statistical Study (New York: Ronald Press, 1963), p.171
Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, p. xiii

Durkheim points out that religion plays an important role and has a great influence

on suicide rates. This is evident in religions whose practitioners have taken their doctrines

to the extreme thus becoming fundamentalist or fanatics and would lay down their lives at

any cost.
Suicide rates have been noticed to be lowest in Catholic countries but are at the

peak among the Protestants. Durkheim says:

It is the repository of common sentiments, a well spring from which
each individual conscience draws a moral sustenance. Where these
common sentiments rigorously guide the individual as in Catholicism
and condemn the taking of one’s own life, there the suicide rate is low;
where the common sentiments lay great stress on individualism,
innovation and free thought, the hold over the individual slackens, he is
tenuously bound to society and can the more easily be led to suicide.26

His point is that, the stronger the forces that integrate the individual into the collective life

(the society), the lesser the suicide rates compared to that of high sate of individualism. If

religion protects man against the inclination for self destruction, it is because it is a society

and this society is characterized by the constellation of a certain number of beliefs and

practices common to all the faithful, traditional and binding on them all.27

Ibid., p.xvi
Ibid., p.125

The individual’s need and satisfaction is usually regulated by the society. Suicide

rates tend to rise in times of economic recession and depression. Durkheim noted first that

financial crises led to an immediate rise in the suicide rates, documenting this with the

examples from Vienna 1873, Frankfurt- on – main 1874 and Paris 1882, and when the

number of bankruptcies rose in a society the suicide rates also increased.28

On the other hand, civilization has brought not only progress and development but

anxieties, unattainable wants, intoxication religious cruelty which brings suicide nearer

especially to those at the top stratum of economic system. Suicide rates rose during the

world exposition in 1878 and 1889; they stimulate business, bring more money into the

country and are thought to increase public prosperity, especially in the city where they

take place. Yet, quite possibly, they ultimately take their toll in a considerably higher

number of suicides just as increased industrialization in Italy after its unification was

accompanied by an increase in suicide rate.29

In point of fact, if voluntary deaths increased because life was becoming more

difficult, they should diminish observably as comfort increases but this is not the case.

Durkheim detected that what proves more convincingly that economic anguish does not

have the frustrating influence often attributed to it, is that it tends to produce the opposite

effect. There is very little suicide in Ireland, where the peasantry leads so wretched a life;

Poverty-stricken Calabria has almost no suicides. 30 Therefore in both times of economic

David Leister and Bijou Yang, The Economy and Suicide: Economic Perspective on Suicide (New York:
Nova Publishers, 1997), p.14
Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, p.205
Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, p.205

disaster and prosperity, if there are increased suicide rates, it is because there are crises

and the immediate result is usually a reduction in strength of social integration and order

leading an increase in anomie. Every disturbance of equilibrium even though it achieves a

greater comfort and a heightening of general vitality is an impulse to voluntary death.31


Marital status and suicide are presumed to be interrelated being that marriage is

one of the social factors in the aetiology of suicide. The suicide rates of the unmarried

persons are usually high than those of who are married. Evidently, marriage entails all

sorts of burdens of which the single person is autonomous but marriage has a sheltering

influence against suicide because it incorporates the individual into a stable social

relationship. Suicide varies with the degree of integration of the individual into the social

groups which he belongs; marriage is one means of attaining this integration and it

strengthens the ties between the individual and the society. Durkheim also noted that

marriage generally has an advantage of physical and moral constitution somewhat better

than that of unmarried persons although this is highly probable.

Anthony Giddens in his remarks on Durkheim’s work on suicide says “suicide is

used by Durkheim as a means of demonstrating the key impact of social factors on our

personal lives and even our most intimate motives.” The society cannot be isolated as it is

a strong determiner in the aetiology of suicide and “the society is not only something

attracting the sentiments and activities of individuals with an unequal force, it is also a


power controlling them; there is a way this regulative action is performed and the social

suicide rate.”32
There are countless of reasons for which people commit suicide; suffering, grief,

unrequited love, to escape punishment, financial loss, to restore honour, belief that life has

no inherent value (pessimism, absurdity and nihilism) to mention a few. To bring about the

actualization of suicide, different methods are employed and usually vary from culture to

culture. Hanging oneself amongst other means is the mostly used method hence assumes

the leading method worldwide.33

1.4.1 Ancient and Classical views
Philosophical discourse about suicide stretches back to the time of Plato. Plato

discussed about suicide in two of his works – ‘Phaedo and Laws’. He claimed that suicide

is disgraceful and shameful and that its perpetuators should be buried in unmarked graves

and suicide is an act of cowardice or laziness in managing life’s vicissitudes.

The stoics, very well represented by Seneca and many others contend that whence

the means to living a naturally flourishing life are not available to us, suicide may be

justified. Seneca argues that mere living is not good but living well. Accordingly, the wise

man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can, he will always reflect concerning

the quality and not the length of his life, as soon as there are events bedevilling and

perturbing his internal peace, he sets himself free.34

Central to the ancient and classical views of suicide is the principle of autonomy,

which has as its nucleus the verity that individuals should exercise their liberty and

Ibid., p.201
Microsoft Encarta, 2009 ed., s.v. “Suicide”, by Alan L. Berman
Joseph Omoregbe, Knowing Philosophy (Lagos, Joja Press Ltd, 1990), p.56

freedom, as well as to be self determining agents making personal evaluations and choices

in all circumstances, probably, even when their interest is in jeopardy, but most

importantly is the absence of external constraints.

1.4.2 The Medieval Interpretation
The advent of Christianity is perhaps the most important event in the philosophical

history of suicide. Despite the fact that no passage in the scriptures explicitly condemns

suicide, Christian doctrine throughout the ages has held that suicide is morally wrong.

Notable personalities in the middle ages especially in the development of the Christian

understanding and prohibition of suicide are St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas,

whose thoughts continue to wax stronger in influencing populace.

St. Augustine takes leave from the fifth commandment as a natural extension to the

prohibition of suicide. The law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says

‘Thou shall not kill.’ This is proven especially by the omission of the word ‘thy

neighbour’35 thus giving an elasticity to the application of the law to both the self and

other beings. Suicide for him is an unrepentable sin.

St. Thomas Aquinas, a renowned theologian also offered his thought about suicide

specifically to the proscription of suicide on three grounds. On the first level, suicide is

contrary to natural self love whose aim is to preserve us. Since everything naturally loves

itself, there is a resultant effect which is the natural preservation of the self but suicide is

contrary to the inclination of nature and charity. 36 Secondly, he commends that suicide

injures the community which an individual is a part and thirdly, suicide violates our duty

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2009 ed., s.v “Suicide” by Michael Cholbi
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Vol 1 (New
York: Benziger Brothers Inc., 1974), p.1469

to God because He has given us life as a gift and in taking our lives we violate his right to

determine the duration of our earthly existence.37

1.4.3 Modern Development
Subsequent to the cognition of suicide in the medieval era, is the development of

the modern and enlightenment thought on suicide. Whereas Christian theology has

understood suicide as "an affair between the devil and the individual sinner"38

Enlightenment philosophers tended to conceive of suicide in secular terms, as resulting

from facts about individuals, their natural psychologies, and their particular social settings.

This shift was not without the thoughts of notable personnel like David Hume, Immanuel

Kant, Jean Paul Sartre and Emilie Durkheim. David Hume collaborates with this new

approach with a direct mugging on the Thomistic position in his unpublished essay On

The thesis that suicide violates our duties to self because misfortunes and ill health

can make life sufficiently miserable, and continued existence is worse than death; thus

suicide may be free of imputation of guilt and blame. The modern development was

definitely not univocal in its comparatively permissive attitudes towards suicide but also

had another wing which had a severe carriage on suicide. This is clear in the contributions

of the most clamorous opponent of suicide in this period, Immanuel Kant.

The gamut of the discourse so far has been to situate the concept of suicide

especially within a common understanding, as an intentional murder of oneself. The

intention of the individual is informed by the autonomy of choice faculty otherwise called

the ‘will’ and this is also evident through the history; perhaps the most prominent theme in
Ibid., p.300

existentialist writing is that of choice, the freedom to choose in fulfilment of our intention.

The Syrian Islamic scholar, Muhyid-Din Abu Zakariyya ibn Sharaf al-

Nawawi (1233 - 1277) says “Intention is the measure for rendering actions true, so that

where intention is sound, action is sound, and where it is corrupt then action is corrupt”.

This sets the basis for the next agenda which is an examination of the Will especially as it

is non – negligible in human acts and allows for responsibility of actions carried out by us,

thus a necessary entity inherent in the human being.

The German philosopher Edmund Husserl founded the 20th-century movement

called phenomenology and it bothers on the study of the structures of consciousness in

reference to objects outside itself; a reflection on the content of the mind to the exclusion

of everything else.39
The application of the term in affinity with the Will already suggests what the

whole discourse entails. Therefore Phenomenology of the will centres on the study of the

Will in relation to its manifestation through human actions primarily as both do not

belong to the same realm. The discourse is encapsulated in more vivid and strict terms as,

an attempt to understand the essence of the will, and just as modern existentialists would

give us a hint that ‘there is no fixed human essence structuring our lives and that our

choices are never determined by anything except our own free will’.
The task of defining or describing the will may possibly be thought of as having

no need of engaging in it being that the word is generally understood, but this would be

the case if philosophers, metaphysicians had not given their words or thoughts about the

will, thus creating diverse ideologies about it. In tilting the sphere of clarity, which is the

background of this discourse, it would be necessary to say a few things.

Jonathan Edwards contends that, the faculty of the will is that power or principle

of the mind by which it is capable of choosing; the will therefore is that, by which the

mind chooses anything.40 Unlike the body or other physical objects which are rather

concrete and can be perceived at least through the five senses, the will is abstract but is
Microsoft Encarta, 2009 ed., s.v. “Phenomenology”, by Hubert L. Dreyfus
Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will (Grand Rapids MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 200), p.2

sensed through its expression in the choice of the mind; an act of the will is synonymous

to an act of choosing OR an act of rejection. It is important to understand how the will

transforms in the acts of choosing, rejection, that is, the connectedness between the will

and visible human actions.

Taking leave from the dualism of Descartes, when the mind and the body are

divorced from each other, human actions fall apart conceptually thus it splits into acts of

the will identifiable only in introspection. 41 Between the will and human actions, there

exists a causal relation such that the former which belongs to the sphere of the mind,

informs the actions that are exhibited through the body. The dualism of Descartes would

not properly account for this relation because for him the mind and the body are two

distinct substances – mental and physical which exist independently of each other and

have completely different attributes.42 This implies that willing which is a conscious act

remains in the mental state and finds no display through a physical substance. But it is

evident that the workings of the mind influences the workings of the body and vice –

versa, thus they are in constant interaction.

The Platonic account which was followed by Descartes, classifying the mind and

the body as two complete substances, each of its own account and are contingently united,

differs from the Aristotelian solution of the mind and the body as two incomplete

substances in which their fusion originates a complete substance. The latter account

rightly explicates the mind’s perception of the body’s need or lack thus the will is the

Ilham Dilman, Freewill: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction (New York: Routledge, 1999), p.119
William F. Lawhead, The Voyage of Discovery: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy, 2nd ed.
(Wadsworth Group: Thomas Learning Inc. 2002), p.237

mental component that moves one into action. So if an individual wills that a table be

drawn close to her, she would not expect to do it mentally as to expect a physical effect,

rather through an external object of the will, which in this case could be her hand, the

table is drawn close to her and the will is manifested in this action.
The point here is that, one’s will (in the forms of resolutions and intentions) can

only be seen from the outside, as well as not something the individual herself sees from

the inside, although an intention can exist without the action exercised but without

reference to the action, it is null and void. This gives a backing to our understanding of

suicide in the previous chapter as it clearly shows that the act self killing is a

manifestation of the individual’s will in question to terminate his own life; the will is

something inward but finds its expression in the efforts and actions of the human person.
Aquinas characterizes the will as ‘rational appetite’ because, its desire is usually in

response to the consideration of reason and reason exercises some judgement on our

desires, like, is it right? Is it prudent? What consequences will my pursuit of it have? Do I

want such consequences?43 Reason can be understood as being synonymous to our

convictions or commitments especially in the context of values or value system, and it is

usually one set of values that weighs another, so in the option between alternatives, the

judgment we exercise are resultant of our values (reason) which thereof guides the will

towards its ends; reason becomes an affective character.44 The will has the capacity to

choose only that which reason independently of inclination cognizes as practically

necessary, that is as good, but if the case is contrary and the will is not in itself in
Ilham Dilman, Freewill: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction, p.91
Ibid., p.92

conformity with reason, then actions that are considered as objectively necessary become

subjectively contingent.45
The problem of freewill and its opposing doctrine determinism is one of the key

issues in philosophy which has arisen in history especially whenever people suspected

that their actions might be determined or necessitated by factors unknown to them or

beyond their control. People have wondered at various times whether their actions might

be determined by fate or God, by laws of physics or the laws of logic, by heredity or

environment, by unconscious motives or hidden controllers, psychological or social

conditioning.46 This has prompted questions as to what is the place of freewill in our lives

if our actions are the result of some other cause. Do our desires make us free? In the

attempt to address the question of freewill, it demands an understanding of the

relationship between freedom and cause.

Freedom is an exemption either from some impediment to the performance of

some acts or it is an exemption from a limitation, confinement or compulsion to perform

the act.47 Although freedom is usually used in significations which seem to be widely

different, its relation to the will is the context here, thus freewill is the ability of rational

species to effect control over their actions, decisions or choices, to the point of being held

responsible for their choice. There are no doubts about the reality of a will in every

individual especially as it bothers on the capacity to choose but the principle of causality

Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997), p.24
John Martin Fischer et al. Four Views on Freewill (USA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007), p.5
D. D Whedon, The Freedom of the Will As A Basis of Human Responsibility and A Divine Government
(New York: Carlton and Porter, 1864), p.23

accounts that every act has a cause and consequently has a necessary connection to its

cause. For the will to be free, means it must not be subject to compulsion or causality but

the will is subject to it as being part of the natural order, then how do we come to terms

with the freedom of the will?

B. F Strawson presents the problem of the freewill debate in terms of the dilemma

of determinism; the thesis of determinism as generally understood, is the claim that

everything that happens in the world including all human thought and action is subject to

causal laws and this involves the necessitation of effects by an antecedent causal

condition.48 The difficulty that resides here follows from the fact that freewill seems

impossible if our actions are causally necessitated and at the same time it also seems

impossible if our actions are not causally obliged, and if both claims are correct then

freewill is impossible whatever stand is taken.

Those who cast lots with determinism and reject freewill have their basic

contention to be that, freedom of action is a voluntary behaviour as such freewill means

that an individual must necessarily be the ultimate and originating cause of his actions

and only then can we account for moral responsibility. If determinism is true and we have

no freewill, then the agent who engages in suicide is only passive in his actions; but is

determinism true?
A different account of the freewill debate is posed by those who are called the

compatibilists and they maintain that freedom and moral responsibility are compatible

with determinism. They propose one of their core arguments that, it is only a mere

Michael McKenna and Paul Russell (eds.), Freewill and Reactive Attitudes: Perspectives on P. F
Strawson’s ‘Freedom and Resentment’ (England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2008), p.1

confusion to suppose that freedom implies the absence of causal necessitation but what

freedom requires is the absence of compulsion and coercion. 49 Compatibilism seems

plausible because it looks so clear that we are sometimes free and morally responsible for

our actions and determinism could turn out to be factual basically because all events are a

result of networking of necessitating cause at least traced into the past.50

“The reality of the freewill is our capacity to own our intentions, to be the author

of our actions, to be responsible for what we do so that we can be blamed or praised for

what we do.”51 Based on this, Descartes opines that, what the mind wills is determined by

the mind itself in accordance with its own wishes and judgements, thus the will is self

determined and free. Hume’s answer centres on the conviction that being subject to

causality is not being subject to compulsion. Kant’s explanation is that when the will is

subject to causality in the form of inclination, it is heteronymous and determined by

something external as such it cannot be free; but once it is at one with reason and

determined by it, it is self determined and therefore free. Despite causality which we are

subject to even though we are intentional beings, it is we who determine our actions

rather than being understood as an effect of causes external to our will, so that the will

itself is not subject to any causality. To say we have freewill is to say that we are

intentional agents capable of choices and decisions, and G. E Moore insists that we have

the capacity to choose and when we do so, it is we who determine our action. He argues

that our conviction of freewill implies that there are many occasions when we could have
Fischer et al. Four Views on Freewill, p.2
Ibid., p.44
Ilham Dilman, Freewill: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction, p.73

done something other than what we did, that is, what we did not do 52. In like manner the

individual who conceives of suicide and decides to actualize it has the option to act other

wise and not terminate his life because of the reality of freewill inherent in him; he takes

responsibility for his action and has an explanation why he chose not to commit suicide

other than to commit suicide or vice versa.53

Evidently, all that we have considered is to hold on to our persuasion of the reality

of freewill in the face of an argument from causality that threatens it. Since we opine for

the reality and possibility of freewill and the acts of willing, then it is pertinent to question

the source of all virtues and vices exhibited by individual persons; where do they do

originate from if not the will? We have not taken a stand on the nature of suicide, whether

it is a virtuous act or an evil act but whatever be its category, it must be determined by

some prerequisite just as the question demands.

Manichaeanism taught that the world is an arena in which two opposing cosmic

forces contend; one good and the other evil such that when someone does a laudable

action, the forces of good is thought to outweigh the forces of evil and vice-versa.
In contrast to this understanding, is that of Kant’s moral theory which shoots from

the claim that nothing in the world ... can possibly be conceived which could be called

good without qualification except a good will.54 There are many qualities, concepts that

worth to be called good but devoid of a good will, they cannot be any good. For example,

G.E Moore, Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947), p.131
Although the individual be dead already, it does not exclude the fact that he has an explanation for his
deeds; the only difference in this circumstance is that, there is no one to listen and comprehend his
Lawhead, The Voyage of Discovery: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy, p.340

we can imagine the case of a scoundrel who possesses qualities of intelligence, courage,

power, would only augment the evil he could do rather than improve his goodness. Unlike

positive qualities, the goodwill is always good under any circumstances and since it is at

the centre of morality, the question is how do we identify such a will especially in the

evaluation of individuals’ characters?

In the attempt to respond to the question, Kant offers a guideline to accessing a

good will; firstly, it should not be judged from what a person accomplishes. In a situation

for example, where Janet risks her life to save a drowning child but did not achieve her

goal, the goodness of the will stimulating these action sparkles clearly despite the

apparent failure. It supposedly means that the intention to produce good consequence will

suffice to account for a good will since the actual endeavour did not serve the purpose.

But a keen scrutiny of the intention based account also reveals its insufficiency to serve as

good will because we can intend to do the right action for morally tainted reasons or self

centred reasons, so merely intending the right action cannot be the basic criterion for

moral goodness neither will acting on the basis of sentiments or feelings or what Kant

calls inclination especially that our feelings are not predictable and static.
Having eliminated actual consequences, intended consequences and feelings or

inclination, we can affirm that goodwill is a will that is moved to act from moral duty and

concerned to do what is right from the sole motive that, it is the morally right action to

perform.55 This clearly shows the distinction between deontological ethics (from duty or

obligation) in contrast to Teleological or Consequential ethics. Thus the person of good

Ibid., p.341

will is precisely the one who performs good acts simply because it is his duty to perform

them despite his inclination to do otherwise. In other words the source of all virtuous

actions is nothing other than the Good will.

Augustine makes it clearer other than the dualism of the Manicheans that evil

must be conceived of as a defect, a corruption or perversion of what is good. It becomes

apposite through logical reasoning to say that the source of all vices in human endeavour

is a privation or distortion of the good will. Evil is not an independent reality but simply

the absence of good, in like manner, an evil will is not substantial in itself but a dearth of

goodness so that whatever is contrary to the good will is evil. It is not out of place to ask

how to be sure of the good will that is, against what background is the good will formed?

As we know, the morally good will is one that performs actions out of a sense of duty but

our duty is in conformity with a natural law, it lies in obedience to a particular principle

regardless of inclination, self interest or consequences. Kant calls this supreme principle,

the Categorial Imperative with its first formulation as I ought never to act except in such

a way that my maxim should become a universal law. 56 This means that for each act we

are about to actualize, we can ask – what is the rule authorizing this act and can it become

a universal rule for all human beings to follow? For example if we deceive another into

believing our story so as to get our ends, can deception be made a universal law that all

human race can follow when in dire need of something? Surely, the answer is in the

negative and since it cannot be universalized, it ceases to be a good act.

Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis:
Bobbs - Merill, Library of Liberal Arts, 1959), p.39

Finally, the good will confers on everyone a challenge to act from moral duty in

conformity with the natural principle towards others. In terms of our discourse, everyone

has a duty towards the suicidal individual, to convince and counsel the agent on the value

and worth of continued life and the call of this moral duty demands that this is done at all

times so as to promote goodness. If at this point, without prejudice we ask a question, it is

not out of place – do we not have a duty to ourselves, duty to preserve our lives?
The principal issue surrounding this section borders on the moral permissibility of

suicide taking into consideration the conditions, if any, under which suicide is morally

justified or will the principle of rational autonomy satisfy as the condition for the

permissibility of suicide?
For libertarians, suicide is morally permissible because individuals enjoy a right to

suicide which is rightly called a right of non - interference 57 therefore others are morally

barred from interfering in a suicidal behaviour. Some are of the opinion that individuals

have no moral duty not to commit suicide, that is, suicide violates no moral duty, and on

the other hand others are morally obliged not to interfere in a person’s suicidal behaviour

and are morally required to assist them.58 A popular account for the claim that we enjoy a

right to suicide is that we own our bodies, hence we are morally permitted to dispose of

them as we wish and this follows from the freewill of the human person to choose and act

freely accordingly.

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2009 ed., s.v “Suicide” by Michael Cholbi
Pabst Battin, The Death Debate: Ethical Issues in Suicide (Upper Saddle River N.J: Prentice Hall, 1996),

Our freewill is bound up with our living in a human world characterized by the

significance we find in them. Good and evil belong to this world and these form an

integral part of the significance which characterizes our actions and intentions, thus we

choose to put up actions that are good or bad in how we choose to live and / or what we

do in particular situations. Are there conditions under which suicide is morally justified or

in other words do we have a duty to preserve our lives? Is suicide rational or prudent?
These questions unfold as a result of the overemphasis on the human person to act

freely as it is the case of libertarianism, but it is only rational to note the limitations of

human freewill. The words of Kwame Nkrumah (1909 -1972), Ghanaian President that

“without discipline true freedom cannot survive” become worthwhile. The discipline of

our freewill can be understood especially with recourse to the universal principle (the

Categorial Imperative) and the good will, which will also serve as an arbiter to attempt an

answer to the questions above.

To preserve one’s life is a duty. It is evident that everyone has an immediate

inclination to do so but if this is the case, the preservation of one’s life has no moral worth

because it is done in conformity with duty but not from duty59 and that is why when

adversity and suffering should take away the taste of life, death is subscribed to as some

form of relief but ‘if an unfortunate man, strong of soul and more indignant about his

fate ... wishes for death and yet preserves his life without loving it, not from inclination or

fear but from duty, then his maxim has a moral content.60

Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, p.11

A suicidal act is not an action from duty especially because an action from duty

has its moral worth not in the purpose to be attained by the act, but in the maxim in

accordance with which it is decided upon, from respect for the law – the categorial

imperative. Our common human reason also agrees completely with the practical

application of this law especially in determining the second question, is suicide rational or

prudent? By way of recapitulation, the universal law is ‘I ought never to act except in

such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law’ and this

alone is to serve as the principle of the will.

Suicide cannot be a universal law for it is an anti-thesis to the principle of the will

and at the same time, a spinoff from a non-good will. If suicide were to be accepted by

everyone such that at the slightest depression or suffering, the recourse should be to

suicide then an uncontrollable outbreak of increasing death rate will be necessitated,

disrespect for the sanctity of life and the thoughts and belief in hope and optimism is

relinquished. If a deviation from the principle of duty is quite certainly evil, then it is not

out of place to state that suicide shares in that status of evil. Given the way we abstract

reason as having a grip on the will especially when faced with options, so as to choose the

better of alternatives, and knowing full well that good is the object of the will, then it is

irrational to will evil.

Over time till the present day, it has been a perennial philosophical reflection that

if one introspects deeply into oneself, one will discover not only one's own essence, but

also by extension the essence of the universe. Akin to this is the principle of self-

consciousness which was the standard for German Idealist philosophers such as Fichte,

Schelling and Hegel, Schopenhauer stands within the spirit of this tradition but he

opposes these traditional German Idealists in their metaphysical elevation of self-

consciousness. He believes that the ultimate principle of the universe is likewise

apprehensible through introspection, and that we can philosophically understand the

world as various manifestations of this general principle. For Schopenhauer, however, this

is not the principle of self-consciousness and rationally-infused will, but is rather what he

calls simply “Will”.61

Schopenhauer believed that human beings were motivated only by their own basic

desires or will to live (Wille zum Leben), which directed all mankind. For Schopenhauer,

human desire is futile, illogical, and by extension all actions in the world. Unlike the

understanding of the Will as developed in the immediate previous chapter, his Will is a

metaphysical existence which controls not only the actions of individual agents but

ultimately, all observable phenomena. From his ontology of the Will he develops his

philosophical pessimism, the Will as a mindless, aimless, non-rational urge at the

foundation of our instinctual drives, and at the foundational being of everything. How

does he come about his doctrine?

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2009 ed., s.v “Arthur Schopenhauer” by Robert Wicks

Schopenhauer develops his re-conception of the Will taking leave from Kant’s

notion of the perceptible world as the bedrock of his thesis. Kant’s greatest merit is in his

distinction of the phenomena from the noumena, that is, the distinction between

representation and the being-in-itself of things.62

However, for Schopenhauer, the thing-in-itself is the Will and just a single one it is

and he comes about this conception from his statement;

... I have stressed that we are not merely the knowing subject but that we
ourselves are also among those realities or entities we require to know,
we are the thing-in-itself.63

He notes importantly that our body which is just one among the many objects in the world

is given to us in two different ways: we perceive our body as a physical object among

other physical objects and we are aware of our body through our immediate awareness, as

we consciously inhabit our body, intentionally move it, and feel directly our pleasures,

pains, and emotional states. This implies that we can objectively perceive our hand as an

external object, just as a friend might perceive it during a handshake, and we can also be

subjectively aware of our hand as something we inhabit, like when we wilfully move, or

we can feel its inner muscular workings. From this observation, Schopenhauer asserts that

our body is given in two entirely different ways, namely, as representation that is

objectively or externally and as Will, that is, subjectively or internally. To find the key to

reality, we must look within ourselves, in our consciousness through which we become

aware that our bodily action which is thought to result from some motivational force is not
Lawhead, The Voyage of Discovery: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy, p.334
Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation vol. 2, trans. by E. F. J Payne (New York:
Dover, 1969), p.195

something different from the act itself but the force and the action are one and the same

thing.64 Therefore our bodily actions are simply the objectification of the Will, but

translated into perception; this explains why Schopenhauer concludes the first chapter of

his main work with the phrase “The World is my Will.”

The notion of the Will as Schopenhauer develops it thus far is the thing-in-itself,

which is our way of apprehending the noumenal reality of all objects in the world. This

will is single, devoid of multiplicity since it does not belong to the sphere of the spatio –

temporal world, but to the noumenal and omnipresent in nature. 65 Following from this

therefore, Schopenhauer regards the world as a whole as having two sides: the world is

Will and the world is Representation. The world as Will is the world as it is in itself, and

the world as representation is the world of appearances, of our ideas, or of objects.

Optimism is the overarching mental state wherein people believe that things will

more likely go well for them than go badly. This can be compared with the valence effect

of prediction, a tendency for people to overestimate the likelihood of good things

happening rather than bad things. In relation to the world, optimists usually think of the

world as a place that is hospitable to the aims and aspirations of human beings. On the

contrary and the opposite, is pessimism, the tendency to see only the negative or worst of

all things and to expect only bad or unpleasant things. Pessimists think of the world as

hostile and indifferent which allows no room for happiness as it is only a temporary

Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 7 (London and New York: Continuum. 1963), p.272

phenomenon. Based on this he says that optimism is a really wicked way that makes

mockery of the unspeakable suffering of mankind.66

The prime proponent of this view is Schopenhauer, in his major work - The world

as Will and Representation, takes the stand that this is demonstrably the worst of all

possible worlds and denies that life is ever worthwhile. 67 His pessimism stems from his

elevation of the will above reason as the main spring of human thought and behaviour and

it does not belong solely to rational persons but to be found in everything as the working

principle of all reality.

The will is the agent in all the inner and unconscious bodily functions,
the organism being in itself nothing but the will. In all natural forces the
active impulse is identical with the will. In all instances we find any
spontaneous movement or any primal forces, we must regard the inner
most essence as will. The Will reveals itself as a completely in a single
oak tree as in a million.68

For the fact that the Will is single and omnipresent in nature, it is manifested in the

impulse of human desire, in animal instinct, attraction, repulsion or gravitation; instead of

calling the pervasive force that permeates all of nature as ‘force’ or ‘energy’ he calls it the

Will because we gather its nature from our own experience of striving, therefore the

metaphysical Will is characterised as the ‘Will to live’ which for him is the same as the

Will.69 Upon the notice of nature’s concern for its species we immediately see how the

insect for example deposits its eggs where the larva may find nourishment OR birds that

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation vol. 1, trans. by E. F. J Payne (New York:
Dover, 1969), p.326
Barbara Hanna, The Riddle of the World: A Reconsideration of Schopenhauer’s Philosophy (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2009), p.119
Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems, 5th ed., (London: McGraw Hill Inc. 1994),
Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 7, p.273

build nest for their young which are not yet born; this whole series of animal instinct

expresses the omnipresence of the Will to live.70 Man is not also left out of this basically

within the milieu of modern inventions and technology, as all his strivings serve to sustain

him and bring an amount of additional comfort to motivators such as hunger, the need to

care for children, sexuality, shelter and personal security. Schopenhauer also considers the

desire of the will to entail suffering because, these human desires, which for him are

selfish, create constant conflict in the world and occur in a cyclical process, then if this is

the case there can be no satisfaction or happiness. His supremacy of the Will over reason 71

results in his qualification of the Will as a blind, irrational, directionless impulse, for this

reason there is no supremacy of the human individual over the brute since both are guided

and directed by the same impulse.

All that Schopenhauer tries to do is to show the invincibility of the Will in all of

nature as it supersedes reason; it also forms the background for his pessimism. The will

instead of being a sign of human freedom only illustrates how human beings are

imprisoned in this phenomenal world and are forced to experience the world’s suffering

and pain. This no doubt has practical consequences especially as it stands as an anti –

thesis to existentialism.
Schopenhauer’s ultimate question informs the reason for this section, and we can

immediately understand why he would ask this question since he has been beclouded by

James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (The Bruce Publishing Company, 1954),p.683
See Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems, 5th ed., p.350. He contends that intellectual
efforts can be sustained only for a short time and decline in strength but the will continues to without
interruption to sustain and support life. During dreamless sleep, the intellect does not work, whereas all the
organic functions of the body (the manifestation of the Will) continue.

his pessimism – what value does existence have? He responds to this question of his by

saying that, the value in existence is not and cannot be greater than non-existence would

have. He says
As regards the life of the individual, every life history is a history of
suffering for as a rule, every life is a continual series of mishaps, great
and small... At the end of his life, no man, if he be sincere and at the
same tie in possession of his faculties will ever wish to go through it
again, rather than this he will prefer to choose complete non-existence.72

The primal drive in nature is to live and the will to live continually sustains the

cycle of life by means of a fierce struggle where the will to live instigates a constant

conflict and destruction, it knows no cessation and Schopenhauer puts it “we are like a

man running downhill who cannot keep on his legs unless he runs on, and will fall if he

stops”73 meaning by that, we cannot reach a state of tranquillity or satisfaction. Man seeks

happiness, satisfaction, and enjoyment but cannot attain it even if he does, it is only

temporary because no sooner will it re-assert itself again just like someone taking a drive

at a roundabout will continue to meet his starting point unless he stops. There is no final

satisfaction neither can there be endless desire or striving.

All striving spring from want or deficiency, from dissatisfaction with
one’s own state or condition and is therefore suffering so long as it is not
satisfied. No satisfaction however is lasting; on the contrary it is always
merely the starting point of a fresh striving... That there is no ultimate
aim of striving means that there is no end of suffering.74

Occasionally, there is great satisfaction and happiness upon the achievement of a

large goal or long term project either in Nation building, industrial firm or individual

Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation vol. 1, p.324
Idem, Studies in Pessimism: A Series of Essays, 4th ed., trans. by T. Bailey Saunders, M.A (London: Swan
Sonnenschein and Co., 1893) p.35
Idem, The World as Will and Representation vol. 1, pp. 308-309

engagement but the pessimist admits that the happiness in particular, does not last but

those moments last, sweet and are made sweeter by the difficulty of their attainment. 75

Even though life can be pleasant for long stretches of time we cannot escape from pain

plagued by diseases, loneliness, injury, heartbreak, fear which are part of life. If life

inevitably contains suffering, then why should we strive at all knowing full well that it has

no aim? On this Schopenhauer’s pessimism concludes that life is a bad bargain owing to

the disproportion between pain and pleasure such that life becomes the investment of all

our strength for something that has no value. Since life is the hallmark of suffering

Schopenhauer affirms “unrest is the mark of existence” 76 and conceives of death as the

cessation of all suffering in life.

The concept of death is a fundamental adjunct in his metaphysical pessimism and

he interprets death as the aim and purpose of life, since to live is to suffer, the triumph of

death is definitely inevitable and existence is a constant dying owing to the fact that every

moment of life brings us one step closer to the abyss. 77 Although he regards death as the

purpose of life, he posits that death is only phenomenal and not an absolute annihilation;

he is holding out the possibility for an afterlife but not an afterlife for the empirical self.
Life ... may certainly be regarded as a dream and death as an awakening.
But then the personality, the individual, belongs to the dreaming and not
to the waking consciousness; and so death presents itself to the former as

Hanna, The Riddle of the World: A Reconsideration of Schopenhauer’s Philosophy p.123
Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism: A Series of Essays, p.35
Christopher Janaway, The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2006), p. 298

All life tends towards death and death is not an absolute extinction merely the end of

individual consciousness but not the underlying entity; in light of this Schopenhauer

postulates we need not fear death. Since to live is to suffer, it gets to a point when

prolonged life eventually makes and individual lose interest in life, he believes that the

acceptance of death is a form of release from this misery. Although his metaphysical

thought gives supremacy to death, he vehemently rejects suicide.

If life has death as its aim and purpose, then why should not every enlightened

consciousness destroy itself in order to escape the suffering of the individual will and

achieve life’s purpose more quickly and deliberately?

In his essay On Suicide, Schopenhauer expresses his temperament towards the

monotheistic religion as having no logical grounds for the condemnation of suicide, he

As far as I know, none but the votaries of monotheistic, that is to say,
Jewish religion looks upon suicide as crime. This is all the more striking
in as much as neither in the Old nor New Testament is there to be found
any prohibition or positive disapproval of it ... they have no biblical
authority to boast of, as justifying their condemnation of suicide nay not
even philosophical arguments that will hold water; it must be understood
that it is arguments that we want...79

The ‘will to live’ is the informant of all suffering there are in the world, so while death is a

denial of the ‘will to live’, suicide for him is the contrary, being an unworthy affirmation

of the will to live. The individual who commits suicide does not cease willing but ceases

to live and in ceasing to live, the will affirms itself through the cessation of its own

phenomenon, total elimination of consciousness. If a person, driven by the burdens of

Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism: A Series of Essays, pp.43-44

existence seeks the termination of human misery in the phenomenal world, then suicide

does not qualify as the proper method because for him, the death of the individual does

not affect the Will in any way. How then does suicide affirm the will to live?
Suicide, the arbitrary doing away with the individual phenomenon
differs most widely from the denial of the will to live... Far from being
denial, suicide is a phenomenon of the Will’s strong affirmation, for
denial has its essential nature in the fact that the pleasures of life not its
sorrows are shunned. The suicide wills life and is dissatisfied merely
with the conditions on which it has come to him. Therefore he gives up
by no means the will to live, but merely life since he destroys the
individual phenomenon.80

Schopenhauer considers suicide as a foolish and unfounded action because

whether we choose to bring death through suicide or not, the finality of life is an

inevitable reality on the one hand, and on the other, suffering which the individual seeks to

escape through death has the ability to confer salvation on the individual by quietening his

desires, pleasures and withdrawing him from the false attachment to the phenomenal Will.

At death, the phenomenal individual is destroyed but what remains unscathed is the single

noumenal will; suicide fails to get at the root cause of the evils and sufferings of life.
It is clear that the main principles that underlie Schopenhauer’s treatment of this

matter is situated in his metaphysical pessimism definitely not without reference to

Platonic ideology as a key aspect of his ontology of the Will which makes him conceive of

suicide as an act attacking only particular circumstances – the frustrating conditions of

suffering rather than the very Will itself. In other that his thesis be complete, he offers the

means by which individuals can actually seek freedom from the sufferings of the will,

Janaway, The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer, p.306

which is not to will death and wilfully destroy the self but to continue to live while

quelling the Will. How?

Human beings can achieve some moment of happiness if there is a way to

condense the passion of human desires. In the bid to relieve the frustrations of constant

desire, Schopenhauer is of the view that a more universalistic perspective will heal the

fleeting satisfaction that characterize daily life; he speculates a denial of the will to live as

a reliever while still in existence. Through Ethics and Aesthetics, that is, through

asceticism (the denial of our passion and desires) on the one hand, and through aesthetic

contemplation of artistic beauty on the other hand, Schopenhauer says, we will sedate the

will to live.


Schopenhauer considers fine arts in general including architecture, sculpture,

painting, poetry and literature to represent Platonic ideas which are aspects of the Will

itself that transcend the conditions of space and time and the domain of sufficient reason.

If these Platonic ideas transcend sufficient reason, then how possible can the cognitive

subject grasp these ideas through the spatio-temporal objects? To this, Schopenhauer says

that, the quality of the subject of experience must correspond to quality of the object of

experience, therefore, in the state of aesthetic perception, where the objects are universal,

the subjects must likewise become universal. In that process, the subject of perception

abandons the principle of sufficient reason and approaches the object through intuition,

then there is a sudden transformation of the subject from a phenomenal individual into a

pure subject of knowledge, that is, the object forgets about his individuality and becomes

the clear mirror of the object; a pure, will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.81
Schopenhauer believed that while all people were in thrall to the Will, the quality

and intensity of their subjection differed. He gives particular recognition to the

personality of the artist because he is less subject to Will. The artist does not learn through

experience what is beautiful (for example) in nature so that he can imitate it but he has an

a-priori knowledge of a special kind that makes him creative of a beautiful work. The

artist is endowed with the capacity to remain in the state of pure perception and produces

what is essential to an object, that is, the Platonic ideas (in this case the idea of beauty).

Such a person was a Schopenhauerian genius, a person who can retain his contemplative

attitude long enough to be so fixed on their art that they neglect the worries of life. 82 The

artist contemplates these Platonic ideas, creates a work that portrays them in a way that it

is accessible and through this communicates the universalistic vision to ‘those who lack

the power to see through and rise above the ordinary world of spatio-temporal objects.’83
For every other individual to attain this state of pure perception they must

appreciate and contemplate the works of art; this means that the subject in contemplation

detaches himself from the individual will to concentrate on the ideal essence of the object.

The contemplation on the object of aesthetic temporarily allows the subject a respite from

the strife of desire, and allows the subject to enter a realm of purely mental enjoyment. 84

Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, vol. 2., p.210
Helen Zimmern, Arthur Schopenhauer, His Life and His Philosophy (London: Longmans, Green and Co.,
1876), p.98
The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2009 ed., s.v “Arthur Schopenhauer” by Robert Wicks
Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation vol. 1, p.233

Implicit in this opinion of Schopenhauer is the awesome perplexity of how an individual

whose essence is willing can cease to will and how a pure will-less contemplation is

achieved through aesthetic perception? He states that although we are part of the will, it is

possible to have a kind of disconnection from willing which occurs momentarily in

aesthetic experience and permanently in ascetic denial of the will. On how we become a

will-less subject during aesthetic contemplation, he says

As pure subjects of knowing delivered from the miserable self we
become entirely one with the objects ... Then the world as representation
alone remains and the world as will disappears.85

The central point ramified in his teaching of the escape from the will through

aesthetic experience is that, since the will is the inner nature of things and from his

ontology of the will, it is the source of suffering in the world, through aesthetic

contemplation, the world as will is eradicated and replaced by the world as representation.

Total absorption in the world as representation prevents a person from suffering the world

as will. Art diverts the subject’s attention from the grave everyday world and lifts him or

her into a world that consists of mere play of images. As constituting art, he has in mind

the traditional five fine arts namely, Music, architecture, sculpture, painting, and poetry

and his account of the visual and literary arts corresponds to the world as representation

which had their value in the extent to which they incorporated pure perceptions. But,

these forms of arts were inferior to music, which being purely abstract, was to

Schopenhauer the highest and best form of human artistry. Music is given a special status

in Schopenhauer's aesthetics as it did not rely upon the medium of phenomenal

Ibid., p.199

representation and it artistically presents the will itself, not the way it appears to the

observing individual.
Schopenhauer's aesthetics as an attempt to break out from the suffering of this

world is premised on his belief that what distinguished aesthetic experiences from other

experiences is that the contemplation of the object of aesthetic appreciation temporarily

allows the subject a break from the strife of desire. This happens only fleetingly and does

not pose a total freedom from the source of suffering, not until this is achieved, the

individual continues to linger in the flames of pain in this phenomenal world, thus his

second avenue which seems to be a total denial of the will exhumes.

3.5.2 Transcendence through Asceticism
Asceticism is usually associated with monks and monasteries focusing on the

essentials of self sacrifice, renunciation and detachment from bodily desires, inculcating

spiritual discipline and self purification. The influence of Buddhism and Hinduism spurs

Schopenhauer to recognise that suffering can be reduced by minimizing one’s desires and

not until the extinction of the ego is accomplished, the highest ethical goal cannot be

attained. Therefore as one of the ways to overcome suffering and to achieve a prolonged

gratification, he advocates for asceticism, ‘an austere life style that abates earthly

pleasures and cravings.

Asceticism separates us from all objects of the individual will to live – desires and

passion such that once we detach ourselves from our desires we render them useless and

vain. Through continuous disengagement from them we attain the zenith of detachment

whence thereof we become ‘a pure will-less subject of knowledge that regards the world

in an unconcerned and uninvolved manner’.86 Since he subscribes to asceticism, he

declares that the highest degree of asceticism is the voluntary death through starvation for

the reason that asceticism completely renounces the ‘will to live’ to the point that

starvation becomes a choice in which the will cannot further express itself in the form of

physical yearning or appetite. Nevertheless, asceticism quells the power of our desires

and a feeling of freedom ensues upon the realization that all these desires are but only an

To deny the ‘will to live’, is not to say that the Will is destroying itself, but only

saying that a more universal manifestation of the Will is overpowering a less universal

manifestation, that is, the physically-embodied aspect; but the Will as a whole is set

against itself wherein one manifestation of the Will fights against another manifestation,

like the divided bulldog ant87. From a related angle, the ascetic's struggle is a struggle

against the forces of violence and evil, which, owing to Schopenhauer's acceptance and

interpretation of Kant's epistemology, locates these forces significantly within human

nature itself. When the ascetic transcends human nature, the ascetic resolves the problem

of evil, pain and sorrow of this world.

Schopenhauer, despite his earlier criticism, is highly delighted in Christianity

because for him Christianity brings about the awareness that life is not good but

essentially suffering exemplified in the cross as a great symbol of torture and execution.

For those who have tried to transform Christianity into a life affirming religion, they have

Robert Wicks, Schopenhauer, (United Kingdom: Blackwell Publication Ltd., 2008), p.130
See Robert Wicks, Schopenhauer, p.95

mis-understood the essence of Christianity as a life denying religion. 88 The one who like

the saints and the enlightened ones in all religious traditions adopt asceticism, “in order

that by constant privation and suffering he may more and more break down and kill the

Will that he recognizes and abhors as the source of his own suffering and of the world’s.”89
However the inconsistencies there in, the point Schopenhauer draws out is the

intuitive conviction that our will in its expression through our manifold desires, is itself

the source of all unhappiness and insatiability, so when the will is denied we become

nothing, a will-less subject. In ceasing to will the individual overcomes what he calls the

original sin of existence (suffering), and becomes nothing even without dying.

Hanna, The Riddle of the World: A Reconsideration of Schopenhauer’s Philosophy, p.138
Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation vol. 1, p.382

This chapter is exceptionally concerned with raising objections to the irregularities

in Schopenhauer’s vision and to do this effectively, it is important to keep in mind the

bedrock of his thesis which is situated in his re-conceptualization of ‘Will’, as different

from the understanding of Will as the faculty of choice. With this in mind, a proper

direction is enacted in order to tackle the problem from the root firstly, before

deconstructing the edifice.

The belief of Schopenhauer seems to be that the Will is the thing-in-itself and that

humans can have a kind of access to it through experiencing their own acts of will; ‘the

world is my will’. Does Schopenhauer solve the problem of articulating the thing-in-itself

as being identical to the will? It is clear that the acts of will are temporal events, while the

thing-in-itself belongs to the a temporal realm (beyond time). If the will is identical to all

individual wills, to Platonic essences and ultimately to appearances, then there must be

some way of clarifying the possibility of how an a-temporal unison becomes temporal;

there must be accounts for the way a single a-temporal thing-in-itself breaks into a

plurality of temporal acts of will, but Schopenhauer does not solve this problem.
His Pessimism consists of a descriptive claim that all of life is suffering and a

consequent evaluative claim that life ought not to be. This shoots from his qualification of

the will as a blind, irrational and evil impulse. But if we question this recommendation,

can it actually be the case; is the will really blind? If the will is really blind, then it is

directionless, purposeless, and fruitless. Although he asserts that the will is blind and

dumb, he nonetheless evaluates it morally, meaning by that, the will must have some

capacity for self direction and some goal in expressing itself in phenomena 90 which is

contrary to his earlier claims on the will. Taken from another perspective, it is also the

case that human motives do require some knowledge before they can issue an action, in

the sense that, the individual must realise and be aware of the goal or ends which he seeks

as satisfying the will’s demand. The interplay between reason and will is expressed in this

process and through evaluative judgements the will (depends on knowledge) is

purposively executed, therefore the will cannot entirely be blind or dumb.91

Another clear objection to his pessimistic view dwells especially in the use of the

terms, ‘willing’ and ‘suffering’. He adduces that, satisfaction or happiness is always

relative to prior dissatisfaction; satisfaction is temporary and leads to further discontent;

the sum of feelings of displeasure is likely to be greater than the sum of pleasure. The

whole point here is clearly made by Georg Simmel that Schopenhauer fails to recognise

that there is happiness along the route from striving to attainment before its terminus,

when he says
Expected happiness is truly experienced ... and the will’s progress
towards attainment is attended by a more pleasurable situation than a
more painful one.92

It is true we often feel positive enjoyment at the prospect of attaining something

we actually lack, taking due consideration of the action through which we strive to

eradicate this lack, may also be pleasurable. Happiness is therefore to be conceived as real

Julian Young, Schopenhauer (London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2005), p.83
Georg Simmel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, trans. by Helmunt Loiskandi, Deena Weinstein and Michael
Weinstein, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), p.55

rather than illusory for even Schopenhauer must have been happy upon the completion of

his great work or upon the revelation of the thing-in-itself or again to have found out that

the source of all evil in the world is man’s own desire.

An implicit claim in his pessimism is the stark form of hedonism which he adopts

that only pleasures can give life any value – something adds value to life if and only if it

involves a felt pleasure, while something adds negativity or no value to life if and only if it

involves a felt pain. This is questionable in a number of ways thus we ask; are felt

pleasures and pains the determiners of contributors of value? Schopenhauer’s view is that

each suffering drains away some or even all of the values from life which nothing can

restore but Nietzsche’s attitude to the same description is diametrically opposed. Nietzsche

asserts that suffering is not an objection to life but a sign of strength and greatness of

character to affirm one’s suffering as an integral element in one’s life. 93 This suggests that

people’s lives can make sense to them partly because of their suffering not in spite of

Although he claims that existence is never worth more that non-existence, his

disapproval of suicide rests on the grounds that suicide is a phenomenon of the will’s

strong affirmation and it gives up by no means the will to life. Firstly, the principle of

contradiction (or non-contradiction) faults Schopenhauer’s proposition because suicide is

a form of death and should bring about the goal of life but the contrary is the case for him

which already negates his first premise that the aim and purpose of life is death. He

Janaway, The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer, p.335
See Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, trans. by R. J Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books,
1990), p.56

nevertheless tries to make a point; instead of suicide we can live but in some sense

become detached from willing – a denial of the will to live through asceticism and

aesthetic contemplation.
The ascetic starvation of the self to death occurs by no means other than an extra-

ordinary act of the will but for Schopenhauer, it is a total suppression of the will. He later

opts for determinism when he says

Everyman being what he is and placed in the circumstance which for the
moment obtain... can absolutely never do anything else than just what at
that moment he does. Accordingly, the whole course of man’s life in all
its incidents, great and small, is as necessarily pre-determined as the
course of a clock.95

The individual empirical will or ‘will to live’ is a representation of the will as thing-in-

itself, then if this is true, nothing anyone chooses or chooses not to do can be attributed to

the individual in question. This invariably means the denial of the will needed in order to

starve to death cannot occur as a result of the wilful decision of the ascetic. The obvious

objection here surfaces because if the act (denial of the will through starvation) is not

deliberately chosen, if it were not the result of a conscious decision, then in what sense

can it be meaningfully attributed to the character of the ascetic? The primacy of freewill in

the choice of available options is not inclusive in Schopenhauer’s ontology of the will

which makes it difficult to take responsibility of individual actions.

Schopenhauer privileges the aesthetic state inhabited by artists and approximately

by contemplative audiences because it provides access to essences of things. Why he

postulates this is because, individual consciousness is interested in grasping only those

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘Freewill and Fatalism’ in On Human Nature: Essays (London: Allen and Unwin,
1951), p.48

properties necessary for survival, but in aesthetic contemplation, consciousness loses itself

in the object abandons its own purpose and discovers the essence of the object. 96 Art

therefore transcends passion and appetites, transforming its creator and audience into will-

less, timeless subject of knowledge. Implicit in this conception is the awesome perplexity

of how an individual whose essence is wiling could cease to will and how a pure will-less,

timeless contemplation is achieved through aesthetic perception? If we aesthetically

contemplate a cup for example, it becomes contradictory to maintain that our experience

has no time element and it is implausible to claim that we are unaware of the cup’s

particular details. While perceiving the cup’s essence, we cannot apprehend it in the bleak

or ex nihilo but through the individual cup that is before us.

Since individuality does not dissolve completely in aesthetic perception, it is only

logical to conclude that no one can become a pure disembodied subject or have a timeless

experience97. It appeals more to say that in aesthetic experience our individuality, pain and

sense of time is somewhat submerged in the background during the experience than

clinging to the faux ideology of timeless, will-less subjects.98 To recall Kant’s theory, we

directly perceive an object that has inter subjectively invariant qualities (for example

figure and motion) along with subjectively variable qualities (colour, taste sound) within a

spatio-temporal realm.99
Schopenhauer should have earlier seen the great ditch he dug for himself when he

subscribed to determinism that eventually chains his theories of denial through asceticism

Young, Schopenhauer, pp.108 - 113
Wicks, Schopenhauer, p.98
Lawhead, The Voyage of Discovery: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy, 2nd ed., pp.331-334

and aesthetics in the dark of plausibility. His claim that character is determined is

tantamount to asserting that people cannot transform themselves firstly by appreciating the

work of arts and secondly by withdrawing from the will through asceticism, how then

does he expect them to bring about relief from this misery?

In conclusion, pessimism is a self fulfilling prophecy as it holds that, if something

is bad, it is more likely to get worse in degree. Accepting pessimism is an injury to hope

either for us as individuals or for the human race as a whole by activating a stop to all

forms of trials and strivings to actualize the better. Suicide is evenly perpetuated by a

pessimistic view as it conceals in its pinions any and all element of hope postulating the

only viable option as extinction.

Should suicide be rejected because according to Schopenhauer, is not a denial of

the will to live but only a mere surrender of life OR should it be rejected on the basis of a

natural law? The obvious contention here is the metaphysical rejection of suicide posed

by Schopenhauer in contrast to the categorical imperative of Kant. The former view has

been jettisoned and it means that the latter option has to be subscribed to. Kant believed in

an objective right and wrong based on reason, we should do the right thing just because it

is right and not because it promotes our desires or self-interest. We know what is right,

not by relying on moral intuitions or facts about the world, but by reasoning about what

we can consistently will. A good will is good, not because of its attainment of some

proposed end, but simply by virtue of the volition; that is, it is good in itself.
Kant’s theory of the goodwill and the categorical imperative gives a more sound

philosophical ground to the rejection of suicide. We recall the definition of suicide

formulated in the first chapter, as an act devoid of coercion but resultant from

intentionality, thus in the midst of all possible sufferings and pains, suicide cannot be a

therapy for humanity to inculcate based on moral law.

In an article ‘On Suicide’ published over the internet by Andrey Shcherbakov,

upon observation he notes

About 60,000 Russians decide to bid farewell to life at their own will
every year. The number of suicide incidents in Moscow alone reaches 30
occurrences daily, although they end with five or six lethal outcomes, as
a rule. It has been registered over the recent several years that the
majority of Russian self-murderers are educated, intelligent and creative
individuals. Psychologists, fans and everyone else in general were
shocked to know that creatively successful and financial secure persons
decided to kill themselves at the peak of their carriers. Specialists tried
to explain it with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as with
psychological frustration and nervous breakdowns, which artists and
writers could probably experience. However, their deaths will remain
mysterious forever100

Of great importance and worthy to note, is the reason why individuals who were not

troubled by pain and misery would opt for suicide. Schopenhauer might be wrong on this

when he claims that only those who were susceptible to suffering sought suicide as a

means to an end, but even those who enjoy the comforts of life seek the same ‘plague’.
Another pointer is the immoral formation of the conscience and the will of those

individuals who engage in suicide and this is exactly what the moral theory of Kant sets

out to correct in totality. Boredom of life rather than suffering has been detected to be the

leading cause of inconvenience in the case of the individuals cited above. This is the point

where we can appreciate Schopenhauer’s theory of aesthetics and especially of music. In

aesthetic contemplation, we for that moment eradicate all forms of boredom and lighten

See the website link

up the emotions to a state of ecstasy, but this is strictly to be done in the light of this essay

as it re-understands Schopenhauer’s concept of aesthetic experience101. To recall the

phrase from above without ambiguity it reads:

It appeals more to say that in aesthetic experience our individuality, pain
and sense of time is somewhat submerged in the background during the
experience than clinging to the faux ideology of timeless, will-less

Having attempted a resolution to the boredom, suffering and pain experienced in

this phenomenal world by individuals as arousing the need for suicide, there is no logical

and moral grounds for anyone to wilfully terminate his life. The sanctity and respect of

life must be upheld as a duty of every individual to himself as espoused by the categorical

imperative of Kant.

See Wicks Schopenhauer, pp.105-111

We have now reached the point of making the concluding remarks. All along, the

concern has been to situate our arguments against suicide on logical grounds other than

sentiments of whatever kind. Schopenhauer had done a great deal to the project of

attempting to deconstruct the adherence and subscription to suicide as a means of relief to

the sufferings of this world. He must be accredited for that singular act; despite his

pessimism he intends to bring about some ‘good’ by tendering arguments to flaw suicide

as a therapy. Although he tries to do this, we have seen his vicious circle which robes him

to a halt.
The categorial imperative of Kant calls for a recourse basically for the singular

reason that Schopenhauerian metaphysics is generated against Kantian background but

stands in opposition to it. Metaphysical rejection of suicide is unreal as expressed in

Schopenhauer, on the contrary, moral reason allows realistic endeavour against suicide.

Every human person with life has a purpose and role in the structure of reality which

cannot be replaced by other mode of existence. Upon the treatment of life with scorn and

disrespect, the call to duty, devoid of sentiments, utilitarian purpose or inclination sounds

to form and transform the conscience of such an individual. Exceptional about the

categorial imperative is its sporadic power which not only announces the duty to oneself

but also from oneself to others. We therefore have a duty towards ourselves and to the


Although Schopenhauer’s metaphysics did not successfully conjure tenable

arguments, his ideologies have practical implications for the world, but firstly they have

to be refined and re-understood. The world is plagued with materialism at a maddening

level such that satiety is far from reach. He probably was right (in a sense) when he says

that our desires are the cause of the evils and pains. He should be accorded some dignity

upon foreseeing this evil of materialism. His theory of detachment finds relevance in the

milieu of materialism and secularism which prides itself in the acts of men to the

detriment of values; this explains why he aligns with the saint’s ascetic denial.
The global economic meltdown resulting from credit crunch from February 2007

to the present dispensation, is a problem triggered by liquidity crisis in the United States

banking system and caused by the overvaluation of assets. It has resulted in the collapse of

large financial institutions, the bailout of banks by national governments and downturns in

stock markets around the world. In many areas, the housing market has also suffered,

resulting in numerous evictions, foreclosures and prolonged vacancies. The individual’s

need and satisfaction is usually regulated by the society. Suicide rates tend to rise in times

of economic recession and depression. Durkheim noted first that financial crises led to an

immediate rise in the suicide rates, documenting this with the examples from Vienna 1873,

and when the number of bankruptcies rose in a society the suicide rates also increased.102
In the final analysis, our temporal human desires which cannot be satisfied

because they are simply insatiable especially in the midst of the economic crisis, is an

affective factor to accentuate suicide predominantly in the western world. Within this
David Leister and Bijou Yang, The Economy and Suicide: Economic Perspective on Suicide (New York:
Nova Publishers, 1997), p.14

mishap, where does this essay stand especially in relation to its pragmatic value? That is

exactly the point; the boredom and pains of this life are not enough to terminate existence

instead it can be curbed. Optimism is a veritable theory to instil some measure of hope not

just at the mental level but at the practical level too by instigating one into the actions

through which a better state of mind can be actualised.

Existentialism’s concentration is not so much of man’s achievements of

institutions but focuses on the human person, the individual’s quandaries, choices and

verdicts. Existentialists assert the significance of personal existence and decisions even in

the midst of the world that appears meaningless and absurd, therefore, men must at all

times, create their own table of values for the determination of their course of action that

it may be similar to Kierkegaard’s notion of authentic life, which is made possible by

human freedom and reasonable choice.

For the moment once again, the doctrine of aesthetics, (if properly re- understood

in its refined state as exposed by this essay) temporarily eases off the misery in this world,

thus we can situate Schopenhauer’s philosophy as of primal relevance to this pitiable

state. Therefore it is plausible to say that the categorial imperative of Kant as issuing from

a goodwill, in combination with the refined understanding of Schopenhauer’s denial and

aesthetics, stand as a veritable measure to relinquish suicidal acts.


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