Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Review of Victor Cosculluela's The Ethics of Suicide

This book presents a rather comprehensive look at the ethical issues surrounding suicide. It starts normally enough with a refutation of all the standard arguments against suicide, like the "religious" argument and the "unnatural" arguments. Then there is a chapter on the standard philosophical arguments against suicide. Especially good is the few pages on Kant. Kant is notorious for his bad examples of great theories. Suicide is one of them. There is a good treatment of it there. Arguments from the value of human rights and other-regarding arguments are then dispensed with.

The book is unabashedly anti any argument that makes suicide immoral. Rightfully so, I believe. The discussion of permissible and obligatory suicide is somewhat lacking. I think that there could be a lot more force in these arguments. For example, I think that there is a lot more to say about the people-as-their-own-property argument. I believe there is a lot to be said for the fact that people have the right to do to themselves as they wish on the justification that they have ownership rights in themselves.

There is also a chapter in the role of others in suicide. May others prevent suicide? May others facilitate suicide a suicide? And a host of other questions. They are dealt with well. Nothing ends up being as simple as anyone would like.

There are two other notable features of the book. Schopenhauer and Camus have views on suicide, and it is good to see them so easily dismissed. They are pretty ridiculous, and are shown to be so quite easily.

Finally there is a straightforward but useful appendix on a definition of suicide. The final result is a small modification of an older definition.

All in all a good book. There is little brilliance in the book, as it is all very straight forward. I think I was hoping for more, but I suspect that it is not the fault of the author. The subject is just not that hard. There is still plenty to be said about the topic. Hume, as usual did not have the last word, and neither did Cosculluela. There are many new issues that involve suicide, and there is more philosophy to come.