What is suicide? Classifying self-killings

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 23 (4):717-733 (2020)
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Although the most common understanding of suicide is intentional self-killing, this conception either rules out someone who lacks mental capacity being classed as a suicide or, if acting intentionally is meant to include this sort of case, then what it means to act intentionally is so weak that intention is not a necessary condition of suicide. This has implications in health care, and has a further bearing on issues such as assisted suicide and health insurance. In this paper, I argue that intention is not a necessary condition of suicide at all. Rather, I develop a novel approach that deploys the structure of a homicide taxonomy to classify and characterise suicides to arrive at a conceptually robust understanding of suicide. According to my analysis of suicide, an agent is the proximate cause of his death. Suicide is ‘self-killing,’ rather than ‘intentional self-killing.’ Adopting this understanding of suicide performs several functions: We acquire an external standard to assess diverging analyses on specific cases by appealing to homologous homicides. Following such a taxonomy differentiates types of suicides. This approach has application in addressing negative connotations about suicide. As a robust view, adding intention is an unnecessary complication. It is more consistent with psychological and sociological assessments of suicide than ‘intentional self-killing.’ It has useful applications in informing public policy. This paper’s focus is on classifying types of suicides, rather than on the moral permissibility or on underlying causes of suicidal ideation and behaviour.



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Citations of this work

Suicide.Michael Cholbi - 2012 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The Rationality of Suicide and the Meaningfulness of Life.Michael Cholbi - 2022 - In Iddo Landau (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Meaning in Life. Oxford University Press. pp. 445-460.
Suicide and Homicide: Symmetries and Asymmetries in Kant’s Ethics.Suzanne E. Dowie - 2022 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 25 (4):715-728.

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References found in this work

Active and Passive Euthanasia.James Rachels - 1975 - In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Exploring Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology. Oxford University Press.
A Kantian Defense of Prudential Suicide.Michael Cholbi - 2010 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 (4):489-515.
What is It to Commit Suicide?Daniel J. Hill - 2011 - Ratio 24 (2):192-205.

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