‘A Steady Contempt of Life’: Suicide Narratives in Hume and Others

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 10 (1):51-68 (2012)


In a letter of 1746, David Hume tells of the suicide of his kinsman Major Forbes. While Hume's account overtly presents the major's suicide as heroic, incorporating allusions to the Ajax of Sophocles and the lives of noble Romans such as Cato, the narrative context in which he places it, and the nature of narrative itself, call the wisdom of the act into question. In his essay ‘Of Suicide’, written a few years later, Hume largely avoids narrative examples. However, the small number of historical cases to which he does allude, and an implied narrative of suicide that emerges from context he supplies in passing, diminish the rhetorical force of his argument.

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References found in this work

The Theory of Moral Sentiments.Adam Smith - 1759 - Dover Publications.
Tusculan Disputations.Marcus Tullius Cicero & J. E. King - 1927 - W. Heinemann G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Phaedo.David Gallop (ed.) - 1975 - Oxford University Press.

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