Schopenhauer on the Futility of Suicide

Mind (forthcoming)
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Schopenhauer repeatedly claims that suicide is both foolish and futile. But while many commentators have expressed sympathy for his charge of foolishness, most regard his charge of futility as indefensible even within his own system. In this paper, I offer a defense of Schopenhauer’s futility charge, based on metaphysical and psychological considerations. On the metaphysical front, Schopenhauer’s view implies that psychological connections extend beyond death. Drawing on Parfit’s discussion of personal identity, I argue that those connections have personal significance, such that suicide does not allow one, as Hamlet hopes, simply “not to be.” On the psychological front, I argue that a distinction between agents’ intentions and underlying desires makes room for Schopenhauer to claim that paradigmatic suicidal agents ultimately desire the opposite of what suicide accomplishes. I conclude by showing how the resulting account of futility can buttress the charge of foolishness as well. My interpretation still leaves Schopenhauer vulnerable to certain objections, but shows that his account is significantly more defensible than previous commentators have realized.

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Colin Marshall
University of Washington

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.Timothy D. Wilson - 2002 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Dark Matters: Pessimism and the Problem of Suffering.Mara van der Lugt - 2021 - Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Schopenhauer: A Biography.David E. Cartwright - 2010 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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