Tom Flynn takes issue with Jennifer Michael Hecht’s view of suicide in her latest book, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. Her view is what the title indicates: you’re not allowed to.
Tom admires her writing, but remains unconvinced.
Make no mistake, Stay is compellingly written—I don’t think Hecht is capable of writing other than marvelously—so why couldn’t her book change my views? Stay has multiple difficulties, but its fatal problem is straightforward: while many naturalistic thinkers have offered arguments against suicide, and Hecht marshals them skillfully—who knew that apostle of liberty, John Stuart Mill, thought people lacked the right to end their lives?—the most powerful naturalistic arguments about suicide uphold its licitness. Period. Candidly, Humean self-ownership alone is almost impossible to trump.
I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know what the arguments are, but I can think of some exceptions to Humean self-ownership on this point – or maybe it’s not some but just one. I think parents of young children should bend every nerve to at least postpone suicide. Parents of young children don’t really own themselves fully – which is why some people don’t want to be parents; it’s why it can be so hard even for people who do want to be parents; it’s why abortion rights are so fundamental.
Tom goes on to argue that there is no genuine naturalistic argument against suicide. I’m not so sure. I think suicides have ripple effects on the people who knew or even knew of the suicider, and that those effects can be added up to a naturalistic argument against suicide. It may not be a conclusive argument, but I think there are things that can be said.