“«If You Want To Kill Yourself…» – For a Critique of Suicidal Reason” – Julio CABRERA

(n.t.) Nota do Tradutor, nr. 23, special illustrated edition («Suicidário»), 2021, pp. 12-58. Transl. by Rodrigo Menezes.

An unpublished essay by Argentinian-born, Brazilian-based philosopher Julio Cabrera, internationally renowned for his studies on negative ethics, and considered one of the most important South American representatives of contemporary Antinatalism, a movement anticipated by his Projeto de ética negativa (1989), in which the immorality of procreation had already been approached. The essay sums up the system of negative bioethics developed by Cabrera throughout his works, in books such as Crítica de la moral afirmativa (2104, 2nd edition), Mal-estar e moralidade (2018), and Discomfort and Moral Impediment (2019).

Unlike traditional approaches to suicide which used to place it within the thesis of the intrinsic goodness of life, the philosopher introduces the question of suicide within the antinatalist context. That implies inquiring if, once we accept that human life is not good—but at most bearable—and that procreation is morally problematic (Antinatalism’s main thesis), it may or may not follow immediate suicide. The text supports the idea that suicide is an actual possibility of life, one that is logically plausible and ethically defensible, a possibility that may be fulfilled immediately, or afterwards, or never. Such fulfillment takes place when the frictions of the terminal structure of life, acquired at birth, prevail altogether over the intramundane creation of positive values, thus making life unbearable. This pessimistic and antinatalist approach rescues suicide from its supposed “enigma”, thus contributing to the humanization of suicide.

The essay consists in a genuine Critique in the Kantian sense (Kritik), a philosophical theory – in the intersection of ontology, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics – aiming to determine the limits and conditions of possibility of suicide as a choice of life and (voluntary) death that is ethically justified. Ontology: discussing suicide requires discussing birth in the first place, the structure of the world and especially of human life, in its constitutive terminality. Epistemology: the reasons for suicide are just as comprehensible, and just as opaque, as the will to continue living at any cost. Ethics: the decision to put an end to one’s life belongs exclusively to each one, who always has the final word. Politics: the choice for suicide should be understood and accepted, without condemnation or appraisal. Esthetics: it takes reflecting upon one’s own death, according to Ronald Dworkin’s inspired words (quoted by Cabrera), as “a play’s last scene or a poem’s last stanza on the entire creative work”.

Assuming that the task of philosophy is to turn the world and human life upside down, challenging its conventions and examining its very structure, against common sense, Cabrera breaks down atavistic prejudices and taboos, arguing—turning Kant against himself—that, whereas there is no moral imperative according to which one must live at any cost, there is indeed, on the other hand, the imperative according to which one must be willing to die whenever morality thus demands. Returning to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s famous Praise, it is folly alone that makes us persevere in life despite everything, and such continuity may be as morally dignified as the choice for voluntary death. In an illuminating dialectical tension with great thinkers of the European philosophical tradition, such as Augustine, Erasmus, Kant, and Sartre, this Critique of Suicidal Reason is an essential philosophical contribution to the —“all too human”—question of suicide. The first part of the essay title, “If you want to kill yourself…”, is the title of a poem by Fernando Pessoa (quoted by Cabrera).

Rodrigo Menezes

“If you want to kill yourself…”
For a Critique of Suicidal Reason

Julio Cabrera

1. The fundamental bioethical problem is birth, whether procreating is morally good or not. Abortion, heterocide and suicide are derived problems. Before questioning the morality of suicide, we must inquire intothe morality of procreation.

2. There was a German philosopher who once said that philosophy is the world upside down. According to the prevailing ideas, life has a positive value, procreating is a generous act, the mother-child relationship is the paradigm of a moral relation and taking one’s own life is the most abominable act. The philosopher has arguments to demonstrate that the value of life is problematic, that procreating entails serious moral problems, that the mother-child relationship is selfish, and that suicide may be more moral an act than to continue living unconditionally.

3. In my books, I have thoroughly addressed the issue concerning the sensible and the moral value of human life.[1] That argument contains an initial premise: a human life has a structure. Life is not a bunch of elements that can be “good” or “bad” depending on the perspective. My argument does not accentuate the “bad aspects” of life—as it is usually said—but points to a structure which is systematicallyadverseto humans.

4. This structure of human life is composed of three elements:

(a) Life is terminal since birth. Death is not an adventitious phenomenon, but it is embedded within the being who is born.

(b) Such terminal life does not run smooth, it is frictioned, subject to frictions. They may be summed up in three types: pain, discouragement, and moral impediment (illnesses, accidents, natural andsocial catastrophes, psychic depressions, andaggression from other human beings, from small gossip to ruthless persecutions).

(c) Third: humans are equipped with psychological and biological mechanisms to cope with the frictions of the terminality of their being. They are forced to create positive values with the purpose of postponing the consummation of the frictioned terminality, until they are finally defeated by it at any moment in their lives.

4.1. Works of art, technological devices, sports achievements, religions, and sublime philosophies are all cultural products made up by humans to cope with the daily progress of terminality.

4.2. If life were originally a good place to be, humans wouldn’t have tenaciously created other worlds, better ones, to live in.

5. Convinced of the existence of a City of God, Augustine of Hippo was immensely successful in his somber descriptions of the city of men. Human mortality cannot be good, since it was a divine punishment. Augustine writes: “Since all men, therefore, will to be happy, certainly if they will truly, then they also will to be immortal, for otherwise they could not be happy”.[2] If Augustine’s diagnosis is correct, it shall be universally so, even for those who don’t expect to enter the City of God.

6. The deterioration of life is not only sensible, but also moral. In a life that is terminal and subject to frictions from its very beginning, too short to take up projects and always threatened by catastrophes of all sorts, in a body that gets older day by day, living amid thousands of other human beings in the same adverse conditions, it becomes practically impossible to cultivate a genuinely moral life.

6.1. We are forced to struggle, to compete and to win, and we are obliged not to mind living in a society maintained by the slave-like labor of most people. To go on living, we must learn to cultivate a certain degree of moral insensitivity.

6.2. I have named this structural phenomenon the moral impediment: the impossibility of being ethical towards everyone in all our scenarios of action.[3]

7. The notion of ethics is a rather complex one, with many different formulations, but when it comes to a moral assessment of procreation two requirements may be deemed fundamental: not to cause harm to others and not to manipulate others. Both moral requirements are transgressed in procreation.

7.1. If every life that is born is marked by a frictioned, pressing, terminal structure, to be born is to be harmed, because it is thrown into the mortal, painful, discouraging, aggressive process which every human life consists of, whatever its contents happen to be.

7.2. Secondly, both in the case of a planned procreation as in the case of an “accidental” one, manipulation of the one who is born always takes place, be it due to an excess of projects, be it due to a lack of them. Having children is an extraordinary way of relieving the frictioned terminality of the progenitors.

8. If we are responsible and wish to lead a moral life, we should abstain from having children (without the need to be sexually abstinent). We should have the courage and the strength to bear the frictioned, terminal structure of our own being without the urge to generate other beings as a safeguard for the pain and emptiness of our own lives.

8.1. There isn’t a moral obligation to procreate. Furthermore, judging by the very structure of life, a moral obligation not to procreate would be more plausible.

8.2. Against the easy objection that, if such a maxim were to be universalized, humanity would disappear, it should be replied that the survival of mankind is not actually a moral demand, but a sensible one. Humanity should be willing to disappear if morality thus required.

9. What has been previously outlined describes the life environment in which it becomes possible to introduce the problem of suicide. This issue cannot be addressed in the present time as it was 40 years ago, when procreation had not yet been strictly questioned (my Projeto de Ética Negativa,[4] in which I had already addressed the moral problem of procreation, appeared in 1989, before the emergence of the antinatalist movement, consolidated by the publication of David Benatar’s book, in 2006).

9.1. If we accept the structural description of human life, and that procreation is harmful and manipulative, isn’t it equally immoral to continue living this life? If being born is immoral, can it be moral to go on living?

10. A life such as the one displayed by the structural description could never be “good” or “beautiful.” It can at best be kept on a bearable level by virtue of the efficacy of the positive values with which human beings manage to postpone the consummation of the terminality acquired at birth. Pleasures, joys, and achievements are terminal themselves, apart from being occasional, fleeting, and expensive (“unhappy happiness”, according to Augustine), and they take place within the frame of the merely bearable.

10.1. It is perfectly natural that humans sometimes experience discouragement by the fact of being inevitably and irreversibly embedded in a frictioned, terminal being that is bound to crush them at the time of its full consummation.  

10.2. Just as anguish is the pathos of openness to being (Heidegger), and nausea is the pathos of contingency (Sartre), discouragement is the pathos of the terminality of being.

10.3. Those who are depressed are right. Being is itself depressing.

11. A bearable life always keeps on the horizon the possibility of becoming, at any given time, unbearable, both in a sensible (in the form of pains and discouragements) as in a moral way (in the varied forms of moral impediment). To keep on living can turn out to be morally unworthy for us and harmful to others.

11.1. Intuitively, some will argue that it is it is rather exaggerated to judge life as merely ‘bearable’, when most people see it as good. But people in general manage to live by continuously repressing the frictioned terminality of their being, by means of a strong naturalization of physical, psychological, and moral suffering. Suffering ends up coinciding with the verybeing and it is lived naturally through the flow of life.

11.2. Most humans do not commit suicide, but most cannot live unless they find themselves under the protection of habits, manias and neuroses, consuming medicines and drugs or indulging in entertainment and feverish activities to keep them busy, and some of them eventually develop serious mental illnesses for not being able to adapt to a life that is always in a daily process of finishing.   

12. In the frame of this structural analysis of human life, the possibility of not going on living appears in a perfectly natural way. It is not only a logical possibility (non-contradictory), but also a real possibility in human life. A life given asymmetrically, having the structural properties mentioned above (frictioned terminality against which we are forced to fight until we are defeated), keeps within itself, as a perfectly plausible possibility, the will to put an end to it before its full consummation, whenever it becomes sensibly and/or morally unbearable according to the judgment of the affected.

12.1. The possibility of suicide arguably appears whenever the terminal structure of being strongly prevails over the values created within the world. On a pre-reflexive level, we accept to go on living while these values prevail over the structure. The slightest prevalence of the structure over positive values naturally brings to one’s mind the idea of suicide, even if it is immediately rejected.

12.2. Life may be regarded (if we are lucky) as a pleasant trip on a train that falls into an abyss at the terminal station. Nothing is more comprehensible than someone who wants to get off the train at an earlier station.

13. Kant establishes a major difference between the Suicide, the one who “intends to self-destruct”, and the one who dies risking their life for some noble cause.[5] But these limits are rather fuzzy. The one who kills himself before the tyrant’s soldiers arrive seems no less praise-worthy than the one who allows himself to be imprisoned and tortured and dies at the hands of others (such as the priest Pietro in Rossellini’s film, Rome, Open City, and thousands of people killed in dictatorships).

13.1. In the first case there was clearly an “intention to self-destruct”, but it was morally motivated. We might as well regard the first case as being more moral, because those in a torture session could lose their dignity altogether before finally being killed. What if they were set free after being tortured (as in the case of Winston in George Orwell’s 1984), could they still look at themselves in the mirror?

14. He who kills himself or lets himself be killed by another to save his dignity, due to a terminal disease, political persecution or any other circumstances that hinder a dignified life, commits a kind of suicide that is perfectly acceptable from a logical and moral standpoint.

14.1. On the contrary, he who chooses to perpetuate life at any cost is excluded from the higher moral principleof“going against oneself” when the moral demands of not harming and not manipulating so require.

14.2. If wanting to continue living indefinitely cannot be considered absolutely good from the moral point of view, not wanting to continue living indefinitely cannot be considered absolutely bad from the moral point of view.

15. In contemporary Antinatalism there are two positions concerning the preservation of one own’s life.

(A) A moderate position holds that a life not worth-starting may be worth-continuing if it can be kept within the limits of the bearable. For, once born, to die may be even worse than to go on living a life that should never have been started.

(B) A more radical position holds that a life not worth-starting is likewise not worth-continuing, thus advocating for immediate suicide.

15.1. Both positions oppose the traditional view of the total prohibition of suicide as an absolute moral evil. However, whereas for position (A) suicide is an indefinitely postponed possibility, for position (B) suicide is an imminent necessity.

16. Concerning (A), the merely sensible fear of death per se is not a moral reason against suicide. For the persistence in living might as well be motivated solely by instinct or by will (in Schopenhauer’s terms). It must be verified if the interest in going on living is morally motivated or not.

16.1. In this sense, following one of Kant’s ideas, there is no unconditional moral imperative that states: “One must live at any cost!”, but there is a moral imperative according to which ‘one must be willing to die whenever morality thus demands”. Human dignity must be placed above the mere will to survive (morality basically consists in precisely this).[6] Kant, on the other hand, graciously admits that life is of little value, but suicide should be avoided all the same, although not because life is valuable in itself: “He now lives only because it is his duty, not because he has the slightest taste for living.”[7]

17. Position (A) faces the problem of favoring an indefinite continuation of a life that, after all, does not differ much from a life not guided by antinatalist ideas. Position (B) faces the problem of betting on a non-ethical suicide in the urge to escape from future sufferings and the certainty of death. (A) may lead us to live too much, and (B) too little.

18. A more reasonable, intermediary position would be to live a minimalistic life free from the need to procreate, to create beautiful works, to militate on behalf of the already-living, but ina permanent “disposition to die”. To be willing to die at any moment, if dignity is at stake, even today if necessary.[8]

18.1. A morality of suicide should therefore be placed between the total impossibility (its absolute condemnation by traditional ethics) and its total necessity (the various forms of radical nihilism). From a philosophical standpoint, an unrestricted “recommendation” of suicide is just as absurd as its unrestricted “prevention”. To recommend all kinds of suicide would amount to conceiving of suicide as necessary. To prevent all kinds of suicide would amount to conceiving of suicide as impossible.[9]

18.2. Suicide as a possibility means: that it can be performed immediately, or afterwards, or never.Suicide as possibility excludes neither suicide-now (the nihilistic choice) nor suicide-never (the traditional choice). They are excluded as absolute options to be imposed on everyone, but they remain as realizations of suicide as a possibility. Suicide-now and suicide-never are two forms of realization of the possibility of suicide.

18.3. In a free society the will of the Christian who totally refuses suicide should be respected just as the will of the nihilist who wants to put an end to his life immediately. Both are exerting their right to make use of the possibility of suicide in whatever way they think is better.

19. These considerations provide what may be called a general matrix of suicide, the logical form of suicide as a possibility: “It is ethically justified (though not recommended or impeded) to cease to live in any situation in which the creation of intramundane values, guided by the imperatives of not harming and not manipulatingothers, becomes literally (or predictably) hindered by the progress of the terminality of the being of life in its natural or social outcomes, thus preventing the exercise of dignity.”

19.1. Cases in which this matrix applies in quite an evident way: African black men jumping into the water to escape slavery, Jewish councils committing collective suicide so as not to go further in the killing of colleagues,[10] people jumping off the World Trade Center amid flames, passengers of the Titanic voluntarily drowning or shooting themselves. In all these cases, they are suicides committed to save dignity, “indignant suicides.”

19.3. The matrix should ethically justify the suicides of Seneca and Walter Benjamin, committed due to the strangling of social possibilities, and those of Arthur Koestler or Mário Monicelli, who killed themselves to escape illnesses that were incurable and morally debilitating.

19.4.In principle, it would be difficult to ethically justify with this matrix certain types of suicides, such as those includingheterocides, aggressive suicides, revenge suicides, performative or competitional suicides (such as in Russian roulette), or suicides out of existential authenticity (such as Alain’s, the protagonist of Le Feu follet, by Drieu La Rochelle, filmed by Louis Malle). The ethical justification of these suicides—so that they can be encompassed by the matrix—is relative to the degree of trust one is willing to grant to the autonomy of those who chose to pass away like that.

20. If the imperatives of not harming and not manipulating serve as condemnatory cases against procreation, wouldn’t they serve to condemn suicide as well? A usual objection, one that even antinatalists resort to, is that suicide harms and manipulates other people. But who are they?

20.1. Most people in the world do not know us, therefore they are not going to be affected by our passing.

20.2. Our enemies will not regret our death; on the contrary, they will most likely celebrate it. One does not need to do anything wrong in order to make enemies; we sometimes make them only by defending our political or familiar or even sports-wise preferences. Unfortunately, we live in a world of jealousy, wounded prides, and anxiety-laden competition, where it is easier to make a handful of enemies than a single friend. If suicide is condemned because it hurts our fewfriends, why should it not be praised for making our many enemies happy?

20.3. When it comes to our friends, if they are really such, they shall accept our wish and understand our motivation to leave life, despite the grief it may cause them. If these reasons are ethical (the safeguard of one’s dignity) we may cause our friends to suffer on a sensible level, but no moral harm can be caused to them (applying the Kantian distinction).

20.4. The progenitors shall understand it as well, and with greater reason, because when you give life to someone, it is by no means guaranteed that he or she will manage to create sufficient positive values in order to bear the pressure of terminality given at birth.

20.5. Among the psychological and biological mechanisms of protection featured in the structure of life there is the one that allows for human beings to overcome the death of their beloved ones, even that of Suicides, after a certain time. There are very few cases in which the survivors commit suicide or become forever paralyzed by the inability to cope with the loss of a loved one (the French actor Charles Boyer committed suicide two days after the passing of his wife, but this is an exceptional case, one that is considered by many as an act of insanity).

20.6. Not only nature but society as well insists that we forget the pain caused by the death of a beloved one and ‘move on with life’ (and if one is still bereaved so many years after the loss, they will be taken to a good psychologist).

20.7. The great poet Fernando Pessoa, under the pseudonym Álvaro de Campos, wrote a beautiful poem, “If you want to kill yourself…,”about forgetting the Suicide. Somebody needs you? […] No one is needed, nobody needs you… If you’re not around, things will go on without you. Maybe things will get worse for others if you go on living instead of dying… Maybe it’ll get harder if you go on enduring than if you stopped enduring… Others grieve for you?… Are you already sorry that they’ll weep over you? You can bet they won’t for long… The life force, little by little, dries the tears […] At first everyone feeling relieved / By your death, that slightly irritating tragedy. Then the talk growing livelier day by day, as ordinary life for everyone takes over again… Then slowly you’re forgotten. Only two dates are remembered each year: The day you were born, the day you died. […] If you want to kill yourself, why not do it? Forget the moral scruples, the mental qualms! What scruples or qualms are there in life grinding on and on? […] Can’t you see, you’re not the slightest bit important? […][11]

21. Being that life is so problematic, both on a sensible and moral level, and being procreation subject to so many ethical objections, an effort should be made to try to humanize the act of suicide, freeing it from the aura of strangeness that normally accompanies it. We should feel and understand that he or she who realizes the ever-open possibility of suicide is not a monstrous being who’s lost all humanity, but, on the contrary, a fully human being who has brought forth, with greater or lesser success, a possibility that remains open to anyone of us.

21.1. Realizing that one is mortal is always a traumatic revelation for a child or a teenager: to know that all they have been “given,” with all their joys and accomplishments, will be taken from them: youth, health, the life of loved ones, their own lives.

21.2.To be able to commit suicide, it’s enough to be alive.

21.3. The notion of “suicidal tendency” is an internal cutout within the terminality of being, our natural tendency to finishing. Being has suicidal tendencies. Everything that is born has “suicidal tendencies.”

22. People often talk about the “enigma of suicide”, of why someone comes to realize such an absurd act. However, the reason is clear and always the same, namely the one expressed in the matrix of suicide above. What can appear as “enigmatic” may be, in any case, the question of why this reason—ever present since our birth—has become a motivation for suicide in precisely this moment, this place, these circumstances.

22.1. The terminal structure of being is not sufficient to bring about the action. It is the intramundane elements that providethe motivational forces to realize the ever-open possibility of suicide. Broken hearts, economic misery, political persecution, and incurable diseases are some of the occasional scenarios in which the Great Reason of suicide takes place in a concrete way.

23. Three renowned Latin-American writers committed suicide almost at the same time. An antidemocratic mind and social shame may allegedly explain the suicide of Argentinian poet (born in Cordoba such as myself) Leopoldo Lugones in 1938, at the age of 63. A cancer or a broken heart may allegedly explain the suicide of Swiss-Argentinian poetess Alfonsina Storni, in that same year of 1938, at the age of 46. The suicide of his wife and the responsibility for the death of a friend may allegedly explain the suicide of Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga in 1937, at the age of 57. However, these are nothing but details. The three of them felt as though their terminality had come to a dead end, and that the values they could create were no longer sufficient to postpone its consummation. They resorted to such erratic contents as concrete, tormenting motives to realize the structural reason for simply wanting to get out of here.[12]

24. Filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni explained in an interview that when he was shooting The Girlfriends, he was forced to change the screenplay due to the Italian censorship. Instead of presenting Rosetta’s suicide as being motivated by the sheer emptiness of existence, the motive then becomes the romantic disappointment with Lorenzo, who breaks up with her because of his fidelity to another woman. The reason for suicide thus became palatable in the eyes of the censorship. What is demanded is that a concrete motive is given for the suicide, never the world as such. The great structural reason is thus concealed behind immediate motivations. The world itself must be exonerated.

25. If life is understood in its very structure, there is no “enigma” in suicide. On the contrary, in the light of the structural analysis of life, what turns out to be enigmatic is why most people go on living even amid the most atrocious of sufferings. To see people living sick and miserable, starving, and subject to daily humiliation to just feed themselves, insisting on continuing to live that way, this is totally enigmatic!

25.1. Erasmus of Rotterdam gave a nametothat which keeps humans in life “in spite of everything”: folly, and he praised it. Erasmus declares that folly alone can explain man’s urge to perpetuate the species by having children and to “stick his head into the halter of marriage”.[13] According to him, all things joyous stem from folly which in its mist hides reality from humans.[14] It is folly that makes for friendship and love, blinding lovers to the flaws of their loved ones,[15] it is folly that allows for the aged to believe that they will be forever young,[16] and folly is what makes us think, out of self-love, that we are worth something,[17] and that we will become famous for our books.[18]

25.2. If folly is the detachment from reality in favor of some kind of illusion, therefore, according to Erasmus, to go on living is always an act of madness. And so, by opposition, the one who chooses not to go on living on illusions is drawn apart from folly and assumes reality in all its consequences. He intends to consummate that in which a human life structurally consists of from the very beginning. Suicide does not introduce ruptures but is rather in full harmony with the world.

26. Suicide does not automatically follow from the terminality of being, nor does continue living. The choice to kill oneself should always be one’s own, as an exercise in autonomy at which we have the last word. Reflecting on freedom, Sartre writes: “It is not the rigidity of a situation with its sufferings that is the reason to conceive another state of affairs better for everyone. On the contrary, it is from the day that we conceive another state of affairs that a new light illuminates our hardships and sufferings, and we decide that they are unbearable”.[19] Neither does dignity have a single general definition. Dignity is something that each one of us shall define and honor in our own persons.

26.1. Each one must decide when the terminal structure of being has become totally predominant over the creation of positive values. But that choice is, of course, always ambiguous. The supposed decision might as well be a cry for help or a threat. Whoever declares the wish to commit suicide may not be willingto do so. And we do not know whether those who succeeded to die really wanted to. These problems do not have a general solution. It is said sometimes, and rightly so, that someone committed suicide because they were obnubilated, subject to obscure ideas. However, all human decisions are opaque, all of them are impure, influenced by other people, by society, by readings, by childhood. No human motivation is altogether transparent.

26.2. The motives to go on living are just as opaque as the motives to commit suicide.[20]

26.3 We must learn to give a vote of confidence to the autonomy of Suicides. Especially if, as in the case of writers and artists, they have managed to carefully prepare their passings. It would be odd to try to dissuade from suicide Arturo García Buhr, Carlos Thomson, Florencio Parravicini, Walmor Chagas, Pedro Armendáriz, Charles Boyer, Capucine, Patrick Dewaere, Tony Hancock, Margaux Hemmingway, Max Linder, George Sanders, Gig Young, Jack London, Cesare Pavese, Ernest Hemingway, Heinrich Von Kleist (biographed by another Suicide, Stefan Zweig), Otto Weininger, Jorge Cuesta, Gérard de Nerval, Yukio Mishima, Virginia Woolf, Walter Benjamin, Manuel Acuña, Drieu La Rochelle, and Henry de Montherlant. After all, it is because we love them that we’d rather respect their decisions, with all their terrible opacity.

26.4. If they want to go, let them go, as there is no moral imperative to go on living without conditions. In a thanatic democracy, and since life and death are inseparable, letting someone live is also letting someone die.

27. An ordinary objection argues that these findings are all too philosophical, and that most people live their lives happily without ever thinking about death or suicide. That is true. That life contains little value, that procreation is morally problematic and that some suicides might as well be ethically justified, these are findings gathered by the philosopher by thinking of life, instead of simply living it, as most people do. The philosopher strictly follows the well-known Socratic maxim: an unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates is supposed to have said that at the very moment of his suicide, preferring to take the poison rather than to continue living an unworthy life.

27.1. Life lies in feelings and emotions rather than in reasons, in the brutal instinct of a will to perpetuate life against all evidence. The philosopher, on the contrary, prioritizes reason, reflection, and arguments over the sheer impulse of animal life. If that upsets us, it would be better not to invite the philosopher in the first place, but if we do, we should be willing to think all the way until the end, even if the end turns out to be our own death.

28. What is most terrifying about suicide is not the idea—sober, silent, and touching—but the horrible procedures that Suicides need to resort to for not having more peaceful ways to get out of here. What is frightening is not death itself, but the fact that we don’t soberly have it at our reach. What is frightening is the fact that this death is not our death.

28.1. If the means were more easily accessible, it would drastically reduce the suffering of those who want to leave. The anguish increases uselessly when we know that all the exits are blocked, and that we will have tobrutallyattackour bodies because we don’t have a friendly device at hand that we may never use (such as the alcoholic who quits drinking but still needs to have a bottle at hand, or the detective in the movie The Sicilian Clan who quits smoking but always has an unlit cigarette in his mouth).

28.2. Another way to humanize suicide would be to understand it in terms of the greatest desire of most humans: to die in their sleep.

28.3. Ronald Dworkin wrote about “humanizing one’s own death” in an aesthetic approach: “We worry about the effect of his life’s last stage on the character of his life as a whole, as we might worry about the effect of a play’s last scene or a poem’s last stanza on the entire creative work[21] Also: “There is no doubt that most people treat the manner of their deaths as of special, symbolic importance: they want their deaths, if possible, to express and in that way vividly to confirm the values they believe most important to their lives. That ancient hope is a recurrent theme of Shakespearean drama”.[22] However, this is all unimaginable outside the frame of voluntary death. It would be toonaive to expect such a beautiful outcome from so-called “natural death”. If it takes us so much time to accept euthanasia, it will take centuries before we accept eudemothanasia (as shown, for example, in The Barbarian Invasions, directed by Denys Arcand). Not even the voluntary deaths of writers and artists come close to a merry death.

29. When we think of suicide, we already do it within an environment colonized by Christianity. In different cultures (indigenous ones, for instance), much of what has been stated here would come across as obvious, it would go without saying. Of course, if we choose to lead a religious life, and if life was created by a good God, then life must be good, and we have the obligation to preserve it until the very end. That’s perfectly coherent and comprehensible. We should not feel any sort of Nietzschean contempt for the religious lifestyle, and it is perfectly possible to understand – even to admire – the radical condemnation of suicide that takes place from a religious standpoint. Let us just remember this: in a plural society no one is forced to lead a religious life.

29.1. From the religious perspective, the problem consisted of knowing how a good God could create a world where there is evil. From the perspective presented herein, the question is inverted: how is it possible that in a world so hostile and that causes so much discomfort, humans still find strength to create so much beauty? How beings in such precarious conditions as humans manage to produce such wonders as the paintings in the Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s Symphony no. 40, Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice or Raul Seixas’s “Tente outra vez”[23]? How is it possible that Plotinus, in spite of the sores all over his body, was able to write the Enneads, that Thomas Aquinas wrote an immense workin only 49 years of age, that Bartolomé de las Casas fought for indigenous rights amid the hatred of the powerful, that Hegel developed such a splendid philosophy before cholera got hold of him, that Kafka, overwhelmed by laryngeal tuberculosis, was able to write The Hunger Artist on his deathbed, and that Van Gogh, torn apart by poverty and madness, was able to paint his crows, that Beethoven managed to compose his symphonies when he was almost completely deaf, that Oscar Wilde, vilified by everyone, could still write De Profundis, that Nietzsche produced such a wonderful philosophy while suffering from excruciating headaches that tormented him for two days?

29.2. Committing suicide is never heroic. Suicide only saves the meager dignity that life has not yet removed. To continue living, on the contrary, is always heroic.

30. We do not kill ourselves because we don’t love life. It’s life that does not love us. We love life and we would like to live indefinitely. It is life that ruins us from the very beginning. Our love for life is an unrequited love.


[1] Cabrera, Julio. Discomfort and Moral Impediment, chapters 2-4.

[2] Augustine of Hippo. On the Trinity, book XIII, chapter 8.

[3] Cabrera, Julio. Discomfort and Moral Impediment, chapter 5.

[4] Later republished as A Ética e suas negações: não nascer, suicídio e pequenos assassinatos. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 2011.

[5] Kant, Immanuel, Lições de ética, p. 337.

[6] Kant, Immanuel. Lições de ética, p. 340.

[7] Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pactical Reason, book 1, chapter 3, p. 113.

[8] Cabrera, Julio. Discomfort and Moral Impediment, chapter 8.

[9] Cabrera, Julio. Projeto de Ética Negativa, chapter II, aphorism 30.

[10] Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust, p. 140.

[11] Pessoa, Fernando. “If you want to kill yourself, how come you don’t want to kill yourself?”, in Honig, E.; Brown, Susan M. (eds.), Poems of Fernando Pessoa. Translated by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown. San Francisco: City Light Books, 1998, p. 92-94.

[12] Cabrera, Julio. Projeto de Ética Negativa, chapter II, aphorism 28.

[13] Erasmus of Rotterdam. The Praise of Folly, 5, p. 15.

[14] Ibid., 8, p. 22

[15] Ibid., 9, p. 26

[16] Ibid., 8, p. 24

[17] Ibid., 10, p. 28

[18] Ibid., 12, p. 35; 26, p. 73

[19] Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness, section IV, chapter 1.

[20] Cabrera, Julio. Projeto de Ética Negativa, chapter II, aphorism 16.

[21] DWORKIN, Ronald. Life’s Dominion, p. 199.

[22] Ibid., p. 211

[23] “Tente outra vez” [Try once again] is a ballad by Brazilian singer-songwriter Raul Seixas (1945-1989), from his album Aeon (1975). As in the case of many other songs by Raul Seixas, the lyrics for “Tente outra vez” were written by Paulo Coelho, his musical partner at the time who would later become one of the most popular Brazilian authors of all times.


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