Saturday, 8 July 2017

Notes on Suicide by Simon Critchley  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Whether life is worth living or not is not something that can be philosophically contested, but, if life is not worth living, or if life is at least regarded by some persons in some situations as not worth living, whether suicide is justifiable in addition to being understandable is perhaps open to examination. Critchley interrogates the standard arguments against suicide and finds them unsupportable (in this he is much aided by an afterword from David Hume). The general argument in justification of suicide, or, rather, against the proscription of suicide, is one of what I would call ‘possessive individualism’, the assertion of the absolute freedom to dispose of oneself as one chooses. This argument leaves unexamined the easy belief that the bundle of impulses, tendencies and glimmerings of consciousness that we think of as ourselves in fact belong to or ‘are’ us, rather than being mere nodes in a field of impulses, tendencies and glimmerings and indivisible from the other nodes therein. In fact, we find ourselves constantly constrained by the wider consequences of an act of freedom to the extent that this freedom is not free, and thus suicide can never be merely the sovereign removal of oneself from the hole into which one had otherwise been consigned. From the individualistic point of view, suicide is both an assertion of oneself as the sole subject of one’s life and the relinquishment of oneself as the subject, a determination to be relieved of an unbearable subjectivity, to stop experiencing the story from the point of view of a character, to become, for the instant that the story ends, the reader of that story, a reader who will perish, as all readers do, in the cessation of the story. Critchley considers Cioran’s assertion that suicide is the recourse of optimists: “Is it not inelegant to abandon a world which has so willingly put itself at the service of our melancholy?”, and makes some concluding attempts to the effect that it is the fact that life is not worth living that makes life worth living. In this he strays beyond the philosophically reachable consideration of suicide into areas in which it is not possible to make assertions without being at least judgemental if not insensitive. If there is an argument against suicide it is not that life is worth living (or that life is not worth living), but, perhaps, part of a more general one against the possessive individualism upon which our culture, and indeed modern consciousness itself, depends.

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