Via Mindhacks, I found a piece at Frontier Psychiatrist titled Examination of the Concept of Rational Suicide. Hoping for a Gary Becker-esque analysis of the sort found here, I checked it out. However, the author seemed averse to accepting the possibility of such a thing. The stipulated requirements are that “the person in question must have an unremittingly hopeless condition, should make their decision as a free choice and have engaged in a sound decision making process, including assessment by a mental health professional”. His definition of “rational” includes that it “‘makes sense’ to others”. He says “the concepts of autonomy, utility and rationality alone are inadequate arguments for the acceptance of rational suicide as none are ever identifiable in so pure a form as to be considered a philosophical trump card”. I have a problem with that. He is seeking an imaginary purity that can never be attained and if applied to any other decision would deny us our autonomy. What I see is the concept of “false consciousness”, but going without the label. The proponents of that idea were Marxists attempting to explain why Marx’s prediction of capitalism producing class consciousness among the proletariat had not panned out. They disagreed with the attitudes people had and so labeled them “false”. This permitted them to claim they were upholding the traditional liberal ideal of autonomy while denying it in the case where they didn’t like it. If I wanted to reject his decision to continue living I could easily claim he had not thought rationally about it or been unduly influenced by the insidious “culture of life”.

He continues: “We must also recognize that in seeking a rational suicide, the components that inform this decision are culturally determined, thereby introducing considerable subjectivity and possible external disagreement. Furthermore if the decision to end one’s life is informed by persistent suffering, then it is unlikely to be made on entirely non-emotional grounds and likely to be subject to cognitive distortions”. Galbraith similarly argued that capitalism does not satisfy our desires but creates them through advertising. Hayek replied that nearly all but the most basic desires (eating, sleeping, etc. and even then not including the varieties of going about it) are the result of culture. If not for culture we would neither seek Shakespeare nor psychotherapy! And as we do not exist in a vacuum but are quite social creatures, the hunt for “external” influence will always end successfully. Finally, as one of the areas where I agree with the Austrians, preferences are inherently subjective and it is silly to try to show that the “objective” answer to such questions is possible.

He furthermore states that “If the decision is to be truly informed this should involve gaining all possible facts and imagining all consequences”. Well, then, so much for hoping to be “truly informed”. Is there EVER a case where have all possible facts and have deduced all possible consequences? He adds “since the experience of being dead is entirely unknown it is questionable whether it is possible to adequately foresee the outcome of one’s actions in this regard”. But that doesn’t introduce any asymmetry. It could be that being dead is so great that nobody comes back to say how great it is, that’s just how great it is. A rational utilitarian would simply come up with an estimated utility of being dead, but the approach here seems to be something like Pascal’s Wager where it must be unimaginably bad and therefore close off the possibility of being a good choice.

He concludes “These concerns indicate that it may be difficult to satisfactorily reach a conclusion that rational suicide is possible”. I respond that it is hard to satisfactorily reach a conclusion that ANY action is rational, including the decision NOT to commit suicide, when you engage in motivated skepticism and apply such double standards.

This post’s title brought to you by a disappointing Early Man song. And speaking of disappointing, commenter Isak has removed his blog, Nonsense on Stilts, because it kept focusing his mind on depressing topics.