Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 495–504 | Cite as

Suicide is Neither Rational nor Irrational

  • Christopher Cowley


Richard Brandt, following Hume, famously argued that suicide could be rational. In this he was going against a common ‘absolutist’ view that suicide is irrational almost by definition. Arguments to the effect that suicide is morally permissible or prohibited tend to follow from one’s position on this first issue of rationality. I want to argue that the concept of rationality is not appropriately ascribed – or withheld – to the victim or the act or the desire to commit the act. To support this, I explore how the concept is ascribed and withheld in ordinary situations, and show that it is essentially future-oriented. Since the suicide victim has no future, it makes no sense to call his act rational or irrational. The more appropriate reaction to a declared desire for suicide, or to the news of a successful suicide, is horror and pity, and these are absent from Brandt’s account, as is a humble acknowledgement of the profound mystery at the heart of any suicide.

Key words

suicide rationality Richard Brandt despair pity internal reasons 



My thanks to Marina Barabas for the idea behind this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of MedicineUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUK

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