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Western Philosophy: David Hume on Suicide Essay

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Updated: Feb 1st, 2022

David Hume is a very important personality notable for his roles in the transformation of the Western philosophy. He believed that a human’s desire is what constituted the behavior. The reasoning comes secondary. According to him, reason is a slave of someone’s passions. A mentality comes about after a series of customs gained through experience and an acquired ability. He held the position that human beings have no actual concept of themselves, but bundles of sensations that are linked to them. He was a sentimentalist who believed that a human’s moral philosophy was influenced by their free will (Hume, 2009). His position was that it is not person’s moral principles that influence ethics, but one’s feelings.

Hume argued that suicide is at least sometimes permissible. This is due to the compatibility that exists between freedom and the determination of one’s actions. It is a free world, and when people are free to do whatever they wish, the outcome of their behavior can only be blamed on themselves. Suicidal thoughts come as a result of a series of events that an individual could have handled at an earlier stage. A suicidal person would, however, consider this argument insensitive because, at that point, they at least need anyone blaming them. Hume developed the concepts of “necessity” and “liberty” as the basis of humans’ actions. Necessity constitutes the natural operations that cause the desire to do something. Liberty, on the other hand, is one’s authority to act in accordance to their will. It is the power to control necessity. He linked the two aspects and considered them compatible in various dimensions. For instance, liberty requires necessity because that is what causes our actions to have a connection with our motives. Therefore, if someone’s acts are not associated with their will, their acts would then be the outcomes of chances. No one dies of suicide by chance (Sacharoff, 1972).

Hume wrote essays on suicide and immortality. He always expressed his belief that all events are the actions of the Almighty. This is because he endows his creatures with the freedom to do whatever pleases them. Therefore, any person who makes his own escape from life having overcome all the natural causes of death does wrong (Hume, 1995). Whether a person commits suicide due to pain or misery, he distorts the plan of the Almighty upon the universe. Hume observed that the lives of men are usually dependent on the laws that govern matter, in addition to the influence of motion. Disposing one’s life is a criminal offense because it disturbs their normal operation. All animals are entrusted by the creator to conduct themselves using their skills. Disturbing the normal operation of the world as God intended is blasphemous, according to Hume. The Almighty gets displeased when his laws are distorted by the same beings he created.

A defender of the impermissibility of suicide would argue that Hume placed too much emphasis on free will as the basis of human behavior. He overlooked the behavior that is triggered by social injustices and insecurities. A suicide attempt indicates that a victim has suffered a social injustice. It is an act people do when they are out of control. The society judges suicide victims as weak-willed. They put less attention on the extent of the problems consuming them. Hume interpreted the human behavior as being a result of desire rather than reason. The defender of the impermissibility of suicide would have a problem with this school of thought. This is because suicide is never anyone’s desire, but an act facilitated by a specific reason. He also held the view that reason could only be a slave to passions. This argument ignores some sensitive actions such as suicide. Committing suicide is not a behavior caused by passion, but an event caused by unfortunate experiences. He further described morality and ethics as the sentiments that provided a person with the reason to do a particular action. He agreed with the fact that reason alone cannot motivate a person and, therefore, the input of passions has to be present. In addition, Hume argued that morals stimulate the generation of passions which, in turn, create or prevent an action. However, morality and ethics would have a very minor role in the occurrence of suicide. Morality and ethics influence certain negative actions: robbery with violence, rape, and murder, but would have little to do with suicide.

Hume’s philosophies on suicide make suicide appear as an immoral act. The advantage is that this may prevent a person from contemplating suicide. This is due to the emphasis that a person who takes away his/her own life does not harm the society in any way but, instead, retires from doing well. One, therefore, ceases to promote the society’s interests and, consequently, loses the benefits that come with it. However, Hume should have addressed the pains and miseries that cause them to do so.


Hume, D. (1995). Essays on suicide and the immortality of the soul: The complete 1783 edition. Web.

Hume, D. (2009). Of suicide. Web.

Sacharoff, M. (1972). Suicide and Brutus’ Philosophy in Julius Caesar. Journal of History and Ideas, 33(1), 115-22.

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