Suicide: the one truly serious philosophical problem — Camus

O my soul, do not aspire to
immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible.

— Pindar, Pythian iii

An Absurd Reasoning

Absurdity and Suicide

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.

If I ask myself how to judge that this question is more urgent than that, I reply that one judges by the actions it entails. I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument. Galileo, who held a scientific truth of great importance, abjured it with the greatest ease as soon as it endangered his life. In a certain sense, he did right. . . . That truth was not worth the stake. Whether the earth or the sun revolves around the other is a matter of profound indifference. To tell the truth, it is a futile question. On the other hand, I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions. How to answer it? On all essential problems (I mean thereby those that run the risk of leading to death or those that intensify the passion of living) there are probably but two methods of thought: the method of La Palisse and the method of Don Quixote. Solely the balance between evidence and lyricism can allow us to achieve simultaneously emotion and lucidity. In a subject at once so humble and so heavy with emotion, the learned and classical dialectic must yield, one can see, to a more modest attitude of mind deriving at one and the same time from common sense and understanding.

Suicide has never been dealt with except as a social phenomenon. On the contrary, we are concerned here, at the outset, with the relationship between individual thought and suicide. An act like this is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art. The man himself is ignorant of it. One evening he pulls the trigger or jumps. Of an apartment-building manager who had killed himself I was told that he had lost his daughter five years before, that he had greatly changed since, and that the experience had “undermined” him. A more exact word cannot be imagined. Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined. Society has but little connection with such beginnings. The worm is in man’s heart. That is where it must be sought. One must follow and understand this fatal game that leads from lucidity in the face of existence to flight from light.

There are many causes for a suicide, and generally the most obvious ones were not the most powerful. Rarely is suicide committed (yet the hypothesis is not excluded) through reflection. What sets off the crisis is almost always unverifiable. Newspapers often speak of “personal sorrows” or of “incurable illness.” These explanations are plausible. But one would have to know whether a friend of the desperate man had not that very day addressed him indifferently. He is the guilty one. For that is enough to precipitate all the rancors and all the boredom still in suspension.

But if it is hard to fix the precise instant, the subtle step when the mind opted for death, it is easier to deduce from the act itself the consequences it implies. In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it. Let’s not go too far in such analogies, however, but rather return to everyday words. It is merely confessing that that “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, the uselessness of suffering.

What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity. All healthy men having thought of their own death, it can be seen, without further explanation, that there is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing for death. . . .

. . . . Hitherto, and it has not been wasted effort, people have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living. In truth, there is no necessary common measure between these two judgments. One merely has to refuse to be misled by the confusions, divorces and inconsistencies previously pointed out. One must brush everything aside and go straight to the real problem. One kills oneself because life is not worth living, that is certainly a truth — yet an unfruitful one because it is a truism. But does that insult to existence, that flat denial in which it is plunged come from the fact that it has no meaning? Does its absurdity require one to escape it through hope or suicide — that is what must be clarified, hunted down, and elucidated while brushing aside all the rest. Does the Absurd dictate death? This problem must be given priority over others, outside all methods of thought and all exercises of the disinterested mind. Shades of meaning, contradictions, the psychology that an “objective” mind can always introduce into all problems have no place in this pursuit and this passion. It calls simply for an unjust — in other words, logical — thought. That is not easy. It is always easy to be logical. It is almost impossible to be logical to the bitter end. Men who die by their own hand consequently follow to its conclusion their emotional inclination. Reflection on suicide gives me an opportunity to raise the only problem to interest me: is there a logic to the point of death? I cannot know unless I pursue, without reckless passion, in the sole light of evidence, the reasoning of which I am here suggesting the source. This is what I call an absurd reasoning. Many have begun it. I do not yet know whether or not they kept to it.

When Karl Jaspers, revealing the impossibility of constituting the world as a unity, exclaims: “This limitation leads me to myself, where I can no longer withdraw behind an objective point of view that I am merely representing, where neither I myself nor the existence of others can any longer become an object for me,” he is evoking after many others those waterless deserts where thought reaches its confines. After many others, yes indeed, but how eager they were to get out of them! At that last crossroad where thought hesitates, many men have arrived and even some of the humblest. They then abdicated what was most precious to them, their life. Others, princes of the mind, abdicated likewise, but they initiated the suicide of their thought in its purest revolt. The real effort is to stay there, rather, in so far as that is possible, and to examine closely the odd vegetation of those distant regions. Tenacity and acumen are privileged spectators of this inhuman show in which absurdity, hope, and death carry on their dialogue. The mind can then analyze the figures of that elementary yet subtle dance before illustrating them and reliving them itself.

Absurd Walls

Like great works, deep feelings always mean more than they are conscious of saying. The regularity of an impulse or a repulsion in a soul is encountered again in habits of doing or thinking, is reproduced in consequences of which the soul itself knows nothing. Great feelings take with them their own universe, splendid or abject. They light up with their passion an exclusive world in which they recognize their climate. There is a universe of jealousy, of ambition, of selfishness, or of generosity. A universe — in other words, a metaphysic and an attitude of mind. What is true of already specialized feelings will be even more so of emotions basically as indeterminate, simultaneously as vague and as “definite,” as remote and as “present” as those furnished us by beauty or aroused by absurdity.

At any streetcorner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face. As it is, in its distressing nudity, in its light without effulgence, it is elusive. But that very difficulty deserves reflection. It is probably true that a man remains forever unknown to us and that there is in him something irreducible that escapes us. But practically I know men and recognize them by their behavior, by the totality of their deeds, by the consequences caused in life by their presence. Likewise, all those irrational feelings which offer no purchase to analysis. I can define them practically, appreciate them practically, by seizing and noting all their aspects, by outlining their universe. It is certain that apparently, though I have seen the same actor a hundred times, I shall not for that reason know him any better personally. Yet if I add up the heroes he has personified and if I say that I know him a little better at the hundredth counted off, this will be felt to contain an element of truth. For this apparent paradox is also an apologue. There is a moral to it. It teaches that a man defines himself by his make-believe as well as well as by his sincere feelings, inaccessible in the heart but partially disclosed by the acts they imply and the attitudes of mind they assume. It is clear that in this way I am defining a method. But it is also evident that that method is one of analysis and not of knowledge. For methods imply metaphysics; unconsciously they disclose conclusions that they often claim not to know yet. Similarly, the last pages of a book are already contained in the first pages. Such a link is inevitable. The method defined here acknowledges the feeling that all true knowledge is impossible. Solely appearances can be enumerated and the climate make itself felt.

Perhaps we shall be able to overtake that elusive feeling of absurdity in the different but closely related worlds of intelligence, of the art of living, or of art itself. The climate of absurdity is in the beginning. The end is the absurd universe and that attitude of mind which lights the world with its true colors to bring out the privileged and implacable visage which that attitude has discerned in it.

* * *

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door. The absurd world more than others derives its nobility from that abject birth. In certain situations, replying “nothing” when asked what one is thinking about my be pretense in a man. Those who are loved are well aware of this. But if that reply is sincere, if it symbolizes that odd state of soul in which the void becomes eloquent, in which the chain of daily gestures is broken, in which the heart vainly seeks the link that will connect it again, then it is as it were the first sign of absurdity.

It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep,  and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm — this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. “Begins” — this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery. In itself weariness has something sickening about it. Here, I must conclude that it is good. For everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it. There is nothing original about these remarks. But they are obvious; that is enough for a while, during a sketchy reconnaissance in the origins of the absurd. Mere “anxiety,” as Heidegger says, is at the source of everything.

[From Albert Camus’  essay The Myth of Sisyphus]

Each time it tries to say more than this
The tip of the tongue must wrestle a leech.

— Bill Knott, Lines from Future Poems

51 thoughts on “Suicide: the one truly serious philosophical problem — Camus

  1. So what’s your take on this? Is Camus saying anything interesting here about suicide? IMO he is not. He is trying to make suicide into a philosophical issue, but surely it is almost never a philosophical issue for people who are serious about suicide, and not just idly toying with the idea, as Camus is. If I decide to shoot myself in the head, it will most likely be because MY life is unbearable, not because I have been musing upon life in general or loitering outside phone booths, being struck by the apparent emptiness of the gestures of the strangers making the calls.

    • Thanks for the darkly amusing comment. I thought I should but was unwilling to reread this Camus passage, the details of which I don’t remember at all, before responding to you. I think you’re right that contemplating/committing suicide has very little to do with philosophy in the intellectually-rigorous-discipline sense in which we are accustomed to think of it.

      But if we take the fundamental question of philosophy to be How To Live, and then take the issue of suicide as a metaphor, or synecdoche, for that question (for is not suicide a solution to the problem of existence, albeit at an ugly polar extreme of possible solutions?) . . . I think Camus chose to write about the issue of whether or not to commit suicide at least in part because it is dark, dramatic, controversial, eye-catching — while a more down-to-earth version of his fundamental question of philosophy might be rather, as we said, “How should I live my life?”

      But I’ll grant you this: loitering outside of phone booths is VERY existential.

      • I agree with the way you rewrite the question which is fundamental for Camus (and for many others). However, it is wrong (I hesitate to add) that the answer to the question of How To Live is to be found in philosophy. I write as someone who has spent a couple of decades wandering around the dusty aisles of philosophy looking for an answer to just that question (the best years of my life – gone!). I found nothing substantive. However, I admit that I didn’t get round to reading any Kierkegaard. Maybe the answer was there.

        This summer I read (almost by accident) “Wind, Sand and Stars” by Saint-Exupery – a work of literature, definitely not philosophy – and it was practically an epiphany. There were no answers to questions, but there was a resounding affirmation of life that moved me practically to tears – an affirmation of what I already knew – of course – but which could never be framed as the conclusion of a philosophical argument.

        The fundamental question of philosophy since Descartes is Truth (not the meaning of life). Philosophy becomes the critique of metaphysics. Philosophy has not been able to spin out any substantive truths (of the sort that we might be able to live by) from some synthetic a priori, as Kant hoped, but it has been able to launch interesting criticisms of other people’s everyday ideas about where the Truth lies (in the heavens, in the sciences, in your gut feelings, etc).

        For philosophy to guide life it would have to legislate, but when people grant a right to philosophers to legislate the chances are that it won’t be long before they roll out the guillotine. This (I think) is the basic idea Camus was trying to defend in The Rebel – a much better book that the Myth of Sisyphus.

        Philosophy of the useful sort knows that it is useless. Its utility lies in clearing the way for an affirmation of life which is free of illusions. That affirmation, though, can only occur on the terrain of life – pre-philosophical life – life in the phone booth, if you like. It cannot occur on the dusty etherial plane of philosophy.

        • I will definitely check out “Wind, Sand and Stars” — sounds excellent! (Funny, I never read “The Little Prince”… I haven’t read “The Rebel” yet either.)

          I too got burned out on philosophy, but still find some of the literary/poetic/mystical/continental/existential-leaning philosophy interesting at times. I guess I now prefer pretty language to big ideas — the latter cased in the former being the only philosophy I’ll take the time to read.

          Your last paragraph sounds awfully Nietzschean, does it not?

          Perhaps the fundamental questions of philosophy are better engaged in works of literature?

    • Camus says himself: “Rarely is suicide committed (yet the hypothesis is not excluded) through reflection.”

      I think he understands that suicide is not a result of any philosophical musing or discovery. I don’t think he’s trying to answer the question of “what drives one to suicide”.

    • listen, no offense, but if you haven’t personally contemplated seriously yourself, I think that your statement is pretty stupid. I’ have contemplated it and do so more often than I care to admit, and for me his words here have profound meaning. you seem to be suggesting that intelligent, intellectual, philosophical people don’t contemplate suicide- and that’s the part I think is stupid. I think intelligent people suffer in our dumbed-down society more than anyone else. and for those people who do contemplate it who might not be likely to read the thoughts of Camus, the question of whether or not life is worth living- whether or not it’s worth it to get out of bed in the morning is indeed a philosophical question, and I agree with him that it’s really the only important one. maybe you should read it again.

    • “He is trying to make suicide into a philosophical issue, but surely it is almost never a philosophical issue…” Wow. I cannot fathom how you either do not understand Camus’ points or are almost blindly choosing not to? What he says in “The Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays” is nothing short of brilliant whether one agrees or not. It does pretty much boil down Philosophy into one major issue/question, and does so with great clarity and transcendence. Perhaps it is a matter of semantics which makes it difficult to understand or find interesting, perhaps the discourse? Either way to argue that suicide is not at all a question of philosophy is more absurd than how much absurd applies into life, suicide and these entire posts/comments. It is almost a certainty that the post is merely a method or attempt at trolling. Either way, there is not much more one can do than shake their head, laugh, or whatever as the nature of it being an intentional false statement for the purpose of trolling is what is surely the case.

    • I completely disagree with your comment. I am not a student of philosophy, but i am the mother of a 16 year old son who committed suicide just over one year ago. Saying “committed” is not PC I’ve learned since his death, since it implies a crime….I say committed suicide because my son put months of thought into it and was committed to his decision. He weighed all the pros and cons. He put great thought into cushing the blow to those he loved. He did not want to do it at home. He did not want me to hear the shot or find his body or deal with having to make arrangements for someone to remove pieces of his brains from my walls or ceilings. He knew if he hung himself in the attic i would find him, he didnt want that image burned into my memory. He thought out a rather elaborate plan of how to get a gun and a car. He had his drivers permit (which he never carried) in his pocket in hopes i wouldnt have to identify his body.He drove 20 minutes away and parked in a rarely used parking lot at a place where all the employees knew him. He wanted to make sure he had enough privacy so that if it wasn’t instantaneous he would have enough time to bleed out before being found and recognized by these employees. He wrote a 7 page will/suicide note. He made very clear his wishes if his attempt wasnt successful, and his very detailed funeral and burial wishes for if he was. He tried to explain his rationale. He dated his note. He waited 3 days. He wanted to make sure he wasnt making a rash decision. My son did not want to live. He had never threatened or attempted suicide in the past. It was a decision. His decision. He put a lot of thought into his life or death options, then weighed out his best method of achieving that as quickly, neatly, and painlessly for all involved. I do not like the choice he made, but it was HIS choice. If he had been in pain from terminal cancer, most would understand his wanting to end his suffering. Life caused him pain. Should he have been forced to endure pain for years to come until he died naturally? NO! Who am i to judge? Who are you to judge?

      • Samantha, I am sorry for the loss of your son. If you look on the front web page of the Floating Library, on a tab called About Your Host, you will learn that the young man who began this website and posted excerpts of literature, that he liked and wanted to promote discussion of, himself took his life 3 1/2 years ago. His name, Ben, is my son. I have kept his website going and moderate comments in his memory. He too took great thought about his decision to end his life. He left us a journal and explained his decision. And then carefully and with compassion for his family he made his decision to end his life. I don’t agree with it but it was his, and only his, to make. Tori

    • thats the point dude, is life worth living or not, thats the whole point. In your “suicide victim’s ” case life wasnt worth living for him/her.

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  3. This is a very interesting website that I fell upon happenstance. In my recent exploration on the subject of happiness and the happy life which people like Camus and Sartre have delved into with a serious intent to promote good faith in this day and age of bad faith coupled with neurotic and hysterical living; I noticed that the word happy was derived from something that happened to an individual or something one came upon happenstance which changed your life.So naturally I conclude that the best things in life are come upon by chance or happenstance which should cover everything that will ever happen to us.

    I think that in this epoch we are truly seeking meaning in our lives and not necessarily ‘truth’ or ‘the truth’. That may be too big of a project for us right now as human beings. Perhaps if we attain godhood the ‘Truth’ shall shed more light. Man must be a paradox of meaning for he has not, to my knowledge, conquered the dualism of his existence, the life and death, good and evil problems facing us. His attempt to find self-transcendence through religion, psychology, philosophy and even science hasn’t worked for he is still faced with the dilemma of the collective experience of humanity which must be shared collectively; although the input is individualized.

    I think Camus and others would agree that we are responsible for everything we think and do through the awareness of our conscience. I paraphrase Camus when he said that nothing is worth anything unless it comes from our conscious state. I suppose our happiness, which must be the end goal, since being miserable and unhappy does not feel so good and suffering may be just the right teacher that humans need to be challenged to usurp our limitations. We are fooling ourselves if we think that the relationship with the absurdity in life and all of the limits expressed through our attempt to grapple with the absurd, the abyss and the filling in of the void in our lives with knowledge and wisdom and not pseudo-fillers like ambition, materialism and sometimes the psychological crutches of our addictions that must be solve our problems right now and/or be brushed over with a panoply of panaceas because humans by definition are problem solvers. The other line I hate is everything happens for a reason. Well what about the things that happen for no reason especially when we first embark in our relationship with the absurd?

    I hope I can contribute more to the expanding discussion about the love affair we have with finding meaning in our lives and so enjoy life more fully even if we are just playing out a scene from the dream of a dog.

    Sincerely yours; Baret

  4. I very much disagree that suicide is not a philosophical matter. My best guess is that while it isn’t *always* a philosophical question, the roots of the ideas that compel people to resort to it can be philosophical in nature, though obviously there’s always the chance that is the one difference between people who either don’t ever follow through on attempting it/don’t succeed and those who succeed, since I have only spoken to the former. I have spent considerable time discussing the experience of finding death preferable to life, and I have struggled with the sickening sense that if the world has no order other than the one we already recognize consisting of natural laws, and our existence is only as meaningful as we recognize it as meaningful (and for some, this is extremely difficult to stomach), then the patterns of pain, loneliness, and despair that characterize the lives of some leads to the feeling/thought “I would have been better off never having been born”, which, while seeming absurd to those whose constitution and experiences (and I think *both* are involved) enable them to enjoy a relatively validating life, can only really be dismissed by believing life to be inherently sacred. I am not sure it is, though having written that, I’m now struggling to even get a sense of the meaning of “sanctity”.

    Anyway, once one theorizes that given the knowledge of what their life would hold and the decision whether or not to live it, they would choose a complete lack of experience to what they see as a majority of negative experiences, the question of whether, then, they would be better off terminating all experiences rather than continue risking more and more negative ones can completely consume the mind. Whether there is any actual truth value to their perceptions (or any of our perceptions for that matter) doesn’t strike me as an important factor when the experience is so strongly emotional and personal.

    There is a tendency in some people to reject the idea that death could be preferable to life, and they dismiss the possibility that anyone not in agonizing pain from a terminal disease could be justified in believing this. The sentiment is that those desperately hopeless people must be weak, mentally ill, and /or their belief is the result of flawed thinking for which the thinker can be held responsible. All I know is, after attempting to challenge every single thought that occurred to me in the course of contemplating suicide, I found the experience to be a deeply philosophical one that in fact compelled me to explore existentialism and led me to this very book. These thoughts can make someone feel incredibly isolated, and reading this gave me an incredible sense of relief merely by existing as evidence that my fears and anxiety were shared by others- people who *did* manage to lead lives I, as an observer/outsider but someone who values empathy, can only appraise as meaningful. Even if I reduce my evaluation to the undeniable fact that “this helped me”, that gives me hope that I have been unable find in any other discipline. Admittedly, I have a very difficult time separating philosophy and psychology, but I also am not sure they can be evaluated both separately *and* completely. When I referred to our perceptions earlier, I had the nagging thought that this seems to be a question of mental health, because there are people who perceive the world in such a way that the rest of the world collectively agrees they are mistaken (I am painfully aware of the implications of/problems with this statement :)), but when ideas are less obviously logically flawed and instead seem fuzzy and subjective, this is where I can’t yet separate philosophy and psychology.

    • Thank you for your post. I was searching for empathy, which has often been supplied by philosophy and/or therapy! Wherever you are, I hope your life convinces you to stay.

      • It has so far :) I’m glad someone got something out of my ramblings and I’m glad it was someone nice enough to let me know as much!

        • I came upon your post while reading Julian Barnes, The Sense Of An Ending…10 out of 5 stars📙⭐️! It is tempting to ponder serendipity here, but I shall just be glad….I spent many years as a counselor at a suicide hotline, initially motivated by a desire to understand my father’s choice..I came to understand much more. Cognitive/behavior-based therapies seem to rule the day, and as part of a gestalt, I salute their results. But as the medical model and homeopathy inch closer to address physical issues jointly, therapy can only be strengthened by philosophical exchange. I have primarily seen suicidal tendency/preoccupation as a reaction, not a pro-active choice/or response….Human search for meaning, affirmation, connection does not depend on consensus of many, but one open mind and ear….

          I hope you are smiling!

          • uman search for meaning, affirmation, connection does not depend on consensus of many, but one open mind and ear….

            You mean this last part, as in one open heart speaking to another, without judgement or doubt or comment?

            If so, I whole heartedly, hehe, agree :D

            (I have, since about 3rd grade, been in a constant state of thinking too much. Not in a good way and not to try and come off like an ass. But, I ended up thinking my way into a dark place of despair, and when I came across Camus and his writings about 2 years ago or so, I literally got goosebumps. He speaks to me like a muse speaks to an artist, and cannot put into words the feeling that there actually was someone or some idea or view, that actually almost reflected so many of the things that had been running over and over in my mind ever since I can remember. I used to wonder if people believed what they said when to know what they claimed to me, no matter how much I examined and changed my perspective, was impossible.

            Why deny oneself the honesty and truth of saying “I do not know?” I began to understand how Camus must have thought when he gave the 3 responses to the question first posed and ideas postulated.

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  7. suicide is a form of weltschmerz or world weariness. you need to recover your sense of meaning by finding life in life. no need for religion or philosophy since they only complicate things and add salt to the wounds of a sensitive soul. better to tackle life on its own grounds and fight to the finish so that you root out that bastard inner killer called suicide in the arena of reality. reality is bitter but it is better to remain in it instead of retreating into the illusion afforded by drugs or other palliatives that are just crutches. find friends, eat good food and enjoy life, happiness, football, sun and the beach. that is the real way out of suicide. and not going to the psychiatrist for god’s sake.

    • When people have depression, your solution does not work. Depressed people who have marked anhedonia, for example, do not feel pleasure. It doesn’t matter if they go for a walk, or watch a sunrise, or do yoga, or play 1-on-1 with friends. Every activity results in the same numbness, and so the effort of the activities stops seeming worth it. While lack of movement will obviously lead to a drop in mood for physiological reasons, the underlying anhedonia isn’t a decision. You see depressed people not doing anything and assume they’re depressed because they’re not involved in life. The truth is they’re not involved in life because they’re depressed. It’s like someone saying “I can’t enjoy anything” and being told “Well, just go do something you enjoy”. Actually, it’s more like “Well, just go do something *I* enjoy”. Then when the person makes attempt after attempt, and doesn’t feel any better, the self-loathing rises and rises. So there are lots of people who continue to do everything they know people like you expect them to do, but they don’t get any better, and this path can lead to those abrupt suicides no one ever sees coming because the depressed person kept their pain to themselves rather than have everyone react with that weird combination of pity and contempt that leads to obvious and unhelpful “advice”.

      Everything you argued for might very well be true for you, but if you think it’s that simple for people with incredibly different lives than your own, you overestimate yourself and underestimate the intellect and integrity of others. And psychiatry addresses neurochemical issues your holistic approach completely ignores. If you have found an answer, great, but to turn around and speak derisively about the struggle of others who might require different paths is to elevate yourself above them when you have no idea whether their situation is anything like yours, or they are anything like you. Please don’t discourage people from going to doctors. You really don’t know as much as you think you do.

      That’s okay though; none of us do.

      • Very interesting words…..with the additional benefit of also being true.

        This from Graham Greene’s “The Comedians”, words than have haunted me since the moment I first read them many years ago:

        “However great a man’s fear of life, suicide remains the courageous act, the clear-headed act of a mathematician. The suicide has judged by the laws of chance—so many odds against one that to live will be more miserable than to die. His sense of mathematics is greater than his sense of survival. But think how a sense of survival must clamour to be heard at the last moment, what excuses it must present of a totally unscientific nature.”

  8. In the words of the Dalai Lama when asked what to do when one is depressed: “Don’t be alone and don’t listen to sad songs.”

  9. Flying through the cosmos on a piece of rock where the whiteness of ones teeth is a valued status symbol? Of course suicide is the “one truly serious philosophical question.”

  10. Ilikethings,

    That’s an extraordinary calloused way to ask. You should be ashamed.

    Ben Price, author of this site, thank you for this resource. I wish you had stayed around longer.

  11. I know of suicides, two of which were in reaction to unremitting depression, unbearable psychic pain, after years of treatments and struggle and shame…finally running out of strength. No philosophical answer here.

  12. “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

    More important is the question of bringing another life into the world, after coming to the conclusion of life’s absurdity. How one concludes one’s life is their decision. How one perpetuates the problem, compounding it, is morally problematic.

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  14. “I think therefore I am” “To be or not to be” In truth and nothing but the truth anomie is not the solution but a perspective that is not original in the sense that it has been establish or pose before Camus and he just broght it back into analysis. Moreover, is crucial in the search for knowledge to wrestle with but only in the metaphorical aspect, like for example is there more than this existence that it is too short to gather enough understanding of the real meaning of life. Another way to escrutinize this subject will be to be content with the current circumstances of life and pretend that everything around us has a meaning and that we can not be selfish about our own life. It is to envision others like ourselves and also see them in the same position in order to gain that contentment and the realization that they posses the same ether or soul and consciouness that drive us around the existential world. However, most people do see themselves in others but rather see themselves alone or independent in their own existence and thus come the question “to be or not to be which is anomie. Therefore, we must see ourselves in the colectivity of the whole universe and not in the microcosm of it and in this form everything makes much more sense or logic, because we will be contenplating the inmensity of creation and what is really moving us is also moving them and moving in itself.

  15. I think the fundamental question that one must ask is “Is there anything in life worth doing or experiencing that makes prolonging your existence worthwhile?” I think that this question can only be answered on an individual level and can’t really be answered in a general or holistic sense. This is because life is a subjective experience, and although one individual may have their reasoning as to why they wish to continue living, another may feel justified in blowing their brains out. Which individual is correct in their reasoning? I would say both are correct from their own perspective. Aside from the mere fact that most people are simply propelled to survive solely through the fear of death, the reasoning for survival is a very subjective matter. No philosophical reasoning can conclude that life is better than death or that death is better than life, especially since you can’t possibly know what is on the other side of death except through experiencing it firsthand.

  16. While reading through the comments posted on this page, I feel that while theories of nihilist and platonic nature are discussed, the reality of Camus existential views on the world are not properly developed. I don’t believe that it is a debate that suicide is a philosophical issue in many cases. Reflecting on ones circumstances and weighing the pros and cons of life all goes back to the search for a purpose in life. Surely this purpose or reason for existence is often clouded by the absurdity of the world. And it is that absurdity that challenges us to contemplate our purpose. As we all travel along the journey of life the eminent end we face approaches. It is my belief that through his various essays and novels, that an individual may face this end one of two ways. First being the topic of this essay: suicide.
    Becoming conscious of the meaningless of life, and the fear of an eternity in an abyss of non-existence is the basis for the statement “Suicide is the one truly serious philosophical problem”. It is the absurdity of the world that traps many; separation, meaningless, powerlessness, and death. By reacting to the realities through the absurd through suicide, we may escape from the human condition all together. In this one is ultimately succumbing to the absurd, which to Camus was indefinitely a cop out. The refusal to come to terms with one’s own life rather than face the risks and challenges is what sprouted the “one truly serious philosophical problem” phenomenon. Rather than the problem being the absurdity of life (which I believe many of you are focused on) I believe that Camus finds the problem in the fact that people are choosing suicide. It is in this, that his second way to face the absurd is sprouted.
    In his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Camus describes how the consciousness of the absurd and the ability to angst should sprout a curious form of optimism. It is in this essay that he contemplates the ability to accept and live in a world devoid of meaning or purpose. While struggling against the absurd Camus sees that Sisyphus accepts that there is nothing more to life than his struggle. In that he finds his happiness.
    So Camus claim that “Suicide is the one truly serious philosophical problem” is due to this debate over life or death. In this disparity we see the acceptation of the absurd condition and the leap of faith some may take in suicide. In conclusion, the problem is not in the action of sucide, rather that the choice that an individual must make when facing this absurd predicament.

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  18. hi.. because i have this research about why camus considered philosophical suicide.. can you please help me in order for me to further understand about my topic? thank you!

      • In regards, to Camus when I took this class in philisophy one hundred and two. Moreover, exactly two years ago which by the way I went out boming or with B+ my perspective of this philosophical question was that he was just making himself the same question that the great Greek poet Pindar (C.522-443BC.) had pose or re-written from one of the pre-socraties philosophers. In other words, he was just reflecting on this thought just like is Camus doing in his own writtings. It is given us the image of a picture where a man is looking at another man, but in this case it is thinking the same as the other one instead of looking at him. Nonetheless, the question still remains is it worth to live in this world? And the answer is that it is up to the individual itself to have a worthty life and at the same time the purpose of life is also up to the individual too. However, suicide is the answer but only to reject life or to refuse yourself from incurring in life itself. Furthermore, suicide is like a reboot of life or a new beggining and the same time the end of the previous one. Case in point, the question should be can I start a new life or be in a new body and remain with my old memories.

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  20. People kill themselves for many reasons. For example, a judge in WA state where I live killed himself after they discovered child porn on his computer, while many more kill themselves due to chronic physical or mental suffering that does not respond to therapy or medications. But the idea someone would off themselves due to pure philosophical inquiry is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard, and which is why Camus is a complete elitist, entitled fraud and probably laughing as he wrote this, thinking about all the fools that would even begin to take him seriously. Camus was not an unhappy man. In fact, he loved his celebrity and socialite status and milked it for all it was worth. For a true existentialist, see Kierkegaard.

  21. You know… reading all of these thoughts can be a little disorienting, but I must say that I think I would enjoy the company of most people in this thread.

    I won’t pretend to have some perfect answer here, but I can offer some perspective. My husband and I have a unique perspective on life. I used to work at a youth center, constantly fighting back the tide of abandoned children, and simultaneously observing what creates the idea of a romanticized suicide. I am pretty good at killing those components in real time (youth have a tendency to go for it more quickly than their elders). Through that, I’ve taught at a variety of stages where the ultimate question of whether life is worth living or ending is regarded through very different states of mind. I myself considered the act in all seriousness when, as a youth, I came upon a rather serious condition from SSRI overdose, one that I fight to this day. (I don’t feel much, my sensory ability without medical assistance has sharp limitations.)

    My husband, on the other hand, is a trauma surgeon. His entire career sits on the border of life and death. He swore an oath a long time ago to uphold the values of healing, and to be a deciding entity for quality of life. He leads families, often, to decisions to let their loved ones go. He’s become quite skilled at adding or removing factors that ultimately play into, again, romanticized ideals of death and emptiness. He’s literally removed and repaired the sensory mechanisms through which we trudge through the illusions life offers us. He also has spent some time being the man who receives suicide attempts, and brings them back from an early end.

    So, as you could imagine, our conversations become pretty interesting. We largely agree on most things, and we’ve learned a few things along the way.

    1. The idea of suicide is rarely a sustained notion, where there could be considerable time to adequately weigh things out. When there IS, however, and quality of life could be carefully analyzed (Think quadruple amputees, final stage cancer) without extreme duress (pain meds, there’s a sweet spot for it. Difficult but possible) and whatnot, the question DOES become asked in a philosophical manner rather than a logical one. We’ve come to agree though, that the object of a human asking it in those moments operates under a very different set of programming. You can’t possibly know the gravity of death in all its’ perceptive glory until you’ve approached it. I’ll leave the question of if the person is really the guider of truth in that moment out of it. It’s something the surgical community doesn’t really have a good answer for.

    2. Suicide is subconsciously romanticized. I try to strip an idea of its’ emotional impact when thinking, and as we all know in philosophical thought, that’s a strong beast to fend off. Typically, when there’s been a serious attempt, there’s this sort of ‘awakening’ to just how much those little influences aren’t real. It’s also worth mentioning, that the romantic notions, even if relatively non-present to the victim, affect the individual by way of their social sphere. If a large number of the presiding social members (think family) have a view of what suicide will accomplish, it changes the potential mortality of the incident.

    3. Sorting out a delirious mind from a sound one can be INSANELY difficult. Story time: Husband had a patient who seemed calm and collected, regardless of the massively life-altering injury he had sustained. He was responsive, telling stories, and directly interacting with staff, registering a pain level of 2/10. He, at the time, regarded himself as ready to die, wanting to start the process of being allowed to be made comfortable until he died. Husband is suspicious, something about the body language and subtle nuances in speech were off. Hubby orders a change in pain medication (he was already on a course at the discretion of the attending physician, as authorized by family). Within hours, the man wakes up, registering a 10/10 of pain, and certainly NOT wanting to be made comfortable, with no memory. So it was that healing could actually start, and the man could start working towards a life, although different, that was worth living under his beliefs.

    If I were to summarize my point, I would say that the moment that we consider such notions like death depends greatly on proximity to its’ impact. I have a bunch of other examples, but I have to get going. The moments where suicide is truly considered a reasonable option are far fewer than we as a society would like to believe. This truly does come down to what one believes a sound mind is considered to be, but I would caution you to see both the mechanism of a human mind and the ever growing ideology of the collective before coming to any philosophical conclusion.

    – Nick

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  24. For those who lost loved ones in this particular way, you won’t find closure or explanation in the works of Western philosophy. If you’re stubbornly going to look for a logical or conventional source to explain this tragic experience, you are not on the right track. Now, skip reading further, because it may just reopen a healed wound.

    You see, as we are born, right of the bat we are being put in a must to have role by our parents, uncles and aunts , grandmas and grandpas, then school, then we must have an occupation and be “somebody” in the society. Everybody needs to have a “role” supported by an Ego. Newborns don’t bring an Ego out of the mothers womb, we individually and collectively as a society introduce an Ego for them to have and therefore there is a conflict between the natural exsistence and this forced way, to define them who they must to become. What follows next is the rejection by these young human beings. They had “It” and then they were made to lose “It” and acquire something totally strange.

    They didn’t commit suicide to end their life, they did it to kill their Ego, they didn’t wanna go on playing the role………….
    They didn’t leave the world because they hated the life itself…..
    You can’t tell somebody to feel one way or another.

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