11 April 2008


In the philosophy section of Yahoo! Answers yesterday I encountered the following question: "Why shouldan't I kill myself? why?why?why?why?why?why?why?wwhy?hy?why?"

It seemed odd that somebody distressed and contemplating suicide should come to Yahoo! Answers with this. Yet it also seems hard to believe that anyone looking at the issue of suicide, and wanting to engage a discussion in a calm philosophic way (which would make sense of the choice of forum) would do so quite so earnestly and typo-idiosyncratically as that.

Acting on the possibility that this was a genuine case of distress, I gave the best answer I could come up with. And I found to my surprise that it didn't sound like a Jamesian answer. More like a Schopenhauerian answer.

Maybe James' discussion of the point was a bit too meta-philosophical, and the note I struck here was more first-order.

Anyway, I'll see later today whether the fellow responds. I already clicked through the screen name and no e-mails or i-ms via the Y!A system are allowed. So I guess we can just hope for the best.


Henry said...

I had never looked at Yahoo! Answers before, but found your answer easily enough by googling the question that you answered. I have two questions about your answer. First, what causes you to describe it as Schopenhauerian? Second, do you see a possible inconsistency in, on the one hand, stating that "we'll get to ... oblivion soon enough ... and, when it comes, it will be forever," and, on the other hand, "God bless you." The former suggests no possibility of life after death, whereas the latter suggests (though it does not entail) that possibility. (I am assuming that you did not think that the person who asked the question had just sneezed.)

Christopher said...

Thanks for asking. I was hesitant to include my answer in the main entry on this subject, because I wanted to focus on the ambiguity of the question itself in such a context.

But, FWIW, here is my answer verbatim:

The world is outrageous on any number of levels, but there are plenty of people who share that with you, and if we are indeed just organic pain collectors on the way of oblivion ... we'll get to that oblivion soon enough anyway, in the scheme of things. It will be soon enough and, when it comes, it will be forever.

In the meantime, consider that in a globe of billions there are surely people whose pain is greater than yours, and some of them may be very close to you indeed, within the reach of effective compassionate action on your part, if you can only stay alive in order to exert it.

It is, as Hamlet said, better to suffer the slings and arrows of this outrageous fortune than to take up arms against ourselves in the hope of ending it.

God bless you.

Why did I write it that way? Because I didn't think it helps to address a person contemplating suicide with talk of hopeful metaphysics. Better to assume the worst about the world, the darkest of views, and assure them that life is worth living even so.

That's how I proceeded. That we are just organic pain collecters hurtling toward oblivion is a brief statement of what someone on that brink may think, and I adopted it. It is also a fair summary of a good chunk of Schopenhauer.

The conclusion to be drawn from that, though, and the one Schopenhauer himself draws, is NOT that we should put our own suffering to an end but that we should show compassion for our fellow sufferers, and I developed that thought.

At the end, I included my concise prayer as a way of letting the possibility of a more optimistic metaphysic back into the picture.

Henry said...

Schopenhauer would have us show compassion to others because we are one with others, in light of the fact that the noumenon (the reality behind appearances) is one. When we die, we rejoin others as part of the one. Thus, we face oblivion only as individuals (which, for me personally, is no consolation). BTW, I do not claim to be a scholar of Schopenhauer, but base these comments largely on a fine introduction to his work that I read, called, In Search of Schopenhauer's Cat, by Raymond B. Marcin (whose publisher no doubt told him that they would triple sales figures if they put a cat in the title).

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.