Kant’s Approach to Ethics and the Issue of Suicide Essay

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Kant’s Approach to Ethics and the Issue of Suicide

The Renowned German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the most influential philosophers of the modern age, whose thought, with its emphasis on the subject, turned the wheels of western philosophy to a new synthesis of idealism and realism in the form of transcendentalism. His ethical theory, developed in his reputed book The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, has to be taken along with the spirit of philosophy that enshrines his three Critiques whenever one attempts a critique on ethical issues like suicide as a gesture of self-love. Body of the Essay (Can suicide be ethical? )

Kant holds the theory of intrinsic morality based on the autonomy of human will. Good is good by itself, and the right is right by itself. It doesn’t depend upon the consequences or effects of the action for a human action to be right or wrong. According to Kantian deontological theory of ethics, committing suicide is wrong and unacceptable from any perspective since it is an action that goes against the categorical imperative he proposed as the norm for ethical decisions. His Categorical Imperative runs thus: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

” (Wolf Robert Paul (ed) Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals: text and critical essays. 1969. p. 44). Each individual subject should decide for himself and act in such a way that he wills that his maxim should be a universal law. (Wolf, p. 21). Let us now take up the issue of suicide. Suicide may be a personally-decided act, on selfish reasons, emotions or recommendations from physical situations (as in the case of euthanasia). In whatever respects it may be, it goes against the Categorical Imperative, and hence, it is inherently or intrinsically wrong to commit it.

Kant argues that committing suicide out of self-love is contrary to the categorical imperative because there is “a contradiction in a system of nature, whose law would be to destroy life by the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life. ” (Wolf, p. 45). Rather he thinks that the destruction of life is incompatible with its improvement and that nature always chooses organs adapted to their purpose (p. 13), so that nature couldn’t (or wouldn’t? ) allow self-love to be used in a way contrary to its purpose which is improvement and nurture of life.

In accordance with Kant’s intrinsic morality, the categorical imperative also supports a Practical Imperative, that one has to act so that one treats humanity, whether in his own person or in that of another, always as an end in itself and never as a means only. (Wolf, p. 54). One has to respect and support one’s life because of the dignity implied within. By dignity, he means, “unconditional and incomparable worth” (Wolf, p. 61). Kant supports this theory with his theory of incommensurability, which holds that moral virtue is infinitely better than anything else.

From the perspective of human dignity as well, suicide seems to be an unbecoming action for humans. Conclusion For Kant, reason holds the supreme position (as elaborated in Critique of Pure Reason), and ethics as science, is not rooted in religion or metaphysics, but rather on the inherent worth of existence. Hence, suicide is an unacceptable mode of action even from the perspective of self-love. Love nourishes and does rarely destroy. And even when a bit of destruction is involved, it is only to nurture better that it destroys. Suicide is total destruction without nurture and thus contradicts the very nature of self-love.


Gregory, Mary (ed)(1998) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant. New York: Cambridge University Press Henson, Richards (1979). “What Kant Might Have Said: Moral Worth and the Over-determination of Dutiful Action”, in Phil. Review, January, 1979, pp. 39-54). Smith, Norman Kemp (trans. ) (1965) Critique of Pure Reason. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Wolf, Robert Paul (ed. ) (1969) Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals: text and critical essays. trans. , by Lewis White Beck. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

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