Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Suicide

Welcome back everyone,

I missed you. I didn't send out an email for the first couple of weeks because I felt as though it would be best to give everyone some time to adjust to being back at school. We will be having our weekly discussions this semester on Thursdays at Yeats brew pub at 8:00. Meet for rides at Connelly on the first floor at 7:30. I started out last year with Truth, or truth if you prefer, which has been a perennial subject in philosophy. However, Albert Camus once wrote that the only serious philosophical question is suicide. I know some of you are Camus fans out there, so let's entertain his proposal for a moment.


For Camus, people commit suicide because of an attachment to philosophical logic and reason. One might be tempted to ask, how is it logical in any way to commit suicide? Well, what if someone told you that your life was inherently lacking in meaning? Would you take it personally? Maybe. But if you step back there's a certain way in which "meaning" is an ultimately artificial construct, a tool which humans use to communicate and function within the context of a society. If you think about meaning in this way, perhaps it is possible to conceive of meaning as an unnatural phenomenon. For Camus, the natural capacity of life to flout the schemas of philosophical logic and reason is what constitutes the absurd. His hypothesis is that when people recognize this inherent tendency of lived experience, they give up because they no longer understand life. His point is that life is inherently valuable, and that one can achieve relative happiness, without complete understanding, which seems relatively impossible, and attempts towards such an understanding may be detrimental to both your mental and physical health.

So how do we as philosophers, or human beings if you prefer, understand this claim? Life is meaningless, but don't kill yourself because it's all you're ever going to experience. It doesn't seem outlandish, but why do you suppose people actually kill themselves? Socrates committed suicide for the sake of his ideals, what do you suppose Camus would say to this? Is there a time when death is philosophically appropriate, or should we commit philosophical suicide the way Camus enjoins us to do so? Are we concerned with ritual suicide, or is this outside of the scope of Camus' actively willing subject that takes his own life? Is it possible for a person without ideals to kill themselves?

This topic might be conceived as a little depressing, but the centrality of the question cannot be overlooked. On a lighter note, a quote from an older article of the New York Times, which I know many of you read:

"Jenna Schaal-O'Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore who is majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, said philosophy had other perks. She said she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive.

"That whole deep existential torment," she said. "It's good for getting girlfriends.""

So ponder that for a moment. Here's the article:

I look forward to seeing everyone out on Thursday.

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