The common intuition vis-à-vis theis a challenge because the logical arguments that lead to the conclusion: suicide is morally wrong are not very common among philosophers. Of course, one could argue that what hurts is morally wrong, that suicide hurts people, and therefore committing suicide is morally wrong. But this argument is placed in a utilitarian framework where nothing is really bad in itself: in other words, if the existence of the person who commits suicide generates more collective suffering than his suicide, then his suicide will no longer be considered morally Wrong. What makes us see suicide as a morally wrong act then seems more complex than a simple story of suffering. Highlighting the intuitions that guide our normative judgment with regard to suicide is the mission of researchers.
Definition and preamble
As part ofthe authors retain the usual definition of suicide adopted by the National Institue of Mental Health as being ” death caused by self-directed harmful behavior with the intent to die as a result of the behavior”. They will then invent scenarios to test individuals’ intuitions about suicide. Using ancient exploratory research, they will focus on several parameters: time left to live, social harm, soul taint, self-harm, circumstances, what he calls self-euthanasia, prior exposure to suicide, the outcome of suicide, impulsivity and moral education.
At this stage, all of these parameters are mere hypotheses concerning the factors that would vary our moral judgment towards suicide. To better understand what they cover, we will detail them through different situations that would make suicide less bad:
- Time left to live: if the person who commits suicide has reasonably little hope of living many more years.
- Social harm: if the person has few entourage and therefore, by committing suicide, he does not hurt anyone (or almost) other than himself.
- The defilement of the soul: if the person has already committed morally reprehensible acts and therefore already possesses a defiled soul.
- L’auto-mutilation : if the person commits suicide in the most “gentle” way possible, that is to say, which causes him the least suffering.
- The seriousness of the circumstances: if the person who commits suicide is in an unbearable situation (except in terms of health).
- Self-euthanasia: if the person who commits suicide suffers from an incurable disease which causes him suffering. Let us clarify why the authors make the distinction between self-euthanasia and the previous point, the gravity of the circumstances. You would agree that it would be unthinkable for a doctor a person in financial difficulty? Conversely, a doctor who euthanizes someone who suffers from an incurable disease may be justifiable (which does not mean that it is legal). The authors consider that this condition is different from other types of serious circumstances because the suicide of a person who suffers from an incurable disease may not be considered a “real” suicide. If so, the presence of an incurable disease would be qualitatively different from other serious circumstances. That is to say, there would be a difference of kind and not of degree. That’s why they want to test this setting in an independent scenario.
- Prior exposure to suicide: if the person has known someone who committed suicide in the past.
- The result of the suicide: if the person who attempts suicide does not die.
- Impulsivity: if the person who commits suicide testifies to an internal conflict prior to the act. Let’s take the time to clarify our reservations on this point. Suicide is usually a long process. If the suicide attempt may seem impulsive, it is generally the result of a long and painful internal conflict. This point therefore concerns rather the perception that individuals will have rather than the reality of the presence/absence of an internal conflict in people who attempt suicide, which is generally present.
- moral education: if a person was raised in a community that held values such as “ suicide is a personal choice ».
The authors are now ready to invent their scenarios in order to highlight these different parameters and submit them to participants. The first study aims to test these parameters independently. The objective is to test the scenario in comparison with a control scenario: ” Mr. K is a 40-year-old man who is very unhappy in his life. He decides to commit suicide. Mr. King ingests a plate of medicine, falls asleep and dies painlessly. » Let’s give a brief example concerning the other scenarios with the first parameter, namely, the time remaining to live: ” Mr F is a 90 year old man who is very unhappy in his life. He decides to commit suicide. Mr F ingests a plate of medicine, falls asleep and dies painlessly. » After each scenario, a question was asked to the participants: To what extent was what Mr K, or Mr F, did the right thing or the wrong thing? “. Responses were rated using a Likert scale.
To increase the methodological robustness of their study, the researchers made sure, after each scenario, that the participants had indeed internalized the key parameter of the scenario to which they had been exposed. In the case of the time remaining to live, the question was: If Mr. K or F (depending on which scenario the participants were randomly exposed to) had not committed suicide, how much longer could he possibly have lived? » Responses were displayed on a 9-point scale ranging from “Very little time” (coded 1) to “Very long” (coded 9). There were as many scenarios as parameters that you can find within the thread below.
Here we will come directly to the conclusion of the first study. What can be learned from the various tests is that the participants considered thatwas less bad when the character had a short (rather than a long) time to live, had no family or friends and therefore caused minimal social harm, had lived a life of crime and deviance (but that didn’t necessarily something to do with the defilement of the soul since the parameter in question was not internalized), when the method of suicide was painless, when he suffered from a painful chronic incurable disease (thus making l act of suicide a form of self-euthanasia), when he seemed to have thought about the decision (instead of making it impulsively on the face of it) and when his moral or religious upbringing had taught him that suicide was a matter of a personal choice.
The severity of the character’s (financial) situation, previous exposure to suicide, and success or failure of the suicide attempt did not significantly affect participants’ normative judgments. Apart from the case of self-euthanasia, the scenarios provoked a normative judgment not very far from the control condition ineffect size, suggesting that it is the parameters taken together (and not in isolation) that determine our vigorous opposition to suicide. The authors were therefore able to discriminate between parameters encouraging our judgments of suicide as something morally wrong. But there remains an obscure point: do these parameters constitute an exhaustive list of what makes us intuitively reject ? This question is the subject of the second study.
Are these parameters necessary and sufficient to make us consider suicide as morally wrong?
To answer this question, the researchers’ methodology is as follows. They will propose two scenarios to other participants, including the seven parameters identified. The hypothesis is that if normative judgments tend on average towards the midpoint of a Likert scale (i.e. viewing suicide as neutral, neither morally good nor bad), this will constitute an argument suggesting that these parameters are necessary and sufficient to explain our judgments of suicide as morally wrong.
The two scenarios in question are:
- Mr. K is a 40-year-old man who is very unhappy in his life, even though he is very healthy, physically. He received a religious education and always learned that suicide is morally wrong. Without thinking too much about it, Mr K decides to commit suicide and in a slow and painful process, ends his life by hanging.
- Mr. K is a 90-year-old man who is very unhappy in his life, as he suffers from an incurable chronic disease which causes intense and frequent pain. He lived a life of crime and deviance and hurt many people over the years. He was raised in a religious home where he learned that suicide is a personal choice. He has no living family or close friends. Knowing that there is no one he would miss if he was gone, he decides to kill himself to escape the pain of his illness. After thinking for several months, Mr. King ingests an entire pack of drugs, falls asleep and dies painlessly.
After each scenario, the authors ask the same question as in the first study: “ How much of what Mr K did was the right thing or the wrong thing? » On average, the judgments tend towards the midpoint of the Likert scale in the second scenario! This suggests that all of these parameters constitute the exhaustive list of necessary and sufficient reasons that guide our normative judgment regarding suicide.
How to use these results in practice?
According to the authors, these results can be used to carry out interventions with the general public. They suggest that by reinforcing individuals’ common intuition about these parameters and therefore about the morally wrong character of suicide, fewer people will commit suicide. This is a fairly strong hypothesis which requires empirical study and which somewhat denies the social and material aspect of the problem of suicide, the existence of which is known.
In other words, knowing your intuitions can be useful in an individualistic framework or in thedirect from person to person, but does not seem useful for large-scale prevention where the material conditions of individuals as well as the psychological and pharmacological management of pathologies, such as depression, seem to be the determining factors.