Essay: Kant Camus Kant and Camus on Suicide

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Kant Camus

Kant and Camus on Suicide

Morality appears to us as a concrete term which is underscored by certain rational assumptions about the universe. And yet, our own experience tells us that that which one considers to be vice may, to another, be seen as virtue. The reverse may also apply. Thus, it is rather difficult to reconcile that which does in fact define our cause for moral behavior, though all figures of importance to the historical discourse on philosophy have ventured a framework through which to do so. This has also provoked a somewhat universal consideration of the moral implications of life itself and, therefore, of death. This, in turn, has forced a confrontation with the correlation between man's power over his own life and, by consequence, power over his own death. Those thinkers which have sought to address morality as a function of human existence have equally as often endeavored to understand where the act of suicide falls within this discussion. In our investigation here of the various possible lenses through which to understand the moral imperatives relating to the act of suicide, we are inclined to consider the widely divergent views of German theologian Immanuel Kant and French Algerian absurdist Albert Camus. Ironically, though both thinkers proceed from structural perspectives of wholly different and perhaps even conflictive ethos, they nonetheless arrive at a shared point of rejection of suicide.

Argument:

Kant's 1785 Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals provides basic understanding for the discussion of morality from the normative perspective. Such is to say that Kant's would be the most rigid, socially constrained and dangerous of understandings, but nonetheless, totally unique in its orientation and provisions for its time and place.

At the center of Kant's argument is the premise that the same reason which applies to the empirical nature of scientific discourse must rationally apply in the same way to ethical discourse. His perspective toward scientific certainty would mark a unique and original bridging of worlds between the corporeal and the ideological. Accordingly, Kant contends that "physics will have its empirical part, but it will also have a rational one; and likewise ethics -- although here the empirical part might be called specifically practical anthropology, while the rational part might properly be called morals." (Kant, 20) to Kant, previous ideals on ethical autonomy are threatening to social order, representing the opportunity for the individual to devise his own ethical parameters. The rationality of scientific practicality denotes, to Kant, instead a heteronomous orientation whereby there is a connective tissue of ethicality common to all men and women, restraining and directing behaviors. Kant defines autonomy as the ability to act based on one's own volition. Heteronomy, on the other hand, is a common set of social forces inclining individuals to tend toward common motives and common actions.

Accordingly, Kant lays out a concise framework for justice, admonishing that "the categorical imperative, which declares the action to be objectively necessary without referring to any end in view. . . . holds as an apodictic practical principle." (Kant, p. 18) the 'categorical imperative' to which Kant refers is foundational to the normative theory suggesting that there is some immutable force associated with our conception and actualization of the idea of 'good' or 'evil.' It inclines us to understanding that the means by which we behave are inherently informed by our commitment to a single, shared and unchanging idea about what is right. To commit to this idea is practical reason and to fail to make this commitment is irrational, which allows Kant to propose that such a positive correlation could be observed between rationality and morality.

It is thus that Kant expressly rejects two conditions elemental to suicide. The first of these is an irrational conducting of harm that is contrary to the absolute moral imperatives underscoring man's theologically-constructed presence on Earth. The failure to further the cause of man's survival thusly is perceived also as an autonomous act that reflects the chaos against which Kant warns. Kant presents the argument that moral order is impossible to define without permanent standards that are shaped by man's dignity, denoting therefore that it is only reasonable to act in cooperation with this conception for one's own self-preservation. Indeed, a submission to acts that are counterintuitive to self-preservation such as suicide… [END OF PREVIEW]

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