The concept of rational suicide occasionally occurs in the context of ethical questions, such as whether or not there are any circumstances in which physician-assisted suicide would be morally acceptable. Those who favor physician-assisted suicide seek to show that under some circumstances suicide would be a rational act and thereby be morally acceptable. The transition from ‘the rational’ to ‘the moral’ is, of course, dubious: surely one cannot conclude that because an act is rational it is necessarily morally good. Interesting as exploring this flaw might be, I wish to concentrate rather on the broader and more fundamental concept of rational suicide.

Thus, I assume rational suicide may or may not involve assistance by another in its performance, and my aim is to examine the possibility of rational suicide for people who may be considered able to make decisions.

Can people make a rational decision to die? Is there such a thing as rational suicide?

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    We are one of the few species that is aware enough to consider suicide and escape from pain. If someone is worried about hurting a loved one and they hold off, that could be rational on their part. When that person is in so much pain that their rationality is clouded and they cannot consider a loved one's pain after they are gone, that might be a type of irrationality. If that is irrational then I wonder if at that point, suicide is no longer a moral problem for that person at that time. I'm also a firm believer in survival complexes. I'm thinking that when someone is in so much pain that they
    – user29984
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 21:36
  • ... don't finish their sentences...
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 1:38

4 Answers 4


Schopenhauer is a figure who comes to mind here: he's not only advocated the related position of anti-natalism but also argued that suicide is a right of any human being, the opposite of immoral. By his argument, suicide can actually be the most magnificent declaration of moral freedom, as it constitutes taking maximal control of one's life.

It is an inviolable part of one's agency to end one's own existence is far from unheard of; the idea is that suicide can't be inherently immoral because it is among the most basic rights of any living agent to die. Some existentialism takes this to an extreme, according to which the default position is more or less that we should commit suicide unless we're able to find something worth living for.

To spin this into an explicitly moral argument (which has been done in exactly this way), suppose straightforwardly that happiness is the good, and that there exists a person nobody knows about who is doomed to suffer for the rest of their life and knows this. Under such a circumstance suicide becomes rational. Less contrived examples come up in the real world and have been the subject of many debates.

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    @JordanS I am not an ethicist, but if I had to say: they totally overlap. What is moral is always going to be rationally determined. If something is moral it is moral by virtue of some rational ground. But I realize that is not a consensus position.
    – commando
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 2:57
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    Thanks again; I appreciate it. Indeed your position is not a consensus position --- just an example that is at times used in this context: during WWII non-Jewish Germans who saved Jews were risking their lives - they were moral but not rational when taking rationality to be one's desire to survive. I think hence that maybe egoism and altruism play some role of distinguishing at some cases between morality and rationality. But that's still something to contemplate.
    – Jordan S
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 3:02
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    @JordanS ah, but "taking rationality to be one's desire to survive" is hugely controversial. But your point stands =)
    – commando
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 3:03
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    Yes...figured it out as well -- practically every step towards position is controversial....
    – Jordan S
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 3:05
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    Outside of Kantian and German Idealist views of human reason and "rational beings," reason becomes functionalist. One "has reasons" or "gives reasons"in relation to some end. This "end" could then be one's own survival or desires or whatever. Or some "higher end," which could be family, God, nation, humanity, whatever. Whether suicide or any other act is "rational" depends upon this moral framework, which cannot itself be "rationally" decided. Kant is, in my view, the best effort to ground rationality and morality. But only that... best effort. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 5:20

Yes, suicide can be rational. It may in fact be a paradigmatic act of rationality.

First, I would note that there is a fair amount of philosophical literature on this question, and I am not very familiar with it. Camus, for example, argues that the question of suicide is the ultimate manifestation of human "freedom," which is more or less the same as "rationality." Animals, vegetables, and minerals, locked into natural causality, cannot choose "to be or not to be..." or even pose the question, as Hamlet can. It is a possibility that arises only for the rational being.

Is it ever a "correct" decision, a best option? A moral option? That is a slightly different question.

Here, the concept of the immortal soul and a Kantian view of rationality enter the picture, confusingly. For the Ancients and Stoics such as Cato or Seneca, obviously suicide presents no moral problem. Likewise, for secular existentialists like Camus, it may present no moral problem. For the Christian, on the other hand, one's "life" is not one's personal property, and this view is not entirely limited to the religious. It may apply to Marxists, say, or anyone who conceives of a "higher purpose."

Christians like Kant might also argue that suicide to end suffering or attain some other material end is deluded in thinking it can actually have such knowledge or predict such outcomes. Pascal's wager may, indeed, make a "rational" or probabilistic case against the short-term benefits of suicide. And it is not only the possibility that suicide does not in fact "end one's life," it is also the unknown consequences for others and thus for the world at large.

Suicide is a possibility for rational beings only. Such a momentous "free" decision expresses the very essence of rationality. But it can never be "logical," for there is no possible certainty as to the consequences. Not even a calculable probability. And whether it can be "moral" is a matter of cultural context and one's overall understanding of life.

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    "Animals... locked into natural causality, cannot choose... or even pose the question." ... "Suicide is a possibility for rational beings only." Okay, uh. Where is your evidence for the first claim? There is absolutely no substantive evidence in ethology and evolutionary biology that humans are somehow more "rational" than other animals. Second, what is a "rational being" anyway?
    – commando
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 2:17
  • "There is absolutely no substantive evidence in ethology and evolutionary biology that humans are somehow more "rational" than other animals." Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 2:38
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    'It seems patently obvious that animals, even our beloved dogs, do not "possess the same sorts of mental faculties we do."' I think we should simply agree to disagree here, this sort of "patently obvious" claim is the foundation of unscientific dogma and "common sense" misbelief misdirecting scholarly progress for millenia.
    – commando
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 3:10
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    Can you clarify the distinction between "rational" and "logical"? Also, do you admit probabilistic reasoning or other ways to try to incorporate uncertainty? (If not I am not sure how one decides anything in any situation.)
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 4:39
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    There is a famous if rather disturbing experiment which showed that rats forced to swim with no hope of escape, elect to stop swimming long before they physically need to.
    – Richard
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 19:29

Per the example you pointed out: someone who is in a terminal condition and an intolerable amount of pain, yet somehow still be rational, may decide to terminate their own life this would be a rational suicide by some people's account.

A more interesting case is the typical Hollywood scenario of someone purposefully dying to save loved ones or their country or something. I am not talking about suicide bombers or people blowing themselves up for a political cause, but the movie scenario where some has to die to prevent an asteroid from hitting the planet or something like that. Such a suicide would indeed be considered rational by any measure.

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    Thank you very much for this answer. The interesting (indeed) case you describe - to die so to save loved ones --- I still wonder whether or not from the individual point of view such act of suicide would be rational. I mean, we could think of it as not rational still and as rather merely moral and heroic act. Maybe answering the question requires unpacking the meaning of 'rationality'?...(We could assume rationality to be composed inter-alia of survival instinct and thus avoidance of suicide)
    – Jordan S
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 1:42
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    I do not see why you separate the suicide bomber and Sydney Carton. Wherever the act is relativized to a "higher purpose" than the life of the individual, it is functionally and contextually "rational." Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 1:58
  • @NelsonAlexander the value of a life compared to the glory of the elephant noodle deity or freedom of expression in whereveritisland is debatable at best, sacrficing one life to save many from certain and immediate termination is a much clearer case. Assuming all lives are of equal value, the utility of suicide in the second case is easy to figure out. See the trolley paradox. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 2:18
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    No, you are making wild and unwarranted assumptions about the future, not to mention the obvious cultural and "secular" biases. As Hume notes, there is no logical basis for preferring the end of a slight pain in my fingernail to the lives of all other human beings. It is only when the "higher purpose" is axiomized that the act can be rationalized. There is nothing more delusional about "preserving the caliphate" than about Carlton "preserving" the love of his friends. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 2:37

Ghandi said be the change you want to see in the world.

The past several months has been (for me) an examination of reality on reality’s terms, rather than my own or from a human viewpoint.

When one examines the ethical dilemmas of being a human in this world.. from beyond purely just the scope of the viewpoint of being human, it quickly becomes clear our existence is anything but special.

In fact, the discovery might throw us for a proverbial loop of unease and uncertainty about how we view ourselves, and what the moral and ethical outcomes of our existence demands we do.

If any life exterior to planet earth were to observe humanity and its impacts on earth, it would quickly and accurately assess that we are cancerous to the planet.

Our individual and collective existences serve merely to perpetuate and grow the cancer so as to consume the planet and destroy it, exactly in the fashion of a parasite.

Our existences consist of consumption and waste, and consumption for the production of waste. Nothing more, nothing less.

We work to eat, eat to live, live to work, and repeat.

In the process we consume fossil fuels for transportation, heat, clothing, materials (such as tires and plastic bags, etc), etc; and we destroy nature both to create space for our dwellings, but also to construct those dwellings from the trees we harvest.

We pump vast pollution in a myriad of endless ways into our atmosphere, we toss all of our physical waste into either the ground or the oceans, and we fill endless tanks full of shit and piss every day.

We murder billions of animals a year so that we can eat whatever we desire whenever we desire it. And to top it all off, we go to war with one another over who gets to do all of this for the lowest possible costs.

All in the name of progress.

I for one have reached the point where I no longer wish to be a cancer cell.

I disagree with humanity and being alive.

This leaves me at the ethical and moral dilemma about what the correct course of action should be; as if I am to follow Ghandi’s famous quote of being the change one wishes to see in the world, then am I not also obligated to perform the action that best represents my call to be the change I wish to see?

If I disagree with humanity, and my beliefs are so strong so as to present an argument in which logically dictates and rationally argues the immorality of sustaining being alive, does that not result at the moral obligation of actively choosing not to continue participation as part of this parasitic and vile species?

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    You can't be the change if you are not alive to be it. It is best to set an example of how to live. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 4:31
  • Your view should contain some action that creates a symbiotic world with nature instead of ‘im a cancer cell and need to die’. Are you saying humans in no way can live in tandem with nature? “The person who says they can and the person who says they can’t are both right” -Confucius
    – Robus
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 14:49

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