Aristotle greatly emphasizes the influence of the master, or he who possesses the greatest amount of practical wisdom. It is this master that we should turn to in order to determine the most virtuous course of action. In addition to this, Aristotle is very clear on his view on suicide, or any action which ends a human life before it has reached its true end, claiming that those who commit such actions are merely cowards who rob society of their positive contributions – both socially and economically.

I choose to approach this issue from the perspective of such actions being used as an avoidance/elimination of pain on the part of a terminally ill individual. To said individual, pain belongs uniquely to them in the sense that no other can experience their pain or even attempt to understand it, but also that no one pain is exactly like any pain we have felt before or are likely to ever feel again. It is for this reason that we refer to pain in the form of vague metaphors – a sharp stabbing pain, a dull ache, etc – as we lack the ability to fully share our experience of pain with those we attempt to describe it to. Considering this, could the individual who experiences this pain be the master of themselves? Could they then be permitted to choose – based upon their possession of the greatest practical wisdom on the part of their pain – their own fate, whether that be to die a natural death or to die by a purposeful method? Or perhaps, is the state of being master of their pain (if they are so), not enough to warrant a right to choose their own death?

  • 2
    Could you make clearer what the question is that you have for us about philosophy? It might be in there but there's a lot of things going on in there.
    – virmaior
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 13:50
  • How do you propose being "master of your own pain" be objectively evaluated?
    – christo183
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 10:01

1 Answer 1


I think I have an idea about what you're asking, but please correct me if I am wrong. I feel as if you are asking a question about subjectivity related to a final state of being, which in this case is death. Let me list off some questions I think you may be asking or need to ask.

-Can someone rationalize ending their life via physician assisted suicide, assuming that the person knows everything about their pain and that pain is absolutely subjective?

If this is your question, then the answer must be looked at in the first way which Aristotle views suicide. Since it would end human life before its natural end was reached, then you cannot rationalize engaging in physician-assisted suicide. However, you must also ask another question.

-If someone cannot positively contribute to society, can they then rationalize going through physician assisted suicide?

This question is based in relativism. That is, what positively contributing to society is different across cultures without many absolute specifics that certain philosophers (i.e. the utilitarians) have attempted to define, but even have holes there. Just because something is for the common good does not mean that it is good for everyone. We must then look for another way to define the worth of life. This question leads us into another question then:

-Does human life have inherent value to it?

This question is heavily debated, but let us take a view at it via Aristotle. Aristotle believed that the goal of life is happiness. From this point of perspective, we must also take into account the fact that we cannot experience happiness in death. Because we cannot experience happiness in death and only in life, we should not die when we can avoid death so that we can continue to experience happiness, which is our overall goal. Therefore, we should not go through physican assisted suicide so that happiness can still be felt.

-A question I ignored from above- Is pain subjective?

Yes, as you've almost explained above. Since pain cannot be shared with others, it is a feeling that is purely internal. Thus, pain is subjective?

-How can we master something that is subjective, like pain?

It is clear to me that if something that is not objective, we cannot develop a mastery of, since we cannot be sure of the extremity of our pain. I could stub my toe and not cry, and let's also say that this is the worst pain I've felt. Then, I can say that I have mastered my pain to the best of my degree when it is clear that there are so many other things so much more painful that I could experience. Since we cannot experience objective value in pain, we cannot master it because there is no true way to comparing our ability to master our pain compared to someone else's. Without the certainty of the mastery of our pain, we cannot rationalize ending our life over a given amount of pain.

Your other option is to view this question through the base questions of medical ethics (i.e. autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, etc.), which may give you more of an answer you are looking for.

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