Diogenes Laërtius says of Diogenes of Sinope ‘others, of whom Cercidas, a Megalopolitan or Cretan, is one, say that he died of holding his breath for several days’ in the midst of a bundle of accounts another almost right after tells of his sudden closing of his teeth and holding of his breath and so then death.


It is often said that one can not die of holding one’s breath, this however, to the best of my knowledge is a myth in so much as the most rigorous knowledge we have of this process is incomplete and reliable testing is impossible, due to ethical reasons...

This translation that seems rather reliable, however, suggests the death of Diogenes happens on account of multiple sessions of breath holding, perhaps causing increasing brain damage unto death. Anyway, that’s how I purpose to construe the phrase ‘holding his breath for several days’, does that seem plausible?

We could add something to the telling, predicate it on the supposition that the ancients were quite aware what was meant by the notion of holding one’s breath and dying to the effect that it, properly understood, meant death by drowning. Far fetched?

The situation is this: Diogenes understands that human nature differs from that of animals who, for the most part, simply follow that that is in agreement with their nature to a degree intermediary between that of the plant and the human, the human who has access to theoretical reflection and not only practical reason (which animals also have to an extent, such as a bird solving relatively complex physical puzzles to get something it wants); given, for the nonce, the supposition later found in Aristotle is accepted: Namely that the plant has no part in reason and so the acorn follows the path to becoming an oak whilst merely reacting to the sun and other powers of a like kind, taking in nutrients, and then after coming to this end reproduces more acorns that repeat this (so we must accept also that there is such a thing as an ‘end’ to do this problem too...). The human being, however, Aristotle says, is a microcosm in precisely this sense, an indeterminate choice of ends is available (and we omit a discussion about choice as such in this case as unnecessary for the present and consider what is presented proper to the discussion so far as we are not petty, at least provisionally).

Add then this: Diogenes does not believe happiness, or any political and social aim, is the highest goal. He has studied Hericlitus and he believes all things are in a state of transformation including a man’s desires and even his highest rational wants, for he does not except the eternity of Plato and Aristotle, that of knowledge. Seeking neither knowledge or pleasure or any manner of happiness he posits a condition for personal fulfillment, that is to say a self-created condition, this condition, of course, is suicide, and perhaps the method is also part of it, but also the method may be peripheral to the hard core of the self-created condition of his fulfilment. One could, of course, add ‘as a free being’ and let in a slew of issues concerning the will and what not, but it seems to me unnecessary to the main argument: the free will is limited to what is presented, and not understood anachronistically or otherwise as a Kantian negative free will, but this I assert without lengthy justification and parenthetically.

closed as not constructive by Joseph Weissman Apr 18 '13 at 4:27

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    Is there particular reason we should take Diogenes Laertius as reliable on this point? He was known for accepting almost any testimonia, "that great ignoramus." – Michael Dorfman Sep 12 '12 at 7:21
  • I’m not sure this surety exists & in a sense the problem might be diverted to the pure virtuality of a hypothetical without losing its motive plume. However, it may be that the insistence on historical sourcing is inseparable from the problem--of this I’m not certain. – user2133 Sep 13 '12 at 3:22

This method allows you to commit suicide by your own hands or to choose life by your own decision, instead of submitting to the conditions counteracting your will.

Consider this: You eat poison to kill yourself. Could you make sure it's actually YOU who's killing yourself and not something else (in this case poison)? If you regret what you've done, it might already be too late to avert the poisoning, and it's not going to be you who killed you, but the poison. Like being killed by too much smoking when you know it kills, only a bit faster. Or if you try to kill yourself by drowning: maybe it's not that you don't want to breath when you're close to death, but you actually can't. If someone wants to terminate their life, it's not logical to create conditions in which you can't act freely any more (e.g. make it impossible to breath) and to submit to it.

Sorry for my poor English. I didn't know who Diogenes was, thank you. Thought about this method as true suicide method years ago.

  • Hope my edit's not too invasive. – iphigenie Nov 18 '12 at 15:19