Recently, after taking an introductory course in Kantian ethics — I am now familiar with the concepts of free will, duty-conception, the categorical imperative —, I was writing an essay on his position regarding suicide. If I understood Kant correctly (my reference work is his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals), the main reasons for his rejection of suicide are the following:

  • Regarding the other formulation of the categorical imperative: the moral agent who wishes to commit suicide uses his life as a means, and not as an end, thus lacking human dignity.
  • If we apply the categorical imperative to the suicide maxim we would arrive at a contradiction, for a moral system of duties cannot allow the moral agent to escape his duties (i.e. the system would produce the inconsistent rules: "Do one's duty" and "Escape from duty").
  • Finally, the autonomy to which many advocates of allowing suicide refer, is only guaranteed if the subject acts according rationally to maxims that have survived the categorical imperative, which is not the case.

What surprises me about this reasoning — besides the fact that it makes no sense outside the system proposed by Kant himself —, is that it does not allude to life as an inalienable right in Lockean terms (which we still do today): that is, as a right so fundamental that we cannot even renounce it. Did Kant believe in life as an unalienable right? Is this believe consistent with his deontological approach? If not: why?

Thanks in advance :)

  • 3
    Kant did believe in something like inalienable rights, see Hood, Kant On Inalienable Rights. But not under this label (he uses the language of duties), and to him they are not basic tenets but rather consequences of the respect for person's intrinsic worth. Your first bullet is the Kantian version of "a right so fundamental that we cannot even renounce it", that "the person may never be used as a means except when he/she is at the same time an end" is the wellspring of all personal rights.
    – Conifold
    Apr 25, 2021 at 20:09


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