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The Discussion of Suicide in the Eighteenth Century Author(s): Lester G. Crocker Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.

13, No. 1 (Jan., 1952), pp. 47-72 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2707725 Accessed: 22/03/2010 07:05
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THE DISCUSSION OF SUICIDE IN THE EIGHTEENTH 'CENTURY


BY LESTERG. CROCKER

Many age-old questions, that have since early times perplexed inquiring minds, were reanimated by the men of the Enlightenment, thrashed out from the viewpoint of new conceptions of human nature and destiny, and resolved in the light of current needs and beliefs. The prime direction of thought favored ethical and social issues. Luxury, happiness, progress, truth and falsehood, stand out among the abstract topics that engaged universal interest. Typical of this process of re-exploration was the renewed discussion of the ethics of suicide. As a problem, it was intrinsically less essential than some to the fashioning of a new pattern; but it was none the less part of the pattern. One eddy in the main stream of ideas, it was as ardently contested as any other in the bitter struggle between medievalists and moderns.' The question of suicide is one of intense human interest, and has been approached by greater minds than any who wrote in the eighteenth century. Who does not remember the gruesome picture in Inferno XIII, where Dante meets the suicides, turned into trees on whose leaves Harpies feed? Io sentia d'ogni parte guai, e non vedea personache'l facesse; per ch'io tutto smarrito m'arrestai . .. Shakespeare has Hamlet ponder the question, and makes Cleopatra a follower of Roman philosophy, as well as of Roman heroes.
1 For bibliographies, very incomplete, see Hans Rost, Bibliographie des Selbstmords (Augsburg, 1927); E. M. Oettinger: "Bibliographie du suicide," Bibliophile beige, 13, s6rie 24 (1857), 107-14. The only extensive historical study is by Albert Bayet, Le suicide et la morale (Paris, 1922). Bayet traces in great detail the history of the discussion from ancient times to the present. His work is of great value for reference, but is far from definitive for the eighteenth century, and probably for other periods as well. It suffers from repetitious compilation, author by author, with insufficient integration and evaluation. The main current of ideas is neglected as a point of reference in favor of a special thesis (support of suicide represents the morality of the social and intellectual elite, hatred of it, the ignorant and servile). Anti-Catholic bias is evident, and the opinions of some writers are distorted. Also, Bayet limits his discussion to France, an unacceptable boundary line in the eighteenth-century intellectual atmosphere. H. R. Fedden's study (Suicide, London, 1938), is on the other hand both highly readable and rewarding for its literary and social allusions. Unfortunately it presents no broad philosophical interpretation or special knowledge of the eighteenth century. 47

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. . And then, what'sbrave,what'snoble, Let's do it after the high Romanfashion, to take us. Andmakedeathproud Milton bringsup suicideboth in SamsonAgonistes (" And let another hand, not thine, exact Thy penal forfeit from thyself ") and in the tenth book of ParadiseLost, where Eve proposesthat she and Adam escape sufferingand punishment. Of manyways to die the shortestchoosing, with destruction to destroy. Destruction But she is swayed by Adam's wiser counsel: suicide savors of pride, of resistanceagainst God and the just yoke he has laid on our necks. Great names of the eighteenth century-in France, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau; in England, Hume-were deeply involved in the debate over suicide. In Prussia,Frederickthe Great,under the influence of the philosophiedes lumieres,took stock on the eve of the battle of Rossbach. Summarizinghis materialisticphilosophy (there is no memory outside the senses, thereforeno life after death), he resolves in case of defeat to be no less magnanimousthan Cato and other Romans: libre Fermement resolude vivre et mourir
De laches pr6jugesosant braver les lois.2

Faced with political disaster, "Vivre devient un crime, et mourirun devoir." To understandwhy these leading figuresthought as they did, it is necessaryto considerthem in the context of their times. We must view their writingsin the light of the whole stream of discussionthat engaged a host of lesser men, forming conjointly one facet of the struggleof ideas. None of the three great poets quoted is referredto by the embattled rationalistsof the eighteenth century. The men of the Enlightenment took their cues from the Greekand Roman philosophers,and range themselves, accordingto their faith, either with Plato or Aristotle, or with the Epicurean and Stoic writers who in the matter of suicide were bedfellows. The example most commonly brought up and debatedwas that of Cato. We shall have occasionto see to what extent the eighteenth century followed the pattern laid down by the Ancients. To the Greco-Romanbackgroundwas joined the contributionof Christianmysticism. On the matter of self-destruction,the Church fathers definitelysplit with the Old Testament heritage. This fact is
2

Oeuvres (Berlin, 1849), XII, 153-59.

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referredto several times by the eighteenth-centuryapologists of suicide. The position of Hebrew theology is substantially the same today as it was in Biblical times. Suicide is considereda crime against God, unless prompted by extenuating circumstances. However the five cases in the Old Testament-all of which are condoned-would indicate that the exemptionsare many. Honor,good of country,fear, atonement, prospect of torture are all consideredjustifiable motivation. The essential aspect of the Jewish attitude is that suicide is not linked indissolublyto the idea of the sanctity of life.3 The Christianposition was determinedonce and for all by Saint foe of suicide. Early Christianshad Augustine, an uncompromising admiredthose who gave their lives for the faith, and indeed,the question of martyrdomremaineda fine point of dialectical disputationin later theologicalwritings.4 We shall not be concernedwith the technicalities of dogma. It is of no interest to us to explore the fallacies in Saint-Cyran'sjudgment that there are thirty-four cases in which self-murderis innocent.5 Nor would it be in any way useful for our purposeto follow John Donne's lengthy argumentthat suicide is not an irremissiblesin.6 What is of very great concernto us is the fundamental attitude underlyingboth family wranglingssuch as these and the almost united Christianfront that opposedthe apologistsof selfdestruction. Since this attitude has remainedapproximatelyconstant to our own day, we can find its most authoritative statement in the CatholicEncyclopedia. " To destroy a thing is to dispose of it as an absolutemasterand to act as one having full and independentdominion over his life, since to be owner one must be superiorto his property." We have, then, only the right of use, but the right of ownership resides in the Creator.7 Other argumentsadvancedin condem3 For a more complete discussion, see the UniversalJewish Encyclopedia. The Talmud also excuses suicide in times of persecution,and under conditionsof great mental or physicalstrain. Strangelyenough,there has been less suicideamongJews than amongmost other peoples. 4 De civitate Dei, XV, 4, I, 22. Bayet attributesthe changeto pagan influences brought in by new converts, together with belief in relics and amulets, funeral wreaths,mourning,and the idea of the sanctity of burial (op. cit., 320-33, 366-70). 5 Bayle: Dictionnairehistoriqueet critique,article " Saint-Cyran," nb. B. 6 Donne assuresus, for example,that there is nothingevil that is not sometimes good, indeed commanded by God; thereforethe evil is not in the natureof the thing but in God's commandment. (Biathanatos [London,1700] 36.) 7 Exceptionsare admittedunderthe argumentthat God is masterto modify his will. This accounts for the virtue of martyrdomand also condonessuicide committed to preserve one's chastity, and slow suicide through laceration and fasting performed by saints in order to overcome the passions of the flesh. "Indirect suicide" is allowed when to save one's life would involve great expense or painful operations.

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nation of suicide-the violation of the instinct of self-preservation, the cowardiceof the act itself-must be regardedas addendain support of this basic position, which gives to man mastery over what he does with his life, except in regardto life itself. As might be expected, the Middle Ages treated suicide severely throughoutits literature,in its miracle plays and chansonsde geste, as well as in didactic writings. Bodies of suicides were dragged throughthe streets and burned,their propertyconfiscated,their families shamed. With the Renaissanceand the rebirth of the classical spirit, defense of suicide was again heard, in a very limited way, in novels and the theatre, and in the humanisticwritingsof men such as Montaigne and Charron. Italian jurists initiated an inquiryinto the reasonablenessof laws dealing with that crime. The seventeenth century witnessed furtherincreaseof comment (the most famous betract, Casusregius), and suicidebecameacceptedin ing Saint-Cyran's tragedies dealing with the Greeks and Romans. But seventeenthcentury France, in the totality of its attitude, severely condemned suicide: Malebranche, Nicole, Arnaud,Descartes,La Mothe le Vayer, and theologiansof every stripe, Jansenist,Jesuit and Protestant, were in agreement. Polemically, the problem was still of little moment. Then, by an act of the government,the question was brought before the public, and reopenedin its very principle. The Ordonnance criminelle de 1670 for the first time grouped suicide with the major crimesof heresy and lese-majeste. It extended to all who took their own life the condemnationpreviously reserved exclusively to criminals who committedsuicide. This increasedseverity undoubtedlyled many to question the justice of the officialattitude and to re-examine their own convictions. In England, at about the same period, the challengingof the traditionaljudgmentof suicidewas an unavoidable result of the general extension of skeptical rationalism under the Restoration. Logicallyenough,the eighteenth centurybecamethe greatestbattlegroundsince ancient times over the inherent meaning of the act of self-destruction. This was, by the nature of things, inevitable, even had the Ordonnance of 1670 never been promulgated. The reason is evident. In the multiplicity of arguments that flooded from the presses, one issue unmistakably dominates all others, although at times submerged or disguisedin the subtletiesof dialectic. It emerges in a brief comment in Bayle's dictionary. Bayle is careful to clearly a avoid generalstatement, but he praisesthe death of Lucretia: " on ne peut la justifier au tribunal de la religion, mais, si on la juge au tribunal de la gloire humaine, elle y remporterala couronnela plus

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brillante." 8 It is obvious that in these few words Bayle is raising a purely human ethical standard and offering it as a challenge to the mystical limitation on man's freedom of choice, in an act which provides the ultimate test of that freedom. This, then, was the basic dilemma that Bayle, who in so many ways laid out paths for the new century, crystallized in brief words: the bifurcation between what may be termed, without any prejudgment, the humanistic, and the authoritarian views of man's estate. Let us keep his pithy statement in mind as we review the arguments advanced on both sides. Is man's life God's property? Or is his life his own? This is the most direct expression of the point of contention. The answer for the authoritarians was spoken for all time by Plato. In the Phaedo he states that we belong to the gods, our masters, and must not rob them. " Man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away." He makes a significant analogy: would not our animals be robbing us if they indulged in suicide? Plato's claim is restated frequently in the eighteenth century. Among its many proponents was Moses Mendelssohn, who was perhaps less influenced by the Judaic attitude than by the general struggle of ideas.9 Formey, historiographer of the Academy of Berlin and object of Voltaire's contempt, specified that the wrong stems from the dissolution of body and soul, which is clearly outside our province. God has placed us here by natural causes, and wants us to stay until natural causes bring about our death. "Je ne vois aucune circonstance qui puisse vous mettre a la place de Dieu, et vous autoriser a detruire son ouvrage." 10 It is His work, emphasized Jean Dumas; man cannot take away what he did not give himself.1l In an obscure but curious piece by John Adams, chaplain to the King of England, the matter is reduced to simplest terms. The principle of life does not belong to man; he does not have property over himself because he does not make himself; obviously, he has only the right of use.12
Op. cit., article " Lucrece." 9 In his most famous dialogue, which bears the same title as Plato's, he declares that we are God's slaves. He alone is arbiter of our fate. (Phedon [Paris, 1787], 92-95). Diderot also expounds the conventional view in his article " Suicide " in the Encyclopedie . 10 " Dissertation sur le meurtre volontaire de soi-meme," in Melanges philosophiques (Leyden, 1754), I, 216-17. Voltaire wrote to Baron Constant de Rebecque concerning a chaplain who had killed himself after reading Formey: " je ne suis point surpris que votre homme se soit ennuye a la lecture du livre de Formey contre le suicide, au point d'etre tente de faire le contraire de ce que ce bavard recommande." (Oeuvres, Moland, XLIX, 348, 9 aout 1775). 11 Traite du suicide (Amsterdam, 1773), 314. 12An Essay concerning self-murther (London, 1700), 5-10. This was echoed later by Charles Moore, rector of Cuxton, in his lengthy work, A Full Inquiry into
8

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A figure frequently used to reinforcethis argumentwas also borrowed from the Ancients. Man, said Formey, is "un soldat en faction, dans un poste qu'il ne doit quitter qu'avecla permissionde celui qui l'y a plac." The figure was originated,accordingto Cicero,by Pythagoras.l3 Cicero'sown reply was reiteratedby many later writers: when we feel that God has given us a valid reasonto depart,then we do have his permission.14Formey,feeling the weight of the Ciceronianreasoning,admittedthat the argumentwas weak. For the Ancients, our soul was part of God, and we obeyed him when we obeyed our own reason. Pythagoras'words were reducibleto this formula: no suicide without God's permission= no suicide without good reasons. Hume attackedthe whole concept moreradicallythan any one else. He simply denied that there was any such thing as being " placed at a station." The figureis fanciful. " For my part, I find that I owe my birth to a long chain of causes, of which many depended upon voluntary actions of men." If you claim that Providence guided all these causes, then voluntary death is a result of the same Providence.15 The most direct rejection of this entire attitude was the claim made by the humanisticgroupthat the right to end one's life is an inherent part of the conditionand dignity of being a man. This feeling had been expressedmost elegantly by the Ancients. "We may serenely quit life's theatre when the play has ceased to please," wrote Cicero in explaining the Epicurean philosophy.16 The Stoics went further. Even a happy man should sometimes make his exit if he feels the time is ripe: these primarythings fall under the judgment and choice of the wise man. Marcus Aurelius declares proudly, "I chooseto do what is accordingto the nature of the rational and social animal."17 Seneca holds that we must make our lives acceptableto others, but our death to ourselvesalone.'8 Lucretius,in Book III of his poem, outdoeseven these in the noble expressionof his lofty pride. After the long hiatus of the Middle Ages, we again find similarexpressions in Montaigne and Charron.19Montaigne largely paraphrases
the Subject of Suicide (London, 1790), II, 188. It is somewhatmore surprisingto find a similaridea in a piece by a scientist, Robinet. It is not up to us, he says to prolong our life or to shorten it. (Dictionnaire universel des sciences morales, economiques,etc. [Londres, 1783], art. "Suicide."). Cf. Chaudon (Dictionnaire anti-philosophique [Avignon, 1771], II, 167.) " It is no more our right to die than it is our right not to be men." 13 " Pythagorasbids us stand like faithful sentries and not quit our post until God, our Captain,gives the word." (De senectute). 14 TusculanDisputations [Heinemann,1927], I, 30. 15 Essay on suicide,publishedposthumouslyin 1789. 16De Finibus,I, 15, 19. 17Meditations,IV, 29. 18 Epistle 70. 19Charron:De la sagesse,II, ch. 11; Montaigne:" Coustumede l'Isle de Cea," Essais, II, 3.

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Seneca. Both he and Charron agree that " la plus volontaire mort est la plus belle." John Donne gave this thought its classic expression: " methinks I have the keys of my prison in mine owne hand, and no remedy presents itself so soone to my heart, as mine owne sword." 20 In the eighteenth century, this view is implicit in the thinking of those who upheld the right to end our own life. It underlies statements such as Vauvenargues': " celui qui meurt volontairement et de sang-froid meurt pour la gloire." Several proclaimed it explicitly. Hume, for instance, repeats Pliny's words, that the power to quit life is an advantage that men possess even above the Deity himself. The act of suicide, Mme. de Stael declared, proves that a man can be greater than nature; of all beings, he alone is endowed with the power of rational reflection that enables him to surmount his instincts.21 Among the eighteenth-century writers who championed this belief, Voltaire's voice was perhaps loudest and clearest. He throws his support behind an analogy made by Saint-Cyran: just as the government stands for God's authority so does man's reason represent God's reason.22 In three plays and one novel he has his hero (or heroine) proclaim his mastery over his own ultimate destiny. In the Orphelin de la Chine, Idame urges her husband to their self-destruction. Ne saurons-nousmourirque par ordred'un roi? Les taureauxaux autels tombent en sacrifice; Les criminelstremblantssont traines au supplice, Les mortelsgenereuxdisposentde leur sort . . . De nos voisins altiers imitons la constance; De la nature humaineils soutiennentles droits, Vivent libres chez eux, et meurenta leur choix . . . In Alzire, the heroine regrets having become a Christian: Eh, quel crimeest-ce done, devant ce Dieu jaloux, De hater un momentqu'il nous preparea tous? Quoi! du calice amer d'un malheursi durable
Biathanatos (FacsimileText Society, N. Y., 1930), 18. l'influence des passions . . . (1796), Oeuvres (Paris, 1820), III, 187. Moore denied this, claiming that suicide is essentially an irrational act. So did Spinoza. Adams also maintainedthat suicideperverts the end of humanlife, which cannot be the destroyingof life, but somethingall men are capable of, namely, the proper use of reason toward the attainmentof virtue. For a curious seventeenthcentury opinionfavoringsuicide,see Cyrano de Bergerac:Les Stats et empirede la lune (Paris, 1921), 86. 22Oeuvres,XX, 302 (ch. XX).
21 De
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Faut-il boire a longs traits la lie insupportable? Ce corpsvil et mortel est-il done si sacre, Que l'esprit qui le meut ne le quitte a son gre?23

When the Ingenu in Voltaire'sstory asks Gordonwhether anyone on earth has the right or the power to prevent him from ending his life, Gordonis carefulnot to reply with what Voltaire calls " ces lieux communsfastidieux par lesquels on essaie de prouver qu'il n'est pas permis d'user de sa liberte pour cesser d'etre quand on est terriblement mal, qu'il ne faut pas sortir de sa maison quand on ne peut plus y demeurer, que l'homme est sur la terre comme un soldat a son
poste." 24

D'Alembertand Maupertuis,like Bayle, were careful to make the distinction between Christian and "human " judgments. Our religion shows suicide to be always wrong, but human reason, D'Alembert tells us twice, excuses it in certain circumstances;in those cases, the action is one that "humainement parlant suppose une ame ferme 25 To Maupertuisalso, suicide seems glorious and et peu commune." judicious-outside of Christianity.26 A parallel line of reasoningwas that life being a gift or favor, we have the right to give it up when it becomesonerous. This argument is not found before the Christianera.27 One of the first to advance it in the eighteenth century was John Robeck, a much discussedfigure in the controversy. Robeck was a Swede who in 1736 wrote a treatise justifying suicide28and then, after laying down his pen, proceededto carry precept into example. Formey replied directly to Robeck's argument. Since we are not free to accept the favor of life, we are also not free to reject; nor can the favor be separatedfrom the obligations that accompanyit. One of the traditionalists'points of attack was the Stoic's vaunted scornof life. Such disdain,they claimed,arisesfrom our not knowing
23V, 3. Also Merope (II, 2) "Quand on a tout perdu, quand on n'a plus d'espoir,La vie est un opprobre,et la mort un devoir." 24The figure of leaving one's house is repeated again and again by Voltaire. Cf. Oeuvres,XXX, 543, XLIX, 348. He even used it when discountingthe appeal of suicide: "la plupart des hommes aiment mieux coucherdans une vilaine maison que de dormira la belle etoile " (XVIII, 94). The metaphorcomesfrom Epictetus: "The house is smoky, and I quit it." In Candide Voltaire also points out that suicide is againstnormalinstincts and requiresthe greatest provocation (ch. xii.). 25Elemens de philosophie,Oeuvresphilosophiques(Paris, 1805), II, ch. 11. 26Essai de philosophiemorale (Oeuvres,Dresden, 1752), 375-93. 27As Donne had put it, if we do not have dominium,we do have usum, and it is lawful for us to lose that when we will (op. cit., p. 112). 28 Exercitatio philosophica de morte voluntaria . . . (Rintel, 1736).

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how to live wisely.29 Its ultimate logic, accordingto Mme. de Staelwho in the eighteenth century defendedsuicide,and in the nineteenth recanted-is to condone murder.30Even before Mme. de Stael, Delisle de Sales and RichardHey (in England) had stated plainly that morallythe essenceof the two deeds is identical.31 On the other side, apologistsof suicide denied that self-murderis necessarilya violation of the sixth commandment. Killing is permitted in many justifiable cases, and that includeskilling of oneself. We kill for honor,for selfprotection,and we kill criminals. So arguedDonne, Saint-Cyranand Hume. In fact, commentsVoltaire, seizing the opportunityto strike a blow for one of his favorite causes, we permit killing in a matter of greaterfolly and much less justification:we legalize and praise extermination in that act of wholesalemurderwhich we call " war."32 Actually, those who justifiedsuicide in the eighteenth century did not proclaim a Stoic scorn of life. Stoicism was not a la mode in a period that revalued the passions and pleasures of civilized living. What they did proclaim is that life does not intrinsically possess a transcendent,mystic value, before which all purely human motives, no matter how significant, are nullified. This is the fundamental point of agreement among them; although some were more liberal than others in their classificationof motives that justified suicide. Helvetius, for example, rejects "light" motives, such as Sappho's suicide for love; patriotism,and especially disgust with life he deems wise provocation. Mme. de Stael, on the other hand, considerslove one of the major justifications for suicide, others being disgust for life (after profoundmeditation), and desire to atone for a crime (a sublime resourcethat true criminalsdo not have).33 Certainly one must admit suicide for noble motives, such as for liberty (who does not admire Cato?) and for good of country. Such "devouement," such a sacrificeof our own personalityis of the essence of our moral
J. Adams: op. cit., 35. Reflexions sur le suicide (1813), Oeuvres (Paris, 1820), III, 339. 31 Delisle de Sales: Philosophie de la nature (London, 1789, 5e edition), V, 407; Richard Hey: Three Dissertations on. Gaming, Duelling and on Suicide (Cambridge, England, 1812, written in 1785), 193-96. 32Alzire, V, 3. Formey, realizing the weakness of the whole argument, agrees that linking murder and suicide admits exceptional justifications for both; he prefers, therefore, to base his opposition on other grounds. 3 Op. cit., 186-87. In the matter of criminals committing suicide, one of the arguments frequently used against self-murder is that in such cases, society is defrauded of just punishment and rectification made impossible. The Ancients were particularly severe in punishing such cases.
30 29

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dignity.34 To Delisle de Sales, much of the discussionseemed a futile result of semantic confusion-the groupingof differentmotives and values underone word. Obviously,there is a difference between Cato and the Englishmanwho ends his life because of spleen or "le chaos de la metaphysique,"just as there is between the hangman and the highwayman. It is impossibleto assign to the act of suicide an absolute value.35 The general feeling among the humanists was that suicide is a matter for pragmaticdecision. That public considerationssometimes requiredit was indisputable. The crux of the matter lay in pushing it beyond the criterionof public interest, into the realm of individual prerogative. Maupertuishad expressedit clearly: it was not reasonable to go on living in circumstancesthat were unbearable. Certainly, when a person has to die anyhow, or when he is useless, says Delisle, no offense is involved against any law of man or nature. Before the Academyof Berlin, J. M. Merian declaredthat there were ills so bad, they made life a deliriousdespair; in such cases, the good we want is outside the circle of life.36 An analogy frequently repeated was that we sometimes use one evil to fight another-cut off a limb to save the body. This comparison is found in Donne, Montaigne and later writers. The classic answer to it was given by St. Thomas Aquinas: first, St. Paul has told us we must not do evil in orderto secure a good; second, in the case of suicide, the argumentis absurd,since death is the greatest evil of this life.3 But Mme. de Stael laid bare the fallaciousnessof the analogy even more clearly: we cut off a limb to conservelife, not to destroy it.38
34 Donne and Saint-Cyranhad taken care to cite cases where it would be hard not to condonesuicide. Suppose a man worshippedby the people were forced by a tyrant to do somethingwrong,so that others would follow him, should he not kill himself? There is a possibleanalogy here with certainevents in Communistcountries of our own day. A few opponents of suicide admitted rare exceptionsRobinet, for example,to save one's country against an enemy. This, however,was exceptional,most of the group maintainingan absolute proscription. In quoting Plato's condemnation of suicide (Phaedo), opponentsof the act were careful not to refer to Laws IX, where Plato exempts from punishmentthose who have killed themselves "under the compulsionof some painful and inevitable misfortune,"or who have had to " suffer from irremediable and intolerableshame." 35 Op. cit., V, 385-452. 36 Histoirede l'Academie royale des scienceset belleslettres, annee 1763 (Berlin, 1770), 355-406. 37 Quotedin Bayet, op. cit., 426. 38 Rflexions sur le suicide (Paris, 1813), 326.

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D'Holbach proclaimedmore bluntly than any other the eudaemonic basis of life and the consequenthuman right to leave it. When a man is unhappy, regardlessof the cause, there is nothing to compel him to prolong his misery. D'Holbach's viewpoint was among the most individualisticin the eighteenth century; it was close to some of the Ancients in its detachmentfrom social connections.39 The setting-up of happinessas an ethical criterionwas particularly resented by the enemies of the "philosophic" group. Holland proposed carrying d'Holbach'sargument to its logical conclusion, and makingit a social duty to kill unhappy (and thereforeuseless) men.4 Bergier also attacks d'Holbachfor saying that man is his own sovereign master and exists only for his own happiness: such a concept would sanction any vicious action. Formey remindedhis readersof happiness in the next life. La Mettrie, materialist though he was, maintains that happiness is a criterion unworthy of the dignity of moral beings.4l Pressing the attack still further, opponents of suicide decriedthe implicit stress on the evil in life. Some, like Dupont de Nemours,recalled that often all is not lost, even when it most surelyseems to be.42 Bergier and Delisle, more Stoic than their adversaries,declaredthat physical pain is unimportant, and moral suffering depends on ourselves; consequently,life is never worse than death.43 Chaudongeneralized: present everywhere,"le mal " is everywhereaccidental,and not essentialto life. Life, therefore(?), can always be good for a man of moral rectitude and will.44 Generalization was carriedfurther still Dumas. to suicide the by Relating generalproblemof evil, he insists that since this is the best of all possible worldsconsonantwith moral freedom,it is our duty to submit to it. In orderthat everythingmay work out to the total good, some individualsmust sufferin the process, consideringthe complexity of causes and relationships. Since
39Systemede la nature (London,1771), I, 327-36. 4 Reflexionsphilosophiques sur le "Systeme de la nature" (Paris, 1773), Pt. I, 214. 41 Bayet, stopping short at La Mettrie's la vie est absolument query ("Lorsque sans aucun bien, et qu'au contraireelle est assiege d'une foule de maux terribles, faut-il attendre une mort ignominieuse? "), classifieshim among the apologists,in contradictionwith his own earlier statements. The inconsistencywould have been dissolvedif Bayet had read or chosento quote the lines followingthe query, where La Mettrie blasts arguments such as these. "Sophismes captieux, enthousiasme poetique,petite grandeurd'ame,tout ce qui a ete dit en faveur du suicide! " (AntiSeneque,Oeuvres,II, 230-1.) 42Philosophiede l'univers (1796), 204. 43 Delisle de Sales: 44 Op. cit., II, 166. op. cit., 407.

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perfectionexcludesdependence,it wouldrequireisolation. Most evils come from men, from the clash of intereststhat resultsfrom social living; the few that come from God (physical evils) are unimportantif we live right. And sufferingthat is really excessive does not last: it diminishes,or kills. Painful, lingeringdiseases-contrary to what the philosophes said-are actually useful. They give doctors a chance to make a living. By falling indiscriminatelyon good men and bad, they are a proof of future life (for where would God's justice be, otherwise?).45 This apology for "le mal" (with particularreference to suicide) was carriedto its end by Mme. de Stael in her later work. We must not only accept the inevitability of suffering,she says; we must welcomeit as beneficial. Without it, there is no happiness,for lack of contrast (a trite idea, at best), and no attainment of our highest moral qualities. For all these writers,then, suicide was a harmful act resulting from a misunderstanding of the nature of what we call
"evil."
46

In concludingthis phase of the debate-the "human " implications of suicide-the last point we must consideris the long discussion as to whether the act is one of cowardiceor courage. Aristotle furnished the principal argument to those who condemned suicide. Couragemeans to endurethings. To die in orderto escape from suffering of any kind "is not the mark of a brave man, but rather of a coward;for it is softness to fly from what is troublesome,and such a man endureth death not because it is noble, but to fly from evil." 47 So well had the Stagirite stated his case, that the men of the eighteenth century were able to make little improvementon it. Sabatier de Castres,48 Jean Dumas, CharlesMoore, John Adams, Formey and Rousseau Jean-Jaques (whom we shall discuss later), all emphasized the motive of despair, which is equivalent to running away, in contrast to genuine courage, which resists and attacks, or at the very least, endures. The classical opponents of Aristotle were of course Epictetus, MarcusAureliusand Lucretius. Later, Charronin France and Philip Sydney in England defended suicide from the imputation of coward45Dumas: op. cit., 26-56. The idea of the usefulnessof incurableillnessesis also found, more briefly, in Adams'and Mme. de Stael's writings,as well as in the Middle Ages. 46Rflexions sur le suicide,304. Cf. the opinionof SidneyHook, in his interesting article," The Ethics of Suicide" (InternationalJournalof Ethics, 37 [1926-27], 175): "Any system of thought which absolutelyrefusesto countenancesuicideas a rationalpossibilityis either irresponsibly optimisticor utterly criminal." 47Nicomachean Ethics, III, 7. 48 Dictionnairedes passions,des vertus et des vices (Paris, 1777), II, 433-34.

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ice, by reversing Aristotle's definition.49 Most eighteenth-century apologists, Montesquieu, Helvetius, Hume and Voltaire, for example, contented themselves with simply affirming that the act was one of heroism.50 D'Alembert, however, preferred not to avoid the issue. In his piece on suicide,5?0 he defends Cato against the imputation of cowardice with an attempt at more subtle analysis of motivation. To say that Cato showed weakness is to say that it is cowardly not to flee in battle, because to flee would bring ignominy. This is a confused evaluation of motives. Naturally, Cato chose what appeared to him the lesser of two evils (death or tyranny); but courage does not consist in choosing the greater of two evils-that would be unnatural. It consists rather in considering as the lesser of two evils " celui que la plupart des hommes auraient regarde comme le plus grand." 51 D'Alembert begins with a strong argument, but ends rather weakly: he makes courage equivalent to a paradox, and classifies the generality of men as poltroons. An intermediary position was taken by J. B. Merian and by Mme. de Stael. The former termed the entire matter an empty battle of words.52 Who will decide what is true courage? Brave men do commit suicide, let us admit it. But on the whole, it is easier to believe that a man has become a coward than vice versa. And, although it does take courage to dare to die, it takes still more courage, in such circumstances, to dare to live. (This, of course, is a petitio principii.) Mme. de Stael, repenting in her later work, also refuses to brand suicide a cowardly act; she cannot deny that it requires great will power to overcome the instinct to live. But it is a kind of bravoure or emportement such as soldiers display daily. The courage of fortitude is of a higher rank. Mme. de Stael's remarks carry us over to the second large division of ideas that formed the substance of the controversy over suicide. Is the act natural, or is it a violation of the laws and instincts of nature?
49 The discussion in Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia (Cambridge, 1922), II, 108-11, is particularly interesting. It is a virtue, Pyrocles tells Philoclea, to discern two evils and tranquilly choose the lesser. The man that endures suffering and waits for death to end it, is the one who has fear. "For to doe, requires a whole harte; to suffer falleth easeliest in the broken minds." 50 Voltaire: Questions sur l'Encyclopedie (printed in Dictionnaire philosophique), art. "Suicide"; Hume: Dialogues on Natural Religion (London, 1779), 181-82 (Part X). Montesquieu: Considerations sur la grandeur et la decadence des Remains, ch. xii. " I1 est certain que les hommes sont moins libres, moins courageux, moins port6s aux grandes entreprises, qu'ils n'etaient lorsque, par cette puissance qu'on prenait sur soi, on pouvait a tous les instants echapper a toute autre puissance." 50a 51 Op. cit., chapter 11. 52 Op. cit., supra, note 25. Op. cit., 394.

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The Ancients do not mention the instinct of self-preservationin this connection. St. Augustine and St. Thomas, on the other hand, both consideredit second in importance,in the evaluation of suicide, to the relationshipbetween man and God. " Everythingloves itself," declaredSt. Thomas. Montaignewas one of the first to reject the implication that suicide was consequently unnatural; in pointing out that the ability to die was also a gift of nature, he gave an important lead to the humanists of the eighteenth century. When the Renaissance reachedEngland,John Donne gave furtherdevelopmentto this idea. Things natural to the species are not always so to the individual, he claims, pointing to celibates and hermits. Between men and natural instinct stands human reason.53Donne is leadingback to the basic issue. For men, law is based on reason, and circumstances may alter the law. Self-preservation(Donne seems here to forestall Helvetius) is only an appetite for good; when life is no longera good, the law no longerobtains. In the eighteenth century,the lines were redrawnalong these general positions. Basing himself on the philosophes'own faith, Formey thunderedthat there was a law against suicide, "La loi naturelle, la plus sacree,la plus inviolable de toutes." 4 So strong is this law, accordingto CharlesMoore,that to breakit can result only from weakness or corruption-from perversion,wrote Dupont. It is as unnatural, declaredJean Dumas, for us to hate our lives as it is for us to hate ourselves. Robinet, a scientist, agreed. On the other side, Mme. de Stael denied that suicide is an act of depravity. "I1 y a quelque chose de sensible ou de philosophique dans 'action de se tuer qui est tbut a fait etrangera l'etre deprave." 66 True it is that self-preservationis man's primary instinct; but in overcomingit, the suicide displays his humanity and his "puissance d'ame." In her later retraction,Mme. de Stael avoids this phase of the subject. Helvetius felt that we must go beyond the instinct itself, to its motivation, which is nothing else but the fear of pain and the love of pleasure. Obviously,the same motives can lead us to exactly the opposite impulse. Even La Mettrie, who resolutely opposed suicide on moral and social grounds,admitted that in cases of extreme misery it is " natural to wish for death, unnaturalto want to keep on living."56 John Adams, however, attacked the view that the law of
53" And he whose conscience wel tempredand dispassion'd, assureshim that the reasonof self-preservation ceases in him, may also presumethat the law ceases too, and may doe that than which otherwisewere against the law." (Op. cit., 47.) 84Op. cit., 216-17. 65De l'influencedes passions, 185-86. 6 Anti-Seneque,Oeuvres, 11, 230-31. In his earlier Systeme d'Epicure, La Mettrie had arguedon Robinet'sside (II, 171-72).

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is nullifiedby the feeling that life is no longer good: self-preservation we judge only by seeminggood and evil; true good is living for virtue. A more serious defense of suicide, from the viewpoint of natural law, was undertakenby d'Holbach. He starts from his generalunderlying theory of determinism. Since all our actions are necessary,the same force that obliges a man to self-preservationmay impel him to take his life-he is still accomplishinga decisionof nature. The logic of d'Holbach'sargumentis undeniable,providedwe accept his mechanistic premise. When nature makes us unhappy, then we are fulfilling her decree by our death: it is a case of nature fighting nature within us. The idea of some kind of mystical reciprocalobligation between man and nature is absurd. Birth and death are both involuntary-including what is mistakenly called "voluntary" death. " Si l'homme n'est libre dans aucun instant de sa vie, il l'est encore bien moins dans 'acte qui la termine."67 One seeming paradoxgrew out of the " nature " phase of the controversy. In broadeningthe questionof natural law, or man'snature, to the largerone of the relation of his actions to the macrocosm,the defendersof suicide-who made man the measureof ethical judgment -depreciated his significancein the universal scheme; whereas their opponents,while denying man his autonomy,exalted his importance. Jean Dumas, for instance, held that when a man took his life, he removed himself, by an act of violence, from the established order of things, and thereby damagedit. Mendelssohndeclaredemphatically that suicidesbreakthe courseof God'splans and destroythe harmony that exists between the earth-dwellerand the Universal. To those who claimed that man was insignificant,Formey replied that there is " in the eyes of God; man's worth comes from his no " insignificance soul, not from his size. From a false idea of human significance,it would be just as easy to justify murder. Formey was endeavoringto refute Montesquieu'sdefense of suicide. It was the author of the Lettres persaneswho had initiated this phase of the discussion. It is only our pride that makes us like to think that our life matters, writes Usbeck to Ibben.58 Actually our death will have no effect on the universalorder,much less on the work of God. "Croyez-vous que cette nouvelle combinaison soit moins parfaite et moins dependante des lois generales?" Do we not constantly upset and overrulethe course of nature? Certainly this is a right given to us. Voltaire echoed Montesquieu'sview with his own ironic turn of
phrase: ". .. comme s'il importait a l'tItre des etres que l'assemblage

de quelques parties de matiere fut dans un lieu ou dans un autre."59

57In his refutation,Bergier points out that if everythingis natural and necessary, then all crimes are equally justifiable. 58 Lettre lxxvi. 59L'ngenu, ch. XX.

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Here is a clear instance of the humanistic defender of man's rights annihilating the cosmic significanceof his actions, of his very existence. Of course,this dual perspectiveon man, from the earthly and the cosmic viewpoints, was typical of the revaluationof human destiny and the meaning of the human journey. In only one writer is exaltation of man's cosmic importance coupledwith the condemnationof suicide. In the Foundationsof the Metaphysicsof Morals (1785) and in the Critiqueof PracticalReason (1788), Kant holds that since suicide cannot obtain as a universal law, it thereforecontradictsthe supremeprincipleof all duty. Also, it considersman only as a means to a tolerablelife. But man is not a means; he is an end in himself, as humanityis an end in itself. Life takes meaning not from our happiness,but from our actions.59 The fullest developmentof the implicationsof this comparatively abstractphase of the question was providedby the greatest philosopher among the humanistic group-David Hume. It is Hume's declaredpurpose,in his Essay on suicide," to restoremen to their native liberty " by showingthat suicideis free from every imputationof guilt or blame. It is meaningless to say there is an offence to God, his Providence or natural order; man is an intimate part of that order. In the universe there are only universal laws, and no exceptions. Shall we assert that the Almighty has reserved to himself in any peculiar manner the disposal of the lives of men, and has not submitted that event, in common with others, to the general laws by which the universe is governed?" A flood, a poison, will kill a man with any other animal-all are subject to the general indiscriminately laws of matter and motion. But is suicide not criminal because it disturbs the operation of these laws? Definitely not, Hume answers. All animalshave authority " as far as their power extends, to alter all the operationsof nature "-this is necessaryto life, and we are constantlydoing it. There is no reasonwhy suicideshouldbe considered in a separatelight. The life of a man " is of no greaterimportanceto the universethan that of an oyster."60 And even if it be moreimportant," the orderof nature has actually submitted it to human prudence,and reduced us to a necessity in every incident of determiningconcerningit." Were the disposal of human life the peculiar province of God, it would be equally criminalto act for the preservationof life as for its destruc59aCritiqueof Practical Reason and Other Writingson Ethics (Chicago, 1949), 59, 87, 154. 6o" A hair, a fly, an insect is able to destroy this mighty being whose life is of such importance." Certainlyman himself shouldhave the same power. (P. 10.)

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tion. "If I turn aside a stone which is falling on my head, I disturb the course of nature, and I invade the peculiar province of the Almighty by lengthening out my life beyond the period written by the general laws of matter and motion he has assigned it." It is in fact a very part of Divine Providence that we have the power to escape from life when it becomes unbearable. Hume now proceeds to carry this idea one step further. Men's actions are operations of God as much as those of inanimate beings. "When I fall upon my own sword, therefore, I receive my death equally from the hands of the Deity as if it had proceeded from a lion, a precipice or a fever." All our powers and faculties come from the Creator, and there is no action, however irregular, that can encroach upon his providence or on universal order. (In other words, everything that is, is natural.) 61 Suicide is no more impious than agriculture, which also produces a change in the course of nature. When the horror of pain prevails over love of life, that too is part of Providence and order. Hume probably took his initial idea from Montesquieu. But where the latter had glimpsed an idea and stated it in the words of a journalist, Hume brings out its full philosophical implications. He relates suicide to fundamentals of the eighteenth-century credo: the belief in an all-inclusive order of nature, and the insistence on regarding man solely as one more item in that order. In doing so, he overlooks what is purely human in man's role in nature, that is, his will, not to say free will, and his conception of morality, which puts a special mark on all his actions. Consequently he tends to reduce all actions to a single standard. As the opponents of suicide would have countered, if they had known this essay, his reasoning as to " naturalness," at least as far as he carries it, justifies murder as well as selfdestruction. The third general division of the controversy related to the social consequences and implications of suicide. Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas had insisted that we cannot separate an individual's acts from the community he is a part of. When a man kills himself, he damages the social fabric. Eighteenth-century traditionalists, sensing a possible contradiction between their adversaries' espousal of suicide and their general social morality, made much of the point. And, without a doubt, the humanists were troubled by this consideration. For one thing, it impelled them to examine more closely the nature of the social bond. Montesquieu again led off with their basic reasoning. Society, Usbek writes to Ibben, is founded for mu61 Cf. Donne's argument that something men have always done cannot be against the law of nature.

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tual advantage. When an individual finds there is no advantage for him, society has brokenits share of the social contract and the individual, freed of his obligations,may make his departure. Besides, we had no choice on entering into this agreement;the relationshipis involuntary, therefore not binding in any case. We must obey laws while we live under laws, but we can remove ourselves from their jurisdictionif we wish.2 After Montesquieu, d'Holbachalso insisted strongly on the reciprocity of the social contract. Voltaireand Condorcetdo not mention the compact,but declarethat suicide in no way offends the rights of other men or of society as a whole.63 Hume, repeatingall of Montesquieu's arguments,further specifiedthat the contract cannot reasonably requireus to do a small good to society at the expense of a great harm to ourselves. Also, there are times when we are actually a weight on society, when self-destructionis not only innocentbut laudable. (This is an evasion of the generalquestion. It is worth noting that Hume devotes a relatively small portion of his discourseto the social phase.) The opponentsof suicide denied that the social contractleft room for unilateraldecisionsof this type. The generalpact, writes Dumas, includes the commitmentto remain attached to the body of society, " de se conserverchacunautant pour elle que pour soi-meme,et de ne disposerde sa vie qu'avec son consentement,pour sa defense ou son avantage."64 Even when the advantageis no longer mutual, justice, gratitude and honor bid us remain. Delisle and Bergierreason similarly. If d'Holbach'sargumentwere to be accepted,writes the latter, then we must conclude that a man has no social duty at all, except when he finds it to his advantage. "Jamais son interet particulierne doit 'tre sacrifiea celui de la societe." Even if the pact were conditional, it would be for society, not for the individual, to decide, and society has judged suicide criminal. But that is not so; the relationship, although mutual, is natural, involuntary and thereforeindissoluble. In other words,the individualis not an equal contractingparty with society. This utilitarianand social view was a strongdefensebecauseit was so much in accordwith the philosophes'own outlook. Even d'Alembert, who upholds the morality of suicide, had to admit that it was
persanes,Lettre Ixxvi. 8 Voltaire: Remarquessur les pensees de M. Pascal, xxx; Condorcet: Notes sur Voltaire,"Suicide." 64Op. cit., 214.
62 Lettres

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humanists. "La republique,"commentedVoltaire, " se passera tres bien de moi apresma mort, commeelle s'en est passee avant ma naissance." Their defense, however, seems a little weak, and perhaps a little half-hearted. In the space of this brief study, we cannot enter into the minor paths and by-ways of the controversyover suicide. Was the whole question largely one of mores? What weight can we assign to the examples of other peoples, such as the Greeks,Romans and Hebrews? The authority of the Scriptures,the admissionof martyrdom,the example of Christ himself-these and other factors of lesser import naturally found their way into the discussion.6
65Oeuvres,ed. Schelle (Paris, 1923), V, 626 (22 juin 1780). 66Even a touch of esprit gaulois was not excluded. In discussingthe example of Lucretia, one wit pointed out that she waited until after she was violated to commit suicide. Another appeared dubious about the fact itself: "d'abord un homme seul avec une femme ne la viole pas." Besides, it seems to him, it would have been wiser if she had killed Sextus instead of herself.

des assassins publics. .. ." 65 All of this was of course denied by the

socially undesirable:a man'slife belongsto othermen almost as much as to himself. Other harmful consequencesto society were pointed out, often repetitiously,by Bergier, Delisle, Dumas, Sabatier de Castres, d'Argens, Chaudon, Robinet, Du Pont de Nemours, Moore, Hey and Adams and others. Suicide prevents reparationof injuries and cuts off any further good action. It is worse than murder,because the criminalcannot be punishedfor breakingthe law. It causes deep sorrow and lasting disgraceto one's family, and thereby does irreparable harm preciselyto those to whom we owe the most. There is no such thing as being useless: " tout homme est utile a l'humanite par cela seul qu'il existe." Worst of all, approvalof suicide would make each man the judge of his own actions and destroypublic order. It would teach a man not only to die when he pleases, but also to live as he pleases, since it secures him from all dread of human punishment; thus it would nullify the penal laws. It could logically be extended to the right of murder:if we may kill ourselvesto end our unhappiness, why may we not dispose of the person who is causing our unhappiness? We might even kill our family, to sparethem the chagrin of our suicide. In addition, suicide would decimate the population. In a word, self-destructioncan be describedonly as "un vol fait au genre humain," " un larcin fait a la societe." Turgot, writing to Du Pont de Nemours, summarizedthe indictment: "Aussi detestai-je [sic] cordialementles predicateursdu suicide que je regardecomme

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One aspect that must be mentionedbrieflywas the practicalapplication of ethical judgment to law. The Greekspunished those suicides they consideredcriminalby personaldefamation: the hand was cut off from the body and buried separately. The Romans, a less poetic people, preferredconfiscationof property. The Christiansof the eighteenth century combined both principles. As the struggle grew more bitter, the punishmentsbecame more severe. Criticismof the laws against suicide had been initiated earlierin juridicalwritings; it did not becomegeneraluntil the publicationof Beccaria'sDei delitti e delle pene (1764). Beccariastated the argumentso logically and conin the cisely, that Voltaire, Condorcetand others who propagandized same directioncould not improveon his reasoning. Punishmentof a suicide, wrote Beccaria,is unjust and tyrannical,since it affects only an insensiblebody and innocent people. To be just or effective,punishment must be personal. The present law was no more than whipping a statue, and could have little influencein preventingthe crime itself.67 Whereas in the theoretical debating, some defenders of suicide found themselves waveringon certain points and siding with the traditional view, in this matter the situation was reversed. Some of the traditionalists,notably Moore and Delisle de Sales, agreedcompletely that the laws wereiniquitousand useless, and that the practiceof suicide could be preventedonly by the convictionof its wrongness. Delisle attacks the laws violently in a pathetic seven-pageletter in which he pretendsthe widow of a suicide is writing to the legislative body. Others,however, took issue with Beccaria'scontentions. Hutcheson had alreadyinsisted that society had the right to use force to prevent suicide, and that the example was effective. True, Hey and Dumas conceded,innocents are punished, but the community must protect the public good even at the expense of a few private citizens. Law has as its purpose prevention, and men are influencedby what will happen to their memories,to their bodies, to their families. D'Argens, Formey and Merian advancedthe same opinion. Montesquieu, surprisinglyenough, also defends the laws against suicide, in the Esthus reversingthe position he had taken in the Lettres prit des lois,69 persanes. It must be rememberedthat he wrote before Beccaria's work. Thus the battle raged, until these laws were swept away with the entire fabric of the medieval structure.
7 Ch. xxxii. 68System of Moral philosophy,quoted by Dumas: op. cit., 237-39. 69Livre XIV, ch. xii, Partie II.

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A separatewordmust be said about two importantfigureswho, in varying degrees, participatedin the controversy,Diderot and Rousseau. Diderot's opinions on suicide present a special difficulty. He touched on the subject briefly, never profoundly,and as with many other matters-cryptically, so that his opinion is difficult to determine.70 Rousseau, better than any one else, summarizedthe controversy. His two letters on the subjectin the Nouvelle Heloise are well known and do not require lengthy analysis.7 In the first letter, obviously trying to recapitulatethe "philosophic" stand, Rousseau has SaintPreux mention such well-knownreferencesas Robeck,the cutting off of the arm, the Bible, admitted exceptions,and most of the usual arguments. It is sensible and rational, says Saint-Preux,and it is our
principalstatementis in the article " Suicide" in the Encyclopedie. This piece reads as if it came from the hand of Dumas or Bergier,and is obviouslynothing more than a " front,"as were many other orthodoxarticles. Certainly,it bears no evidence of Diderot's personalthought and is merely a compilation. Roger B. Oake (" Diderot and Donne,"MLN 56 [1946], 114-15) has suggestedthat Diderot's true conviction is to be found in his presentationiof Donne's views, which, a la Bayle, he rejectswith orthodoxarguments. However,this is not certain. The only statement I have found in Diderot'swritingsthat may possibly be construedas favoring suicideis in La Religieuse,when Father Lemoinecommentsthat it were better the Mother Superiorcommittedsuicide rather than seduce the innocent Soeur Suzanne. This, however,is only a dramaticdevice, and not an argument. According to Bayet, Diderot is both for suicide and against it, at differenttimes. He is where he holds against it in his dialogue,"La Marquisede Claye et Saint-Alban," to the law of self-preservation(Oeuvres,IV, 60). He is for it in the Essai sur les regnes de Claudeet de Neron, where he admiresthe courageof Cato and the Romans, and quotes Seneca, " Il est dur de vivre sous la necessit6,mais il n'y a point de necessite d'y vivre." However, Bayet is again unfaithful to his text. Admiration for Cato was frequentin both camps, and Diderot here is only explainingSeneca's thought and the social conditionsthat provokedit. Diderot's own judgment is clearly indicated: suicide is bound to injure the happiness and honor of family and friends. " La honte d'uneaction rejaillitsur les parents; les amis sont au moins accus6sd'un mauvais choix; un corps, une secte entiere est calomni6e. II est rare qu'on ne fasse du mal qu'a soi." And yet we cannot even be sure that this apparently clear statement representsDiderot's true opinion. Diderot'seditor, Assezat, notes that the philosopheswere commonlyaccusedof being responsiblefor the frequency of suicide, and called "empoisonneurspublics." Is Diderot here, in this publishedwork, again defending his "sect "? It is difficultto reconcileDiderot's generalhumanismwith his apparent opinion on suicide. 71Partie III, Lettres xxi, xxii. Two other referencesto suicide occur in Rousseau's writings. In his famous letter to Voltaire (18 aoiut1756), written after the latter's Poeme sur le desastrede Lisbonne,he informsVoltairethat if life is bad, it is generallyour own fault, but " Cela n'empechepas que le sage ne puisse quelquefois delogervolontairement, sans murmureet sans desespoir,quand la nature ou la fortunelui portentbien distinctement l'ordrede mourir." (Oeuvres[Hachette,Paris,
70 His

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right accordingto nature's law to seek happiness and flee suffering. True, God gave us our life, but once given, it is ours. Sentinels may not leave without permission,but that permissionis given in our unhappiness. " Voila la voix de la nature et la voix de Dieu." Suicide is not a rebellion against the laws of Providence,but a carrying-out of its decrees. We must not exaggeratethe importanceof our life; man is no more the work of God than a straw. We change other things that God has put into the world,thereforewe can change this thing. Far from saying life is never as bad as we imagine, it is the opposite we should say. Saint-Preuxheaps scorn on the college professorswho bravely live and condemnfor cowardicethe Romans who conqueredthe world. Man is not a slave. God has given him "la liberte pour faire le bien, la conscience pour le vouloir et la raison pour le choisir; il l'a constitue seul juge de ses propresactions." Rousseau cannot be accused of having set up a straw man; and one wonders,on finishingthe first letter, how he will make out in the second. At the very start of the Lord Bomston's reply, we see that we are dealing with what Schinz called "le Rousseau romain." A man is not worth the name of man unless he is above the sufferingin life, and too indifferentto death to seek it out. Saint-Preux'sentire letter is summedup as a monstroussophism. All he has said misses the real point: " I y a bien peut-etre a la vie humaine un but, une fin, un objet moral?" Or are we here just to live, suffer and die? Living is doing a job we are here for, and no one is here long enough for that. In saying life is evil, he is confusingessence and accident. We have no more right to kill ourselvesthan we have to stop being a man. We owe our lives to the society and country of which we are a
part: suicide is "un vol fait au genre humain. . . . Tout homme est

utile a l'humanitepar cela seul qu'il existe. Chaquefois que tu seras tente d'en sortir,dis en toi-meme: ' Que je fasse encoreune bonne action avant de mourir. . .. Si [cette consideration] ne te retient pas . . . meurs: tu n'es qu'un mechant.' "72
1865], X, 125-26). Also, to an unwanted correspondent (-with his usual charm, Rousseau tells him, "Je ne vous connais point, monsieur, et n'ai nul desir de vous connaitre "), he suggests, "s'il etait quelque cas ou l'homme efit le droit de se delivrer de sa propre vie, ce serait pour des maux intolerables et sans remede." (XII, 229, 24 novembre 1770.) 72 We must not omit reference to one concession: Rousseau approves of suicide in cases of incurable physical suffering, for then the afflicted person has actually ceased being a man.

courir,quelqueinfortunea consoler,quelqueopprimea defendre. ...

Puis va chercher quelque indigent a se-

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It is obvious that Rousseau is less interested in attacking suicide than in demolishing his mortal enemies, the philosophes. Suicide for him represents everything they stand for. That is why he gives full force to their arguments, and then brands the whole structure a gigantic " sophism " (a favorite word) that has no relation to reality or the meaning of life. His method is the typical mixture of abstract logic supplemented in the pinches by sentiment and oratory. It may be objected that Rousseau, too, was in many ways a humanist-in his emphasis on the development of the individual and on happiness (" Courez a la felicite, c'est la fortune du sage "). But we must not forget that his moral theory has a Calvinistic rigidity, and that in the Contrat social he takes a despairing view of human nature and upholds repression of the individual as the key to social organization. It has doubtless been apparent, throughout the development of this discussion, that the line-up of the opposing sides corresponds fairly closely to the great divisions in eighteenth-century thought. The defenders of the Christian interpretation (a group that in France coincides with the supporters of the Old Regime) were faced with an assault from the " philosophes " and their allies, a heterogeneous band whose unity lay in their faith in the untrammeled exercise of critical reason and empirical observation. A few defections there were-possibly the mysterious case of Diderot-and on each side some were troubled by this point or that; but on the whole, the two camps retained a uniform consistency. This rather sharp split, in a question of such relative complexity, grew out of the fundamental character of the central issue. This issue involves an estimate of man's nature and of his relationship with God. For the Christians, man is an imperfect creature, dependent on his Creator for both his entrance into life and his exit from it. There exists a mystical or supernatural limitation on man's dominion over himself. Furthermore, just as in the universe there is written some grand plan, beyond the reach of our understanding, so does our life have a meaning and a purpose, which may at times defy our penetration, but which is certainly-since man is created in his Maker's image--a moral purpose. Consequently, suicide is a revolt against man's estate, against his God and the entire cosmic structure of which human life is an integral part. Whatever arguments the traditionalists advanced were all corollaries of this theme, and designed to buttress it. Their denial of basic evil, their clever recourse to natural law and especially to the social consequences of suicide, must be considered extensions and adjuncts of the fundamental decision. The question of natural law seems of little intrinsic interest to the Chris-

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tians; the social aspect had a limited importance derived from the generalbent of thought in the eighteenth century,but an importance that was intentionally magnified. The chargeof cowardiceis one of the most obvious examplesof their utilization of a side-issue to confound the enemy. For the few atheists who were involved, notably d'Holbach,the repudiationof these basic assumptionswas automatic. Their rejecbelieved in a Prime tion by others,who, like Voltaire and d'Alembert, Mover and a universalplan but abjuredthe Christianinterpretation of the human drama, was also a necessary conclusion. These men were deistic naturalists. Their faith was also in a universal orderin nature, but they held that by definition,everythingis a part of that order. No action man can performis conceivableas being outside the natural order, contradictoryto it or in any way injurious to it, but only as an inevitable consequenceof it. Perhaps not all suicide is moral. But they could not accept a prejudgmentof conduct accordethic that made man a ing to an arbitrary,anti-rational,supernatural special creation. Thus the reinsertionof man into nature,while it destatus, restoredhis freedom and his prived him of his extraordinary fate. over his own He lost both importanceand protection, mastery but regained,in the humanistic sense, his dignity. Plato's analogy with the animalsis particularlysignificantof the traditionalists'evaluation and of the humanists'resentmentof it. For these humanists, life has no meaning other than what man cares to give to it, no importanceexcept for himself. Morality based on supernaturalsanctions is not in accordwith his nature, therefore ineffective. Through law and social organizationwe make our own ethic, one which still leaves a large sphereto the pragmaticdecisionof the individual. It was on this basis that the philosophes justified voluntary departurefrom life, an act that was in logical agreement with their concept of man's condition and of natural law. But these men were essentially utilitarians. And although they endeavoredto to the social prove that suicideis not sociallyharmfulor contradictory compact,they were ill at ease and replied rather weakly to their enemies' charges on this score. We may assume they held the social injury very small comparedto the essential principleat stake. It is interestingto note that in dealingwith naturallaw and social judgments,the thinking on both sides is on the same plane; both are talking the same language. But in matters relating more strictly to the evaluation of man and life, there seem to be two separate worlds of thought without contact. In the first instance we can see the universal penetrationof a new set of viewpoints and criteria; in the sec-

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ond, we witness the persistenceof the traditionalaxioms and preconceptions. Natural law and social utilitarianismexist for both. But have we been placedhere to preparefor the life eternal, or is this accident of our being here a value in itself? From this question stem the of one groupand the criticalrationalismof metaphysicscharacteristic the other. Logical errorson both sides were an inevitable result of heated controversy. The traditionalistsconstantly insist that justifying suicide is equivalent to justifying murder. This is to overlookthe fact that in suicide one takes only his own life and in murderone deprives another person of his, against his will. The philosophes pointed to many cases wherekilling is permitted,forgettingthat these exceptions generallyhave as their object, defense of anotherhuman life or something consideredequally sacred. There are other fallacies. But the traditionalists,it can at least be said, were thoroughly consistent in their reasoning. This is not entirely true of their adversaries,who were trying to replace the Christian version with a new philosophy. These men-including of course Rousseau-were not able to reconcile, even to their own satisfaction, the rights of individual freedom and happiness with the exigencies of a purely social morality. This problem is in evidence throughouttheir thinking on political, social and moral problems. They upheld both with equal vigor and tried desperately to harmonizethem-logically, as in Helvetius' De l'Esprit, practically, as in Rousseau's Contrat social.

There is a still moreimportantcontradictionimplicit in the philosophes' defense of suicide. We have already referredto it in discussing Hume. The philosophesrefuse to make man an exceptionin nature, and they simultaneouslydo make him an exceptionby giving to him alone mastery of his fate. They fail to see that if man does have this autonomy, it is precisely because he is the one exception to the mechanicallaws of nature. The laws are blind, and man has vision. We may or may not go as far as Goethe,who held that man's mastery of his fate is the reflectionof a divine quality in him. But there is, at least, a purely human quality that distinguisheshim from the rest of nature-the ability to contemplate the rest of nature, and himself, both in retrospect and with foresight. It is on this ability that the philosophes'own belief in virtue and humandignity is predicated. We are confronted with the essential dichotomy of eighteenth-century thought: on the one hand, a rationalismthat is humanistic, tinged even with the spiritual, believing in man as a moral being; on the other hand, a rationalistic materialismthat denied the existence of

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spirit. On the questionof suicide, as in other matters,the Enlightenment was unable to achieve true unity of thought.73 The implicit alliance between Christianity and authoritarianism in the eighteenthcenturyis also evidenced. It is noteworthythat the few ancient writers who denouncedsuicide were those who were not friends of individualfreedomand dignity. Plato defendedthe use of deliberate falsehood to maintain discipline among the people, and does not have an exalted opinion of human nature. The majority of the Ancients,lackingmysticism and adheringto a rationalinterpretation of the human drama,favoredthe right to end one's life. A large number of the argumentsused in the eighteenth century were borrowed from the Greeksand Romans, and repeated with nuances and variations. Only in certain phases of the social and natural law themes did the moderns bring'new ideas to bear, and for many of these we have indicated Renaissance sources. The interest of the discussionlies only to a minordegreein its inventeighteenth-century iveness. The controversyis more interestingbecause of the men involved and its relation to the generalcharacterof their thought. But its chief importance,by far, lies in having restated the entire question for modern man, in terms of his manifold heritage of Hellenism, Christianityand scientificmaterialism.74 GoucherCollege.
Alone amongthe materialistsLa Mettrie was logically consistent; having reinstated man in nature, like Hume, he also refused to give him the special moral dignity of being privilegedto decide his own fate. 74 Those who are interestedin followingthe debate into our eighteenth-century own times may use the following works as a starting point: James Sully's work on Pessimism(1877), Westcott'sSuicide: Its History (1885) and Emile Durkheim's Le Suicide (Paris, 1897), continuingQuetelet'sstatistics; Sidney Hook, op. cit.; Sir Oliver Lodge, "The Ethics of Suicide,"Fortnightly Review, 116, N.S. 110 [JulyDec. 1921], 594-600; Binet-Sangle,L'art de mourir (Paris, 1919).
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