Could Life Become So Unbearable That A Stoic Would Choose Death Over Virtue?

Sometimes life can take a turn for the worst.  Let’s say all these scenarios happen:  You lose your close family in an accident, your friends stab you in the back, you fall into a fire and melt your beautiful face, and you suffer from intense chronic pain throughout your body coupled with drug and therapy resistant depression.  If such a situation was to occur and you couldn’t bear the thought of living anymore, would it be acceptable if you wanted to take your life?  Would taking your life be forfeiting a virtuous life?

The Stoics didn’t believe taking your life would necessarily forfeit virtue.  If they saw your situation so dire and you had such crippling depression and intense chronic pain, they’d understand if you took the path of euthanasia.  Largely because chronic pain and crippling depression coupled with all these ill circumstances is going to make it difficult for you to be virtuous.  And without virtue, then there is no eudaimonia.  There is no praiseworthiness.  So the only thing virtuous left to do would be to take your life.

Zeno of Citium famously took his life because he broke his toe.  This may seem ridiculous to us moderns but a broken toe in the ancient days for an old man could’ve been difficult to treat.  Plus the pain associated with the broken toe would’ve made it difficult to live a life of virtue and excellence.

Another thing to bear in mind is that we’re only human.  None of us are Sages.  Remember that before judging anyone too harshly when they decide on euthanasia.



2 thoughts on “Could Life Become So Unbearable That A Stoic Would Choose Death Over Virtue?

  1. Yes, there can be situations, when it’s better and even more virtuous to decide not to live anymore. But the situation that you describe is not one of them.

    The guy you describe ist still capable of acting. He can still experience self-efficiency (Which is by far the single most important thing to experience something like ‚meaningfulness‘ and ‚happiness‘ in your personal life.) and still make a difference for the world surrounding him. Of course, he is severely depressed, but that‘s ‚only‘ his perception of reality – and as such subject to change. Though not at all easy, there‘ s still a chance for him to have senses of achievement – how big or small they might be to him then is purely subject to his cognition.

    I wouldn’t go that far saying that taking your life in this situation would forfeit your former virtuous life. But it would take away the chance to make the best out of the current situation – which is for sure undesirable and hard, but it‘s an unpreferred indifferent, it doesn‘t hinder you to go on and still live your life as good as you can under these circumstances.

    Remember, virtue according to the stoics means first and foremost two things:
    • Separate what you can change from what you can‘t, and then try as hard as you can to make the best out of the latter, while living with and accepting the former.
    • Live in accordance with nature (Which means in this case: Take care of your health and, at the same time, respect the limits that your health/illness brings).

    So, in my opinion, bringing your life to an end in the situation that you describe, may be highly understandable from a human perspective, but it‘ s neither virtuous nor even reasonable from a stoic one.

    There are situations where suicide may be virtuous and reasonable, but every single one that I can imagine involves that you‘ re totally helpless and that you need the assistance of other people for committing suicide…


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