Philosophers and Suicide
Filed under: Philosophy, Suicide
Since we are looking at philosophical responses to suicide, it might be interesting to note that a number of well-known philosophers have taken their own lives. Here is a brief list…
435 B.C.E. According to legend, Empedocles leapt to his death into the crater of Etna.
399 B.C.E. Socrates, condemned to death for corrupting the young, drank hemlock amongst his friends. The events are described in Plato’s dialogue known as ‘Phaedo’. In the ‘Crito’, Socrates is offered a chance to escape but refuses.
338 B.C.E. According to legend, Isocrates starved himself to death.
52 B.C.E. Lucretius is alleged to have killed himself after being driven mad by taking a love potion.
65 Seneca was forced to commit suicide after falling out with Emperor Nero.
1903 Otto Weininger committed suicide at the age of 23.
1940 Walter Benjamin committed suicide with poison at the Spanish-French border, after attempting to flee from the Nazis.
1943 Simone Weil starved herself to death.
1954 Alan Turing is believed to have committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple.
1978 Kurt Gödel starved himself to death by refusing to eat for fear of being poisoned.
1979 Evald Ilyenkov committed suicide.
1983 Arthur Koestler committed joint suicide with his third wife, Cynthia, by taking an overdose of drugs. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and lukemia.
1994 Sarah Kofman, French philosopher, committed suicide on Nietzsche’s birthday.
1994 Guy Debord, suffering from diseases brought about by excessive alcohol consumption, shot himself in his cottage in Champot.
1994 David Stove committed suicide after a painful struggle with disease.
1995 Gilles Deleuze committed suicide by jumping out of his fourth-story apartment window.
Interestingly, these cases seem to be concentrated around the ancients and 20th century philosophers. Obviously, the ancients did not stigmatise suicide in the same way as the Christian tradition; in fact, it was often seen as somthing supremely noble or rational. Many of the modern suicides of philosophers are associated with the effects of world war or mental illness.