Wittgenstein on Suicide

26Oct07

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a higly influential 20th century philosopher. You can find out more about him at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wittgenstein/ .We’ll be loooking at his work in more detail next term. Here’s what he had to say about suicide:

“If suicide is allowed then everything is allowed. If anything is not allowed then suicide is not allowed. This throws a light on the nature of ethics, for suicide is, so to speak, the elementary sin. And when one investigates it it is like investigating mercury vapours in order to investigate the nature of vapours.”

(concluding paragraphs – Wittgenstein, L. Notebooks 1914-1916, Tr. G.E.M. Anscombe. Harper: New York, 1961)

These words were written while Wittgenstein was an orderly in World War 1. Is suicide so resistant to ethical analysis? Is it really the paradigmatic case for ethics, as Wittgenstein seems to suggest?

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