Senior Literature Review Fall 2018

Adrian’s Second Presentation


Adrian presented Michael Cholbi’s “A Kantian Defense of Prudential Suicide.” Cholbi tries to show that Kant could accept some cases of suicide for prudential reasons. He also distinguishes his own answer from that given by Velleman in the other article Adrian presented.

Cholbi’s idea is that we can lose the dignity that makes our lives priceless according to Kant. When that is so, we no longer have a duty not to commit suicide for the sake of making our lives end better than they otherwise would.

Our Discussion

Coleman pressed on the distinction between what Cholbi calls the dignity of humanity and the dignity of personality. Cholbi had said that Maria von Herbert’s letter showed that one could lose the former without losing the latter (Cholbi 2010, 503–4). Coleman was not convinced that this could be so.

One result of our discussion of Coleman’s question is that it’s not clear why the separation is essential to Cholbi’s position. Someone who lost both kinds of dignity would seem to be just as eligible for suicide as someone who lost only one.

Bay raised doubts about whether physical pain compromises the ability to make rational decisions. She certainly did not think this is always the case. I think Cholbi’s best answer would be to say that it could work that way.

Bay’s question got me thinking about how this is all going to work. Suppose you have to be irrational in order to be allowed to kill yourself, by Kant’s standards. Normally, we don’t let people remove themselves from life support unless we are convinced they are rational, for fairly obvious reasons. So do you have to be both irrational and rational in order to be permitted to do it?

Adrian pointed out that Cholbi’s argument has an unsettling implication. The depressed person can kill herself because she no longer has the priceless status that gives her life value. Does that mean that someone else can kill her too? His remarks about the permissibility of lying to the deeply depressed do not inspire confidence (Cholbi 2010, 508).


Cholbi, Michael. 2010. “A Kantian Defense of Prudential Suicide.” Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 (4).