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Stay: A History of Suicide and the…
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Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It

by Jennifer Michael Hecht

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A cogent and thoroughgoing examination of the philosophies, science and art regarding suicide, albeit from a Western perspective. I stumbled upon this book several weeks after an old friend took her own life. Everyone who knew her was wrecked on some level by her unexpected death --a sad epilogue, but in retrospect not an entirely unexpected one (she had been fighting for a very long time). Surprisingly, not a grim read; as the author herself notes, reading grim stories helps keep you alive, so there's that. Probably won't be found beneath many Christmas trees.
1 vote kencf0618 | Dec 21, 2013 |
Suicide is by no means an easy topic to discuss. Throughout history, art, and literature, real people and fictional characters have chosen to end their own life in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Jennifer Hecht’s main premise in her book on the history of the topic is that one should stay. Stay and work through the pain, the depression, the anger. Stay with those that love you. Stay because we need you. Hecht traces the history of recorded suicides back to ancient Rome and looks at historical and modern arguments surrounding the act. It uses key historical suicides to clarify the responses and the philosophies concerning suicide.

While many mythological suicides were seen as heroic and even necessary, Socrates railed against it but Plato deemed some suicides to be not entirely contemptible. From there we get the Romans’ view, early Christian writings, Renaissance philosophies, secular defenses of suicide, and then more modern approaches to the topic. Modern community-based thinking tends to condemn suicide as it damages the social landscape. The work then shifts to modern suicide behavior and the social science behind mitigation strategies, looking into suicide clusters and cultural beliefs.

One of the odd things about this book is its strict Western perspective. While Hecht discusses the stances taken on suicide through history, there really isn’t much of a global view. This is definitely not a whimsical weekend read, but rather a book heavy with reflection and philosophy. Hecht tightly packages the history and philosophies, and in the end, voraciously advocates against suicide as a means to an end. You can tell she has personal experience with the subject, and that’s OK, because almost everyone has. All in all, this was a deep and purposeful book. ( )
1 vote NielsenGW | Oct 18, 2013 |
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A secular book that must appeal to faith has lost its way. But perhaps Stay could not have done otherwise. Despite Hecht’s prodigious efforts to gather every naturalistic argument against suicide, the secular worldview as a whole leans so overwhelmingly in favor of the right to suicide that not even the collected cavilings of Montaigne, Mill, Freud, Cioran, and dozens of their peers can prevail against it. Instead of a compelling case against suicide that is wholly secular or naturalistic, Hecht has forged a quirky, almost quasi-religious pleading—albeit one that’s not about God and stands completely outside Christian tradition.

What does it tell us that a thinker of Hecht’s undeniable firepower devoted such energy to this project and, in my view, failed? I wonder whether she may have, however accidentally, demonstrated that it’s not possible to construct a comprehensive case against suicide entirely within a naturalistic system. In order to craft an intellectually, morally, and emotionally conclusive argument proscribing suicide, sooner or later one might have to reach outside of naturalism and into the “woo,” pulling back a handful of poetic tropes about God or souls or faith or a living universe. One gets to pick one’s favorites; Hecht has proven that the task can be completed without invoking God or souls. But perhaps one just can’t form a clinching case against suicide without making some move that strict naturalists would consider illegitimate.

Here’s a debate question for the philosophers reading this: After Stay, can we say with confidence that earnest naturalists are obliged to adopt a Humean position on suicide? I’m thinking the answer may be yes.

After saying all of that, I hope you will read Stay. Even if it has failed, it’s that important. But after you’ve finished, you might want to rebalance your brain with something by Szasz—or, if you can find a copy, Quest’s searing little book Deathrights.

Secularists should campaign to end suicide’s stigma, not stand beside the religious heaping more opprobrium onto the act itself. I give the last word to twentieth-century humanist ethicist Joseph Fletcher: “The full circle is being drawn. In classical times suicide was a tragic option…. Then for centuries it was a sin. Then it became a crime. Then a sickness. Soon it will become a choice again. Suicide is the signature of freedom.”
added by jimroberts | editFree Inquiry, Tom Flynn (Mar 13, 2014)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300186088, Hardcover)

Worldwide, more people die by suicide than by murder, and many more are left behind to grieve. Despite distressing statistics that show suicide rates rising, the subject, long a taboo, is infrequently talked about. In this sweeping intellectual and cultural history, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for two friends lost to suicide into a search for history’s most persuasive arguments against the irretrievable act, arguments she hopes to bring back into public consciousness.
 
From the Stoics and the Bible to Dante, Shakespeare, Wittgenstein, and such twentieth-century writers as John Berryman, Hecht recasts the narrative of our “secular age” in new terms. She shows how religious prohibitions against self-killing were replaced by the Enlightenment’s insistence on the rights of the individual, even when those rights had troubling applications. This transition, she movingly argues, resulted in a profound cultural and moral loss: the loss of shared, secular, logical arguments against suicide. By examining how people in other times have found powerful reasons to stay alive when suicide seems a tempting choice, she makes a persuasive intellectual and moral case against suicide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:29 -0400)

Worldwide, more people die by suicide than by murder, and many more are left behind to grieve. Despite distressing statistics that show suicide rates rising, the subject, long a taboo, is infrequently talked about. In this sweeping intellectual and cultural history, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for two friends lost to suicide into a search for history's most persuasive arguments against the irretrievable act, arguments she hopes to bring back into public consciousness. From the Stoics and the Bible to Dante, Shakespeare, Wittgenstein, and such twentieth-century writers as John Berryman, Hecht recasts the narrative of our "secular age" in new terms. She shows how religious prohibitions against self-killing were replaced by the Enlightenment's insistence on the rights of the individual, even when those rights had troubling applications. This transition, she movingly argues, resulted in a profound cultural and moral loss: the loss of shared, secular, logical arguments against suicide. By examining how people in other times have found powerful reasons to stay alive when suicide seems a tempting choice, she makes a persuasive intellectual and moral case against suicide.… (more)

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