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

Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jennifer Michael Hecht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hecht's book is a fascinating one and one that certainly resonates with me. Her goal is to provide a historical exploration of suicide and, in part, use that history of numerous writers, institutions, and arguments against suicide to then develop a secular argument against suicide--that is, to stay. There's much to her argument that I appreciate. Firstly, she carves out a particular kind of suicide: one born of depression. This, in itself, I see as important and a distinction from other types of suicides that we can--at times--find more morally acceptable (e.g self-sacrifice). She teases out how great thinkers from Socrates to Locke to Durkheim to Camus to Foucault and does well in bringing much more nuance to the discourse than has been done previously. Building a secular moral argument against suicide, despite a tendency for Western individualism to appear to argue for it, is a tough knot to untie but she does this sufficiently enough for anyone engaged in a discussion to have relevant arguments. What struck personally struck me as most powerful is that the argument around the social responsibility we have should not be undervalued and that our deaths do in fact have many social repercussions from those that we love and love us to how our own individual suicides have the potential to set off a suicide domino effect. As such, committing suicide is indeed immoral. In hindsight of my own bout with suicide ideation from age 10-17 and handful of attempts, what she argues about doing an injustice to your future self resonates strongly. I can understand the power of her arguments but am not entirely sure such a rational and well-argued exploration into suicide will convince someone to stay. (Though readers will walk away with some further ideas on helping others who are grappling with it). If I had one wish for this book, I would have liked to see much more different voices besides Western voices on the subject to flesh it out a bit more in terms of how one might synchronize different cultural conceptions of it.

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