Suicide in Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae
Throughout time, the examination of suicide’s morality has concerned all humans. While some attribute their belief of suicide’s validity to religious texts and others base judgment on their own reasoning, it is evident that there is lack of common agreement on this topic. In Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, Aquinas argues that it is unlawful to commit suicide because every individual is a member of a community which he would harm by ending his life. This argument does not address, however, whether suicide would remain impermissible if the individual already harms the community. It also does not address any exceptions that there may be in regard to an individual actually harming the community if he were to end his own life. Aquinas’ conclusion contains faults due to his failure to identify exceptions to his conclusion which are outlaid in Plato’s Laws IX.
Aquinas’ argument states that, due to the fact that each individual is a part of a community, if an individual were to take his own life he would be depriving the community. In this argument, Aquinas assumes that all individuals are benefiting the community and by killing oneself, the community would essentially be robbed of a particular service. Aquinas fails to address scenarios where the individual does not actually benefit the community. He operates under the flawed assumption that every individual person is beneficial to the whole. In other words, Aquinas neglects to address the certain circumstances that make suicide admissible.
In Laws IX, Plato emphasizes that there are indeed exceptions to suicide being completely condemned. He states, “by way of argument and admonition one might address in the following terms the man whom an evil desire urges by day and wakes up at night, driving him to rob some sacred object.” Plato highlights the idea that there are certain circumstances where men are too evil and cannot cope with their own mind. In this case, according to Plato, killing oneself is permissible and therefore would not harm the community. The evilness of the man causes a liability to the community and suicide would be appropriate in this case. Plato outlines an additional exception in regard to the state. He explains, “but if any citizen is ever convicted of such an act,—that is, of committing some great and infamous wrong against gods, parents, or State—the judge shall regard him as already incurable, reckoning that, in spite of all the training and nurture he has had from infancy, he has not refrained from the worst iniquity. For him the penalty is death, the least of evils…” If the state recognizes a man as unfitting, death is the righteous answer. Overall, Plato acknowledges the deviations of suicide as a wrong towards the community and specifies the cases in which suicide is permissible.
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