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Velleman on Suicide

what is good for Ayesha’s car


what is good for Ayesha

The former matters only insofar as Ayesha has a use for his car. The latter matters insofar as Ayesha matters.

Velleman’s key distinction

what is good for a person vs the value of the person herself

Velleman’s other key distinction

doing what is required by her personhood


ensuring that she gets what is good for her

‘there is a presumption in favor of deferring to a person’s judgment on the subject of [her] own good’


‘a person has the right to make [her] own life shorter in order to make it better’

Velleman, 1999 p. 607

Will consider another argument

1. A person’s good matters only insofar as she, the person, has value.

‘what’s good for a person is worth caring about only out of concern for the person, and hence only insofar as he is worth caring about’ \citep[p.~612]{velleman:1999_right}.

2. A person’s right to shorten her life would be a right to destroy her value.

In ‘Children of Ruin’, a tiny group of interstellar explorers function quite happily light years (and a lifetime of travel) from the nearest humans until one day they discover that they are the last humans alive. They experience a loss of value.

Therefore (from 1 & 2):

3. Preventing a person from exercising such a right would not be intrinsically wrong.

Therefore (from 3):

4. No such right exists.

Velleman, 1999; 2008

What does Velleman’s argument imply for the left half?
One last thing. This isn’t an argument for an answer to our question about whether suicide is intrinsically ethically impermissible; it’s an objection to an argument for a negative answer to that question.
‘A Kant-inspired variant on this latter position has been advanced by Velleman (1999). He considers that a person’s well-being can only matter if she is of intrinsic value and so that it is impermissible to violate a person’s rational nature (the source of her intrinsic value) for the sake of her well-being. Accordingly, he holds that it is impermissible to assist someone to die who judges that she would be better off dead and competently requests assistance with dying. The only exception is when a person’s life is so degraded as to call into question her rational nature, albeit he thinks it unlikely that anyone in that position will remain competent to request assistance with dying. This position appears to be at odds with the well-established right of a competent patient to refuse life-prolonging medical treatment, at least when further treatment is refused because she considers that her life no longer has value for her and further treatment will not restore its value to her’ \citep{young:2019_voluntary}.