On Suicide — Give Me A Reason To Live

Lessons from Tragedy



Anyone who has been suicidal, talked to a suicidal person, or worked on a suicide hotline or called one, has faced this demand: Give Me A Reason To Live.

Through the years, I have been astonished at the low-level responses given to such demands, not only by suicide hotlines, which are often staffed by well-intentioned underpaid folks, but parents, psychotherapists, and psychologists. Of course, in a case of urgency, nothing could be more welcoming than just someone to talk to, someone who doesn’t demand anything, who does not ask anyone to be right or wrong, etc. But the real work and problem begin beyond this palliative point of contact. How does one effectively address the cause of suicide in speaking to someone? Is there a reason to live?

Here, then, I attempt to give a more just response by beginning with a question:

Can the ethical tradition of tragedy teach us anything about modern day suicide? ¹

In tragedy, before the question of Why not commit suicide? is responded to, the questions of Why live? and How to die? must first be asked.

For the tragedians, these are questions of ethics. But the use of the word ethics in the tragic and pre-Socratic sense should not be confused with the religious or philosophical use of the word morality as it pertains to values or the good.

On the contrary, in referring to ethics here, I mean more what Heraclitus (Frag.B119) first stated:

Man’s Ethos ( ἦθος ) is his Daimon (δαίµων)

Or in everyday language, ‘A person’s character is their fate.’ Today, it is often said that someone has their ‘internal demons’ in referring to a depression or suicide without recognizing that what underlies such statements is not merely — or primarily — a psychological problem, but an ethical one. What I want to show is that far from being a mere question of books and plays, the lessons of tragedy have another voice in the city.

  1. First, ask someone to work on a ‘homicide hotline,’ which usually does not exist since this becomes an actual police affair. But imagine such a hotline does exist, then ask this…




Researcher in le temps perdu: sex, race, ethics, the clinic, logic, and mathematics. Founder and analyst at PLACE www.topoi.net