179: Stay by Jennifer Hecht

by Gerard


179.7: Hecht, Jennifer M. Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013. 234 pp. ISBN 978-0-300-18608-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 170: Ethics
  • 179: Other ethical norms
  • 179.7: Respect and disrespect for human life

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.