The Interrelation between Suicide and Society: A Critical Analysis of the Philosopher’s View


The term Suicide connotes the killing of oneself. The first question arises in mind is why an individual wants to end his life? The reason for the same is conferred in the psychological and sociological theories stated by the scholar theorist. The penal laws of India punish an individual who attempts to end his life, there are numerous conflicting opinions on, to make attempt suicide punishable; Law Commission of India in its 210th Report had recommended to effaced Section 309 (Attempt to Commit Suicide) of IPC. The reasoning supporting the raising suicidal behaviours was elucidated by theorists in their significant theories; Emile Durkheim explicate Sociological theory on Suicide, which has been considered to be highly relevant to the present study, in addition, the blog discusses a few core theories on suicide and ongoing position of law in India.

Sociological Theory

Sociological theories are formed upon the understanding of society, in which we are living. Very first remarkable theory of Suicide was given by Emile Durkheim in his book “Le Suicide”.  The key variables he identified were social integration and social regulation.  The term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting “directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself; he knows the end result of his act”. Durkheim needs us to perceive suicide as a collective act rather than see it as the act of the individual. He cited numerous examples in his theory which deduced that the more socially integrated and connected a person is with society the less likely he/she commits suicide.

Selby in his theory of self-injury says, “Deep emotional pain” is a recurring theme in suicide theory, and its debilitating presence has been called the “most common theoretical reason for suicide”. The person who feels alone and thinks that he has no purpose for his life has more prone to commit suicide.

In Durkheim views, suicides are of four kinds, first, Egoistic suicide, it is prevised mostly in the individual who detached them from the society and makes themselves isolated, which force them to endure that, they have no motive to persevere their life, thus they end up their life by committing suicide. Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, acknowledged a paradox in suicide and said that, “the ego’s self-love is so intense that the ego’s consenting to its own self-destruction is inconceivable”. Second, Altruistic Suicide, it is seen in the individual who are fully intimate with the society, they presume that they are born to benefit the society and their life is also for the society, thus, they commit suicide, e.g., Suicide bombers and Sati Customs. Third, Anomic Suicide, it primarily eventuates in a society where there is minimal social regulation. An individual commits suicide when facing a situation which has cropped up suddenly, e.g., Suicide after becoming insolvent.  Last and fourth, Fatalistic Suicide, it primarily eventuates in a society where there is extreme social regulation. Suicidal persons in these situations would rather wish to die than continue living in such stifling conditions, e.g., a prisoner who cannot countenance prison conditions is opted to commit suicide rather living his life.

Durkheim’s influence was extensive, and he devises the first theoretical attempt to examine suicide in non-moralistic or judgmental terms. The major downside of his theory is that he stresses more on a single factor, namely social factor and neglects other factors, which makes this theory one-sided.

Psychological Theory

Psychological theories are concern with the individuals’; they see it as an individual act, unlike Sociological theorist. Psychologists surmise that it was the anger towards others which is repressed and turned inwards, which in extreme cases results in suicide. Edwin Shneidman, a significant suicidologist, says a central factor in all suicides is the presence of “psychache”. The pain in the mind of guilt, shame or loneliness, unlatch the door of suicide for the individual. The saturation point of psychache it different for each person. When that saturation point is reached or psychological pain is unbearable, the most common solution to reduce it is suicide.

Another leading psychologist Antoon Leenaars, who impart the models of suicide; he interprets the interpersonal and interpsychic features that derive a reason, why an individual commits suicide? He ponders that person commits suicide because of multiple reasons, such as biological, social, cultural and philosophical. The exact answer to “why” is different in every case.

Interpersonal Theory

This theory was given by Thomas Joiner, he is a distinguished suicidologist. The theory raises two principal questions, first, who desires suicide and second, how individual gain capability to commit suicide? The answer to the first question, when an individual holds two psychological states i.e., Perceived burdensomeness and social alienation, in their minds for a long period of time, they develop the desire for death.  In answer to the second question, the self-preservation of one’s life is the main purpose for the individual, but few can overcome it by force of will power and develop a fearlessness of pain and death. This will power acquired through various painful repeatedly experience occurred in life. Measurement of Perceived burdensomeness of the individual, who isolate themselves from society, is also a robust predictor of suicidal attempts.

Legal Theory

The legal theory of suicide is formed on the Aristotle argument which says, suicide is harm to the community or the state. The community depends upon its member’s productivity and its members have an obligation to contribute to their society, this obligation is violated if he/she commits suicide.

As Baron d’Holbach pointed out, the contract between an individual and society is a conditional one, presupposing “mutual advantages between the contracting parties.” Hence both society and individuals have to accomplish its obligation towards each other. This very same argument is one of the reasons to legalize the passive euthanasia, as the person who discharged his/her obligation or has already made a substantial contribution to the society and has no means to contribute more, would be permitted to engage in suicide.

In India, there is an active law which punishes the individual who attempts to commit suicide under S.309 of IPC. This provision is considered as irrational and brutal as it provides punishment to the individual who already in distress. However, by the virtue Article 21 of the Constitution of India, that guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty; the state has a duty to protect the dignity of the human life which is as important to the state as it is to its holder.

The Individual has at the liberty to do any act; he thinks that he has the liberty to end his life too. However, not every liberty given by the state entails right is the strong sense. Every right has some reasonable restriction to it, as Right to Speech has under Article 19(2) in the same way; right to kill one-self is also restricted under S. 309 of IPC. The state has a duty to protect the life of its objects, suppose if the law on an attempt to suicide is decriminalized, then many people who are not well balanced will be influenced by others who committed suicide and it will make suicide widely acceptable or become more significant than it now is.

As the theory of Free Will stated that, the individual can freely choose what is right and wrong for himself. This theory work on the principle of moral liberty which says, “Individual can discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires.” According to the Hindu Philosopher Swami Vivekananda, there is no such thing as free will or liberty because an individual was heavily influenced by the law of cause and effect. A person has no liberty or free will to kill oneself as he/she was restricted by the force of law and they have an obligation towards their society which needs to be fulfilled. Suicide is an act considered either wrong or pitiable, depending on the psychological condition of the person who commits it. Hence, no ground for holding that there is a fundamental right to kill oneself, a right which could be overridden only by a compelling state interest.

The Supreme Court has suggested various grounds on which liberty could be considered a fundamental right. But the liberty to commit suicide does not seem to be fundamental on any suggested ground. Even the Constitution of India asserted that Individuals do not have the right to die. In the Landmark judgment of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, where the Court overruled its previous ruling that,

Article 21 cannot be interpreted to include within it the ‘right to die’, and thus, it    cannot be said that section 309 of IPC is violative of Article 21.”


The English poet William Ernest Henley wrote: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” An individual attempt to end their life when they are in distress or agony, and anticipates that they are the sole holder of their life, nonetheless this opinion is not accurate as the state and the family members have an interest in the life of the individual, that doesn’t make them the sole holder of their life.

The theories expounded overhead are key theories which gave an explanation to the question, why people kill themselves or what motivates them to take their precious life? Every single theory has different reasoning and understanding to provide the causes of suicide. The contemporary theorists were influenced in this tireless research but, what remains constant between all of the theories is the evolving understanding of why people take their own lives. However, empirical research without a theoretical basis is not of much utility, and our understanding of suicide will not advance until better theories are proposed and tested.

The more practical theories on the suicidal behaviours need to be proposed, which help us to get the better idea of how suicidal thoughts are formed, and how these thoughts result in suicidal acts, which will make us aware, against the individual who might be at risk of committing suicide or developed the capability to commit suicide.

The concepts propagated by the classical theories of Durkheim, Shneidman and Joiner are still relevant today. The legal theories also did commendable work in the field, but there is a need to establish theories which bring troubled individuals into their fold.


Ankur Jain


Ankur Jain is currently pursuing B.A LL.B (Hons.) from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. His keen interest lies in Criminal Law and Cyber Law. He can be reached over Linkedin.

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