142. Strictly speaking, we do not owe duties to ourselves, since a duty is a moral bond obliging us to respect the rights of others. In many cases I can remit the debt due me from my neighbor and thus dispense him from certain duties towards myself, but I cannot free myself from one of those duties which I am said to owe to myself. Such duties, however, we do not really owe to ourselves but to God, for we belong to him absolutely and entirely; hence, we are His property and His servants. To Him we owe the duty of taking care of ourselves and of reasonably promoting our own good. Such, in Moral Philosophy, is the meaning of the expression our duties to ourselves.
143. What duties then do we owe to ourselves? Evidently in this matter we are obliged to observe the most general principle of the moral law, "do that which good order requires." Now, the first requirement of good order is that we tend toward the end for which we have been made. In brief, therefore, my duties to myself consist in directing my voluntary acts in such a manner as to attain my last end. In detail:
1. My last end and the way to reach it are made known to me through my intellect; hence I have a duty to develop my intellect in order to perceive, with increasing clearness, the best means for attaining my end, and, consequently, for understanding the law of God and its application to myself.
2. The moral order regards free acts, or acts of the will; hence, I ought to strengthen the will by training it to follow the guidance of reason.
3. But this implies that I must control my passions, which tend to hinder my will from obeying such guidance.
4. To accomplish all this and to fill the place allotted to me by Providence, I am bound in duty to take reasonable care of my life and the health of my body; besides, I must endeavor to acquire such temporal goods as may help me to lead a moral life.
5. For like reasons, I must, to some extent, protect my honor or reputation.
144. Thesis VI. Suicide is never allowed.
Proof. Suicide is the taking away of one's own life. But this is a usurpation of God's supreme dominion over life and death, and hence a grievous violation of the moral order. God has an absolute right to every moment of my existence and to all the honor I can give Him by fulfilling His sovereign will, even by patiently enduring the ills which He permits to befall me. Since, therefore, suicide is a great moral disorder, it can never be allowed.
1. Courage is praiseworthy; it is exhibited in suicide. Answer. The man who commits suicide, is rash, not courageous, in attempting what he has no right to do, and, as Plato says in his dialogue called Phaedo, he is a moral coward in running away from his post.
2. Of two evils we ought to choose the less grievous; but suicide is an evil less grievous than a life of sin. Answer. There is here no matter for choice; we are not forced to sin; an act is not sinful, unless it is free. Besides, we are never permitted to do evil that good may result therefrom.
3. We must be willing to sacrifice our lives in order to possess God the sooner. Answer. We must be willing to die when God wills it and in the manner that pleases Him, but not in a way that would be a violation of His divine right. Such a violation would deprive us forever of the possession of God.
4. A criminal might be condemned to kill himself, as was the case with Socrates. Answer. No authority can oblige a person to do what is, in itself, morally evil.
145. Yet we may at times expose our lives to imminent danger, provided, as in the case of evil indirectly willed (No. 51), we do not directly intend our death, and the good to be thereby obtained is worthy of so great a risk. No one has a right to expose life or limb or health for a trifle, such as vain glory or the gratification of mere curiosity. But a sufficient reason might be found in the needs of our religion or of our country, the advancement of science, the relief of persons in distress, or in any other truly noble cause, when important results are to be attained which cannot be secured without such a risk.
<< ======= >>