Famous Philosophers Who Killed Themselves


July 30, 2012 , zubair , 5 Comments

Suicide used to be enforced upon those found guilty in ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. The victim was shown the alternative worse kind of torture leaving no option except to opt for suicide. Not all the suicides were enforced as there had been willful suicides especially by philosophers. The death of Socrates is the case of enforced suicide, but there are many cases in history about deliberate suicides. The suicidal trends develop either from extreme frustration or from loss of sanity. A philosopher believes only in the perceived logical outcome of things. Like all other men, philosophers know too that death is the ultimate reality, and common people leave it to come to it in its destined time, place, and method. A philosopher contrarily wants to take the control into his or her own hands thinking that this may extend them an opportunity to avoid death at an unknown place, time, and in an uncertain method. Instead of leaving the decision of death in the invisible hands, they venture to take control of their destiny in their own hands. In pursuit of their thinking, they are isolated and reach the point of no return. It is this point of super individualism, or simply their insanity, that prompts them to commit suicide.

1. Socrates

The death of Socrates

Socrates was born in 470BC in Deme Alopece, Athens and died in 399 BC in Athens at the age of 79. He is one of the all-time, most known philosophers in the world. He did not agree with the prevalent Athenian philosophy of ‘might makes right,’ and he was not content with maintaining the status quo. According to Plato’s Apology, Socrates’ trouble began with his being a gadfly of Athens. A gadfly is a person who is an irritant and breaks the status quo. Delphi declared that no one was wiser than Socrates, and it was denied by Socrates himself. This paradox downgraded the prominent Athenian people who looked upon themselves as foolish and started accusing Socrates of wrongdoing and misleading the Athenian youth. When asked to suggest punishment for himself, he demanded wages from the government for his services and a free dinner for the rest of his life. Denied that request, he was made to drink a cup containing an extract of the poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, to kill himself.

2. Lucius Annaeus Seneca

 Annaeus Seneca

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, better known as Seneca, was born to Seneca the Elder in Cordoba, Baetica Province, Spain in 4 BC and died in AD 65. He was a famous Roman Stoic philosopher and tutor as well as advisor to Nero the last Julio Claudian Emperor. In AD 65, Seneca was arrested for conspiring against the king and plotting to kill him by poisoning. He was forced to commit suicide, and he did so by cutting many of his veins. On account of his diet pattern, the blood did not flow out easily and delayed his death causing unbearable pain and misery whereupon he was immersed into hot water to accelerate the flow of blood. He was suffocated from the steam and burnt to death. He was denied any funeral rites. His wife Pompeia Paulina tried to share the death with her husband and like him cut her veins to bleed to death, but Nero ordered to save her life whereupon she was provided medical care and her life was saved.

3. Walter Bendix Schonflies Benjamin

Walter Bendix Schonflies Benjamin

Walter Bendix Schonflies Benjamin was born to Emil Benjamin and Pauline in Berlin, Germany on July 15, 1892 and died in Portbou, Catalonia, Spain on September 26, 1940 at the age of 48. He was a German-Jewish philosopher who combined historical materialism, German idealism, and Jewish mysticism. His works include: Literary Critic; essays on Goethe’s novel Elective Affinities, and the poetry of Baudelaire. He killed himself on September 27, 1940. The main source of his suicide is his suicidal note to Theodor W. Adorno.

4. Uriel da Costa

Uriel da Costa

Uriel da Costa was born in Porto in 1585 and died in April, 1640. His family was converted from Judaism to Christianity and reverted to Judaism after some time. Costa was not impressed by the prevalent Jewish practices and, when in Netherlands, wrote An Examination of the Traditions of the Pharisees questioning the immortality of the soul. The book was highly controversial and was burnt publicly while he was excommunicated. He fled from Amsterdam to Germany but returned to Amsterdam with an intention to reconcile and to live as ‘an ape with the apes.’.For his unacceptable views he was punished with 39 lashes in public in the synagogue in Amsterdam. He was then laid on the floor while the congregation trampled over him. Being so insulted, he attempted to kill himself, but the first pistol shot missed.  He fired the second one and died a painful death.

5. Johan Robeck

The river Weser

John Robeck was a Swedish German philosopher born in 1672 and died in 1735. He was of the view that life was the gift from God; therefore, the holder of the gift had every right to deal with it as one liked, including its destruction. He wrote an essay according to which suicide was a permissible act from a religious point of view. The essay prompted a debate in Europe. He committed suicide by drowning himself in the River Weser near Bermen, Germany.

6.  David Charles Stove

David Charles Stove – ‘Scientific Irrationalism’

David Charles Stove was born to Robert Stove and Ida Stove in Moree, New South Wales on September 15, 1927 and died on June 2, 1994. He studied philosophy at the University of Sydney from 1945 to 1948. He is best known for his detailed criticism of David Hume’s Inductive Skepticism. He is also known for his criticism on Sociobiology which he considered as a new religion with genes playing the role of gods in it. His wife suffered from a stroke, and he suffered from stomach cancer. After fighting the disease and pain, he killed himself by hanging in his home.

7. Otto Weininger

Otto Weininger

Otto Weininger was born to Leopold Weininger and Adelheid in Vienna on April 3, 1880 and died on October 4, 1903. He was an Austrian philosopher considered to be a genius by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the famous writer August Strindberg. He studied philosophy, psychology, and medicine. After seeing Henrik Ibsen’s drama Peer Gynt for the first time, he was greatly depressed and developed suicidal trends. He rented a house where Ludwig van Beethoven died and asked the landlady not to disturb him. On October 3, 1903 he wrote a letter to his father and to his brother Richard, informing them that he was going to shoot himself. The next day he killed himself by shooting his heart.

8. Evald Ilyenkov

Evald Ilyenkov

Evald Ilyenkov was born in Smolensk on February 18, 1924 and died in Moscow on March 21, 1979. He was a Russian philosopher best known for his original work on the materialist development of Hegel’s Dialectics. He played a role in the revival of Russian Marxist philosophy after the period of Stalin. His works include Dialectical Logic and Leninist Dialectics and the Metaphysics of Positivism. He killed himself in 1979.

9. Sarah Kofman

Sarah Kofman

Sarah Kofman was born in Paris, France on September 14, 1934 and died on October 15, 1994. She started her career in 1960 as teaching in Toluse. She was a French philosopher best known for her books written mostly on Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Her book L’enigme de la femme; La femme dans les textes de Freud is considered the most representative of Freud’s ideas on female sexuality. She wrote and dedicated a book to the memory of her father Rabbi Bereck Kofman. Kofman committed suicide in 1994 on the 150th birthday of Nietzsche.

10. Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze was born in Paris, France on January 18, 1925 and died in Paris on November 4, 1995 at the age of 70. He was a reputed French philosopher best known for his works, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti ”œOedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. He committed suicide in 1995 by jumping from the window of his apartment.


Just as a cashier is not the owner but the custodian of cash entrusted to him, a human being is not the owner of his body, soul, or mind but a custodian of himself and is bound to take care of the ‘being’ in his or her custody.  Self-inflicted injury is a punishable offense and subject to court marshal for military personnel. It is on account of considering themselves over and above accountability that a philosopher isolates from society, suffers from super-individualism, and falls into the snare of self-righteousness ultimately betrays the trust of God to the entire destruction of all that he or she might have earned during his or her life.

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