Losing the will to live

Udo’s response:

Hi Rick,

I really appreciate your videos dealing with the subject of depression. Suffering from the illness of depression myself (although managing it successfully for many years now), I find your approach helpful as you share information and address misconceptions.

I want to offer a bit of constructive criticism on your main argument in this particular video. As far as I can see your argument goes something like this:

  • P1: An organism that loses the will to live, is in danger of extinction.
  • P2: If an organism is in danger of extinction, such as from an illness, it is an abnormal state of affairs.
  • C: Therefore, losing the will to live is an illness and an abnormal state of affairs.

The aim is not to be pedantic, but unfortunately part of this argument is not deductively valid (at least my formal rendition of how you seem to have reasoned), that is, the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. Consider the following argument:

  • Q1: Cancer and murder leads to death.
  • Q2: Cancer is an illness.
  • C1: Therefore, murder is an illness.

But clearly it is fallacious to reason that if something like cancer is an illness that causes death or extinction, then everything that causes death or extinction would be an illness. In the same way, if the feeling of “losing the will to live” threatens an organism’s extinction, then it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is an illness. Of course, I would absolutely agree with you that “feeling you have lost the will to live” is a symptom of an illness (depression), but your particular argument doesn’t show that it is.

Furthermore, P2 seems to be eminently challengeable from a certain point of view. Imagine someone responding to your argument in the following way:

  • Yes, if you don’t want to live, you die. But so what? Organisms die every day. In fact, all organisms that have ever lived or are living now, have died or will die. Furthermore, more than 99% of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct. This extinction of whole species is a regular and natural phenomena due to evolutionary processes. Why suggest, therefore, that extinction or dying is anything but normal?
  • Also, why think illness is not normal? We might not like to be ill, but everyone gets sick. To get sick just seems to be a normal part of life for every organism. At most an illness is something that affects an organism’s ability to compete for resources and to survive. But that’s just how biological world works, some organisms survive, others don’t. It is completely natural and normal, even if the process doesn’t care about what organisms like or don’t like.
  • And why should surviving or thriving be so important anyway? Why does anything have to live or survive? Surely there is no moral imperative to thrive or survive? Who says there is? Why should there be? Again, all organisms die – some thrive and live relatively long, others don’t. Why should it matter in any objective sense whether any particular organism thrives for a long time or not at all?

Now, is someone who responds in this way being irrational? I don’t see why they would be, given certain assumptions about the nature of reality (even if I disagree with those assumptions). Is this the thought-pattern of a depressed person? Again, I don’t see why it must necessarily be so (but I agree with you that in many cases it is, and that is clear from the many comments on this video). But this kind of response surely seems to undercut the notion of what is normal and what is not, and therefore also indirectly undercutting the motivation for resisting the feeling that life is not worth living.

I think there is a better argument for the fact that “losing the will to live” is a symptom of an illness called depression and which might serve as motivation for the depressed person to seek help when they feel that way (and not the only step in getting help, but the first step). Maybe something like the following:

  • R1: Anti-depressant medication is prescribed to treat an illness (depression) that is caused by a biological deficiency involving neurotransmitters in the brain. (A medical fact.)
  • R2: Many people who feel they have lost the will to live, start to feel differently once they have taken anti-depressant medication for a period of time. (A statistical and testimonial fact.)
  • C: Therefore, many people who have lost the will to live, start to feel differently when their illness is being treated with anti-depressant medication.

Of course, this argument doesn’t answer the question of why all human life have intrinsic value and therefore why we would or should care about people suffering from illnesses. As you might have sensed, I have doubts about whether any naturalistic worldview can offer good answers, but that’s a topic for another time.

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