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Spero, M.H. (1978). Samson and Masada: Altruistic Suicides Reconsidered. Psychoanal. Rev., 65(4):631-639.

(1978). Psychoanalytic Review, 65(4):631-639

Samson and Masada: Altruistic Suicides Reconsidered

Moshe HaLevi Spero, M.S.W.


It would no longer be morbid to admit that from certain perspectives taking one's life is a fascinating human act. It has been noted that although suicide always involves death, the act itself is more a way of living—in which the distinguishing feature is that the termination of life is self-administered—than it is a way of dying.19 While this statement is poignant, it does not always seem to be the case. That is, while in many cases suicide may be consistent with an individual's life style, to the point where one's so-called philosophy of life extends even to one's manner of death—making suicide, in this sense, a way of life—it cannot be gainsaid that the ultimate goal of suicide is accomplished in the state of being dead. This also holds even in those instances where the goal of suicide is rebirth or the achievement of eternal life. In the latter situation, suicide is essentially significant as an act of dying.

However, there are various approaches to any act of dying. In the psychiatric setting we tend, out of necessity perhaps, to gloss over the philosophical aspects of individual incidents of suicide that are brought to our attention and to approach each suicide as a final manifestation of some state of dysphoria or other psychopathology. On the other hand, there are certain suicides which we “love” to reflect upon, such as those of famous historical, religious martyrs.

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