Old Age, Successful Ageing and the Problem of Significance

Ethical Perspectives 13 (1):117-141 (2006)

Old age represents a serious contemporary social issue. In the West, we have had a long history of derogating the old and the very status of old age. This has been true, with very limited exceptions, for the ancients, for Renaissance thinkers, and in modern times. With the greater incidence of longevity in our society, the inevitable question arises: what meanings shall we attach to old age? How can this period of the life-cycle be lived successfully given the problem that old-age represents in moral and social terms? And what does “successful old age” mean?Drawing on the work of William James, particularly on some of his ethical and moral ideas, and on the specific case of Matisse, , I argue that a successful old age is possible. I argue that the key to the problem of living a successful old age requires that one leads a life of significance, where a life of significance” is one lived broadly in line with the kind of proposal advanced by William James, to wit, – that it requires a life lived with a commitment to and guided by ideals.The Jamesian ideas are unpacked. It is shown how some of the difficulties that life in old age presents can be seen in the light of a failure to find, defend, and to maintain a commitment to ideals set by oneself, thus providing confirmation of the plausibility of this Jamesian insight
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DOI 10.2143/EP.13.1.2011789
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