Beauvoir’s Concept of “Decline”

Abstract

This paper explicates Simone de Beauvoir’s concept of “decline” in ageing and assesses both its plausibility and its ethical and political promise. Though I maintain that the concept is largely plausible, and that it helps us to envision social justice for the aged, I also note certain limitations, and these lead me to suggest philosophical and ethical caution as to its range of application. Briefly, both in theory and in practice, Beauvoir appears to questionably conflate the decline of the phenomenological subject with that of a younger adult version of the psychological self or structure of the personality. Through examinations of Beauvoir’s account of dementia and her paternalism towards her dying mother and the declining Jean-Paul Sartre, I suggest how her concept of decline may fall short, but also how her rich phenomenological descriptions point the way to a pluralistic approach to ageing as a social justice issue.

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