Aging: Learning to Live a Finite Life

Although biodemographic research informs us that life expectancies have risen impressively during the last century this has not led to much interest in these new horizons of aging. The instrumentalist culture of late modern societies, including its health cure system, has clearly difficulties to relate to the elusive but inevitable limitations of finite life. Moreover, as most people can be expected to survive into old age, thinking about finitude is easily postponed and reserved for those who are ‘really old’. Indeed, a meaningful and realistic understanding of aging needs to include a confrontation with the finitude of life. Instead of reducing aging to the opposite or continuation of vital adulthood, it should be seen as something with a potentially broad and deep significance: a process of learning to live a finite life. As a contribution to this cultural repositioning of aging the article presents a philosophical exploration of finitude and finite life. Among the discussed topics are the Stoic and Epicurean ways of living with death but also the necessity to expand the meaning of ‘finitude’ beyond mortality. Aging is foremost a process of living through changes that are largely beyond our control although they require active responding. Next, individualistic or existentialist interpretations are criticized because finite lives presuppose a social world in which they emerge and on which they depend. Unfortunately, aging, the most important experiential source of knowledge about what it is to live a finite life, is neglected by the same culture that needs its wisdom.

(from The Gerontologist, 2017)

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