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Aging and the Art of Living

Jan Baars

Publication Year: 2012

In this deeply considered meditation on aging in Western culture, Jan Baars argues that, in today’s world, living longer does not necessarily mean living better. He contends that there has been an overall loss of respect for aging, to the point that understanding and “dealing with” aging people has become a process focused on the decline of potential and the advance of disease rather than on the accumulation of wisdom and the creation of new skills. To make his case, Baars takes the reader on a survey of contemporary theories of aging, confronting them with their philosophical foundations. He draws on the works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, as well as on such contemporary philosophers as Husserl, Heidegger, Habermas, and Foucault. Aging and the Art of Living shows how people in the classical period—less able to control health hazards—had a far better sense of the provisional nature of living, which led to a philosophical and religious emphasis on cultivating the art of living and the idea of wisdom. This is not to say that modern society’s assessments of aging are insignificant, but they do need to balance an emphasis on the measuring of age with the concept of "living in time." Gerontologists, philosophers, and students will find Baars' discussion to be a powerful, perceptive conversation-starter.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Front Matter

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pp. xi

Writing a book is such a socially and culturally embedded adventure that an attempt to thank everybody who has been important along the way can only be futile. However, some people deserve to be mentioned explicitly....

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pp. 1-11

Do we need an art of aging? Is not aging something that happens naturally as long as you remain alive? Certainly, you continue to get older until you die, but what does that mean? One of the main messages of this book is that tracking people’s ages in order to quantify their lives is a popular but overrated— and bureaucratic—approach to classifying people. Such classifications...

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1. Chronometric Regimes: The Life Course, Aging, and Time

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pp. 12-57

For most of us daily situations, experiences, and activities are under the stresses of time, more precisely, under chronometric stress. When we are in a hurry, when we must do too much in too little time, or when we would like to stay longer, we feel the pressing and pushing presence of time. Although time schedules can clash with our preferences, it would be hard for us to live without chronometric...

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2. Exclusion, Activism, and Eternal Youth

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pp. 58-84

The first chapter ended with some major paradoxes that are brought about by the instrumental chronometric approaches to aging in a culture of general acceleration. The first paradox of the younger older refers to a premature cultural senescing of persons who, on average, live longer lives than ever before. The negative images that portray older people as a passive group depending on care and pensions at the expense of others don’t encourage a positive identification with aging. In these circumstances aging persons are seduced into...

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3. A Passion for Wisdom and the Emergence of an Art of Aging

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pp. 85-126

Although living conditions have become much better for aging people, especially for those who are well off, there may still be some things to learn from premodern cultures. However, although the ancient Greeks and Romans are often associated with respect for the aged, who were seen as embodiments of wisdom, it will become clear in what follows that this was hardly the case....

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4. Modern Science, the Discovery of a Personal History, and Aging Authentically

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pp. 127-168

Although we need to rethink the premodern roots of the art of aging, as I have done in the foregoing chapter, we also need to rethink its modern roots. Here we see ambivalences unfolding in prosperous late modern societies when more people are living longer because of improving life conditions but aging tends to lose its meaning. Although we can learn from historical studies that there is no reason to idealize the situations of the past, aging persons could often play important roles as carriers of knowledge and traditions. As soon as...

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5. Aging and Narrative Identities

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pp. 169-197

In late modern societies people are called “aged” as soon as their chronometric age reaches a certain mark. This may be the official retirement age or the age at which the organizations that serve the interests of older people, such as the AARP or its European counterparts, announce the onset of aging, usually at the age of fifty. To assess whether individuals are still normal adults or already...

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6. Perspectives-Toward an Art of Aging

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pp. 198-252

There is an important difference between, on the one hand, the new dynamics of aging that emerged in the rich countries during the twentieth century, gaining momentum in the twenty-first century, and, on the other hand, all previous historical constellations. The chance to live longer has increased enormously, so that many more people continue to live for a long time after having been defined as “aged.” Because of these newly emerging conditions...


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pp. 253-274


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pp. 275-283

E-ISBN-13: 9781421407098
E-ISBN-10: 1421407094
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421406466
Print-ISBN-10: 1421406462

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 5 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012