Ageing and human nature

Michael Bavidge

in Dementia

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780198566151
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754418 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Ageing and human nature

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There are at present inescapable drawbacks about old age. If you want to avoid a whole series of serious diseases, do not be old. But we are discovering that many of the deteriorations associated with old age are not the essential attendants of advanced years, but are features of diseases that we can reasonably expect to manage more effectively in future.

The success of gerontology in enabling us to experience old age and the ageing perspectives on the world in as disease-free state as possible, as lucidly as possible, should encourage us to look more positively—and not just out of compassion—on old age, even old age that shows signs of wear and tear.

Gerontology will not offer us or threaten us with an escape from ageing and death, but it does offer the possibility of experiencing ageing and death more comfortably and lucidly. It can give us more control in undergoing these processes. It will give us new choices, including the various options around euthanasia, which we may prefer we did not have.

Human life is unique. Its end is not like the end of anything else in the natural world. The claim that our ageing and our deaths are unique phenomena raises the suspicion that we are victims of a Ptolemaic illusion: the processes of ageing and dying seem different from any other sort of end process because that's how it looks from here. But perhaps on this occasion we are right to think we are special. We are self-conscious to a high degree and we are consciously ageing and heading towards death—and that makes us unique. It is the ‘Third Antinomy’ again. From an objective point of view human ageing and death is in principle no different from ageing and death throughout the animal world. But from a personal, experiential point of view, the end of a person is like no other ending.

Chapter.  5842 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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