A conference at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, Fabianinkatu 24, Helsinki, Finland

Co-organizers: Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, Academy of Finland, University of Jyväskylä, Philosophical Society of Finland

Organizing Committee: Prof. Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago), Prof. Sara Heinämaa (University of Jyväskylä), Prof. Sari Kivistö (University of Tampere), Prof. Sami Pihlström (University of Helsinki, committee chair), Dr. Miira Tuominen (University of Jyväskylä)


Conference Description

To age is to experience, to gain wisdom, to love and to lose, to experience both friendship and loneliness. Aging is many other things. It might be about regretting, worrying, and needing; or volunteering, comprehending, guiding, rediscovering, and forgiving and, no doubt, forgetting. For the financially fortunate, it can be about retiring and bequesting and, in turn, about saving and spending in the preceding years. Many of these tendencies or preoccupations are shared by people who do not yet think of themselves as aging. But these young friends, relatives, and colleagues are often eager for their experienced elders to pass on some useful insights. This quest, to find the good, or even just the wisdom, in the wrinkles, is at least as old as Cicero, whose work is as relevant in our fast-changing world as it was two thousand years ago.

If, unlike other species, we learn, record, and widely communicate our errors and successes, and do so in ways that have expanded the frontiers of the human experience and improved the lives of succeeding generations, then perhaps we can also expect progress in the personal realm. We have made advances in farming, manufacturing, and flying. It is less clear that we have done so with respect to aging.  Because we live longer than our predecessors, we also have more choices, but we have not always faced them well. This conference is about these choices: about aging as a part of a flourishing human life.  Cicero imagines two young men asking the eight-three-year-old Cato what aging is like, so that they can think how to live well when they arrive at that time – if they are lucky enough to get there.  This conference asks that same question.

Most conferences and books about aging focus on death and pain. But aging is a span of life, and if we define it to begin in the sixties, it often is a longer period of life than the entire life span of people in many earlier eras.  For Cicero’s Cato, aging was about friendship and farming, about physical exercise and mental curiosity, about political involvement, writing books, learning new languages.   One does have to think how to face death and the fear of death, but not in a way that obsesses about that topic to the exclusion of getting on with living.  We invite papers on any of these topics (although, like Cicero, we feel that the topic of farming is not as universally fascinating as Cato thinks it is!).

Other topics that might be addressed concern public policy: compulsory retirement, employment discrimination, the question of whether aging people should be encouraged to live in retirement communities, in general the question of where separation by age is a useful strategy and where it is a form of baneful discrimination, the question of how economic inequality impacts the life opportunities of aging citizens.


Martha Nussbaum