The last presentation covered here was on "Becoming oneself in aging—a philosophical ethics of late life", held by philosopher THOMAS RENTSCH (Dresden). It addressed the question of how a good life in old age could be realized in the face of a radicalization of corporeal vulnerability. He stated that enlightenment and modernity had forgotten about old age by only addressing the rational subject, thus seemingly suggesting that rationality was no longer essential to personhood in old age. Stressing the relative nature of human life, Rentsch asked what eudaimonia, a happy and flourishing life, and selfhood could mean to the individual under the respective conditions of growing old, and addressed the need he perceives for an extension of theories of moral development to include old age and aging. After explicating the notion of happiness and the good life in ancient ethics, he referred to notions of the totality and seriousness of life—meaning the impossibility of interchange and rehearsal of individual existence—which become increasingly evident in the process of aging. Thus, the task of negotiating and shaping the "unique totality" of life in dialogue with others is complicated by the challenges that come along with old age—the increasing frailty of the body, the sense of time running out, the loss of social connectivity, and the sense of cultural estrangement. In spite of the radicalization of the seriousness of existence in old age, Rentsch made a stand against othering old age. "The old are no exotic race", he summed up, referring to the fact that in all stages of life the individual needs to cope with an irrevocable past, an unsettling present, and an evasive future, fragility being an essential quality of the human condition at all times. By accepting the finitude and vulnerability of life, the individual has the opportunity to continue the actualization of the self into old age. This insight into finality is what Rentsch called "positive disillusionment", a state of grace representing the "highest form of existential sovereignty". Achieving this insight, according to Rentsch, is a virtue of old age, as the experience of "becoming final" and confronting the irrevocability of one's life-course responsibly is earlier hindered by the principles of speed, strength, and growth that prevail in youth and middle age. He concluded in stating that aging was, above all, a lesson in modesty as the individual goes through the experiences of becoming a body, becoming aware of time, and becoming final.
All in all, the conference addressed various perspectives and disciplines in gerontological research, providing thought-provoking insight into the rules and methods of approaching aging in the empirical and natural sciences. As became clear in every single presentation, the multifaceted concept of aging cannot be adequately addressed by means of specific disciplinary methods. To what extent will the natural and the life sciences, on the one hand, and the humanities, on the other, be represented in gerontological discourse, and how will their rules of interaction develop? That remains to be seen.
(open to the public)
Thomas Rausch (Heidelberg, NAR): Address of Welcome
Konrad Beyreuther/Andreas Kruse (Heidelberg, NAR): "Alzheimer Krankheit – verstehen, vorbeugen, therapieren, annehmen" Panel I: Epidemiology
Chair: Hermann Brenner (Heidelberg, NAR)
Albert Hofman (Rotterdam): "Aging beyond genomics"
Hermann Brenner (Heidelberg, NAR): "The sun, vitamin D, and healthy aging"
Lisa Berkman (Cambridge): "Social determinants of population, health, and aging" Panel II: Biomedicine
Chair: Konrad Beyreuther (Heidelberg, NAR)
Thomas Kirkwood (Newcastle): "Building bridges between disciplines to address the complexity of aging"
Bruce A. Yankner (Boston): "Brain Aging and Cognitive Decline" Panel III: Humanities and Social Sciences
Chair: Andreas Kruse (Heidelberg, NAR)
Simon Biggs (Melbourne): "The difficulties of putting oneself in the place of the age-other and the promise of intergenerational sustainability"
Thomas Rentsch (Dresden): "Becoming oneself in aging – a philosophical ethics of late life"
Michael D. Hurd (Santa Monica): "The economic costs of dementia in the United States" Closing Session
Axel Börsch-Supan (Heidelberg, NAR): Closing Words
© bei der Autorin und bei KULT_online/ Bilder: Universität Heidelberg