• David Mo
    887
    I don't know if you have seen or read Death in Venice (Thomas Mann's novel and/or Luchino Visconti's film). I thought it was a plea against old age. The scene in which old Dr. Aschenbach tries to hide his decrepitude from Taszio -a beautiful teenager- with a grotesque make-up that melts under the hot sun is terrifying.
    However, I have just learned that the novel was written by Mann in his thirties and, according to Mann's daughter, Erika, was misinterpreted by readers and critics alike. According to her, Mann considered old age as the perfect state to achieve ideal serenity and he really achieved it in his later years. Death in Venice would mean an unresolved conflict between passion – homosexual passion in the novel and in Mann himself – and the formal rules in the artist's life and work. A conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian tendencies that Aschenbach is unable to harmonize.

    In so arguing, Mann follows a line of thought that comes from Plato. In several dialogues, Plato states that old age is the ideal of philosophers – and lovers! What are the traits of old age that make it preferable to youth?
    Generally, advantages of a sociable nature are claimed, such as kindness or benignity; moral, such as a sense of justice; psychological, such as freedom from sexual passion; and especially wisdom (Plato).

    Is this justifiable? Is old age a blessing or a curse for the elderly?

    NOTE: Plato drew political consequences from this supposed superiority of old age: the republic of the philosophers was a strict gerontocracy. I am not asking the question in this sense. I am limiting my question to the possible advantages of old age on a personal level.
  • Olivier5
    730
    Good question. On a purely existential level, getting old appears to me better than the alternative. At least at this point; I might change my mind later. It is a curse on some levels alright, including health and sex wise, and a blessing on others, such as wisdom, I think.

    My favorite proverb on the topic (I love proverbs, they are pearls of folk wisdom) is: "Si jeunesse savait, et si vieillesse pouvait..." (if only youth knew, and if only old age could). This draws attention to an increase in wisdom that is commensurate (and perhaps linked with) a decrease in physical and mental powers. It's more useful to be wise when one is physically weak than when one is strong. A youth can fail and rise again. In fact that's how she or he is going to acquire some wisdom: by trial and error. On the contrary, an old person must use this acquired knowledge to avoid errors, which could more easily doom her than when she was 20.

    That'd be why the old are conservative and often boring: risk aversion grows with age.
  • jgill
    823
    It is a curse on some levels alright, including health and sex wise, and a blessing on others, such as wisdom, I think.Olivier5

    From the perspective of an 83 year-old this seems a bit naive. Especially the wisdom part. A lot depends on one's health, and if that remains fairly good sex may be possible and can be enjoyable. For men, keeping testosterone levels up helps considerably.

    As you age your attitudes change, and it's not necessarily a downward spiral. I was an active rock climber from age 16 to age 70, and as a youngster I would think, as other climbers do, that I wanted to continue it all my life. But at 70 I was happy to leave it behind and turn to other activities I had learned to enjoy. What we might consider at age 20 to be indispensable to life turns out not to be.

    But it is important in old age to have ongoing projects. I have two elderly friends, one a year older than me and the other ten years younger. Each has been working on a book for a decade or more. They keep revising and changing material, feeling that each such action is an improvement. I'm guessing they may never actually complete their projects, but that's not the point.

    Speculating about old age when young is an entertaining diversion, but not very productive.
  • tim wood
    5.5k
    And there is Yeats's "old man's eagle mind."

    An Acre of Grass

    Picture and book remain,
    An acre of green grass
    For air and exercise,
    Now strength of body goes;
    Midnight, an old house
    Where nothing stirs but a mouse.
    My temptation is quiet.
    Here at life's end
    Neither loose imagination,
    Nor the mill of the mind
    Consuming its rag and bone,
    Can make the truth known.

    Grant me an old man's frenzy,
    Myself must I remake
    Till I am Timon and Lear
    Or that William Blake
    Who beat upon the wall
    Till Truth obeyed his call;
    A mind Michael Angelo knew
    That can pierce the clouds,
    Or inspired by frenzy
    Shake the dead in their shrouds;
    Forgotten else by mankind,
    An old man's eagle mind.
  • Gnomon
    960
    Is this justifiable? Is old age a blessing or a curse for the elderly?David Mo
    I'm 75 years old. So, I'd say that old age can be good or bad, but personally it's what you make of it. :smile:
  • David Mo
    887
    This draws attention to an increase in wisdom that is commensurate (and perhaps linked with) a decrease in physical and mental powers.Olivier5
    But it is important in old age to have ongoing projects.jgill
    How can there be a growth of wisdom when the mental capacity decreases on the run?

    The study of famous cases of old men who were once great sages does not give cause to speak of "wisdom". I think of Kant, of whom there remains a frightening chronicle that E. T. A. Hoffmann collected: The Last Days of Immanuel Kant. A stammering and confused Kant who had to be tied to the leg of his bed so that he would not get lost in his room.
    What is most disconcerting is that these great people, like almost all the more modest ones, do not recognize their own mental decadence and are engaged in grandiose projects to reformulate their own theories or lifestyle. It is as if they want to deny their own aging process with an intellectual renaissance for which, unfortunately, they are no longer qualified. Now I am thinking of Sartre, for example.

    I don't believe that old age is the age of wisdom, but a progressive advance towards stupidity. This is was Socrates' feeling -despite Plato's version- according Xenophon. This is why he provoked is own death in his famous trial. It is an heterodox consistent version.
  • Olivier5
    730
    Speculating about old age when young is an entertaining diversion, but not very productive.jgill
    Rest assured that I am not technically young anymore.

    I don't believe that old age is the age of wisdom, but a progressive advance towards stupidity.David Mo
    We lose neurons everyday. Ultimately, there aren't enough left, and we lose our mind. But I still think that we learn something on the way, some 'wisdom'.
  • David Mo
    887
    Speculating about old age when young is an entertaining diversion, but not very productive.jgill

    Well, I haven't been a young man for a long time, but I believe that the real problems of old age must be considered at every stage of our lives. After all, it is everyone's natural destiny, except if an accident occurs. And everyone should bear in mind that a man cannot say whether he is happy until the last day of his life. Before death, aging is the ultimate test of a man's happiness - and perhaps of his virtue.

    The curious thing - so to speak - is how society hides the real problems of the old men. Young people love grandparents, but they create a myth about them that makes them what they are not: "collective memory", familiar totem or nice impertinent. When grandpa starts to complain about his condition everyone looks the other way. Whether out of misunderstood compassion, shame or fear.

    Then, the old man becomes something to be cared for or to be disturbing. Like a plant. You water it from time to time, you put fertilizer or pesticide on it, you find a place where there is light... or you throw it into the dunghill.

    This explains the ease with which, in these times of the plague, grandparents are those "little old men" who have to die in exchange for "the economy". "Economy" means that I don't miss the disco or don't stop me from going on holiday on a Caribbean cruise. Leaving aside those who think in terms of millions that are in other level of understanding.

    And what can the old man do?
  • David Mo
    887
    An old man's eagle mind.tim wood
    Few old people have the mind of an eagle. More like a plover. And then the moment comes when you pee yourself.
    Probably the solution is in the Socrates that Xenophon paints. Letting yourself be carried away by the river.

    Or maybe not. May be Socrates was fighting for his own old man pride.
  • TheMadFool
    7.5k
    Is old age a blessing or a curse for the elderly?David Mo

    Blessed are the one with young bodies and old minds.

    Cursed are the ones with old bodies and young minds.
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    593
    How old was 'old age' in the age of Plato?
  • David Mo
    887
    How old was 'old age' in the age of Plato?Mayor of Simpleton

    From the moment he could not handle the Hoplite shield, which was quite heavy. Anyway, Plato does not defend the superiority of the old only, but of the very old especially. Well past 65, if I remember correctly. Socrates, who is the paradigm, dies at 70 aprox. .
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    593
    What are the traits of old age that make it preferable to youth?David Mo

    - You've learned you didn't invent sin.
    - Every generation could be called the 'what the hell were you thinking back then generation'... including your own generation.
    - Pop music of preference has less to do with quality of music and more with context associated with the music.
    - You realize that no one is 'special', but rather are mediocre and the only 'specialness' one bring to the stage is their own individual special flavor of mediocrity. (OK... that's probably just me)

    Generally, advantages of a sociable nature are claimed, such as kindness or benignity; moral, such as a sense of justice; psychological, such as freedom from sexual passion; and especially wisdom (Plato).

    Is this justifiable?
    David Mo

    As Plato is speaking 'generally', it could be in some cases justifiable and in other not so much.

    Is old age a blessing or a curse for the elderly?David Mo

    Doesn't this depend on who you ask, when ask and in what context you ask?

    I kind of doubt you can establish an answer to this question as a one size fits all universal standard.
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    593

    So is that age of 71 the standard or just a single case example?

    Since that's the age of death... what is considered to be old age?
  • David Mo
    887
    So is that age of 71 the standard or just a single case example?

    Since that's the age of death... what is considered to be old age?
    Mayor of Simpleton

    This is not an isolated case. It is the age Plato attributes to the rulers of his republic. If I remember correctly.

    I think I already said that. The shield decides.
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    593

    OK... they lived until about 71, but still at what point in time do they reach the status of 'old age'?
  • David Mo
    887
    As Plato is speaking 'generally', it could be in some cases justifiable and in other not so much.Mayor of Simpleton

    Doesn't this depend on who you ask, when ask and in what context you ask?Mayor of Simpleton

    There are always exceptions to the rule. But that does not invalidate it.

    Of course, you have to pay attention to the circumstances. A very obvious one: it is not the same to be an old man as an old woman. And that difference is overwhelming in many societies. In all of them, if we give credit to feminists.

    But perhaps there are characteristics of old age that end up being imposed on classes and genders. With all the nuances you want.
  • David Mo
    887
    OK... they lived until about 71, but still at what point in time do they reach the status of 'old age'?Mayor of Simpleton
    Why isn't the shield criterion useful?
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    593
    Why isn't the shield criterion useful?David Mo

    What exactly is the standard of measure for this shield criterion?
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    593
    There are always exceptions to the rule. But that does not invalidate it.David Mo

    It also hasn't done very much to establish a rule other than simply stating 'it is so', as speaking generally from experience isn't quite an empirical investigation or is it?
  • Ansiktsburk
    84
    Aint old yet, I suppose, at 58. My dad is, at 83. But apart from his having some medical conditions we seem to have some stuff in common, that referring back to the OP seem to give us some plus in comparison with my tween aged kids. Or with the the self of say ´87. coolest thing is memory. Looking at old documentaries from the mid 80´s it now looks like WW2 movies you saw as a kid. And I was there, remembering it as a grown-up. For kids and youngsters, stuff like Neil Armstrong on the moon is like some fluffy stuff for me like say Kennedy being shot(of which I have no memories, though born). And the Berlin wall, 9/11 and so on. The complete web development. To actually have living memories of stuff is cooler than I thought it would be.

    And of course, one grows in wisdom in several different ways. One has done the stupid things, one has learned. Apart from the mirror, as the old lady in Titanic reflects, having changed somewhat I cannot say that much stuff has gone worse. More things have gone better.
  • 180 Proof
    2k
    :broken:
    Is old age a blessing or a curse for the elderly?
    — David Mo

    Blessed are the one with young bodies and old minds.

    Cursed are the ones with old bodies and young minds.
    TheMadFool
    'Virtue' rises/falls somewhere in between, doesn't it?

    :fire:

    I'm now 57 (in the midst of late middle age: 50s-60s) intuiting myself topping the hill and before long will descend the down slope - how gracefully, of course, a function of my good health and daily activity. My perspective on (my) life, forwards and backwards, seems optimal here and now; I suspect I'll never be less unwise (less foolish - "cursed") than I am now ... So many milestone memories of peaks & valleys still come back effortlessly as reminders of the many different selves (me's - each entangled in a slightly different web of relationships) I've been, and, perhaps, some more I've yet to become. "Blessed"? TBD. :death: :flower:

    (And, yeah, Xenophon's 'Socrates' speaks more to my more naturalistic sensibilities than the idealist-rationalist 'Socrates' of Plato. Thanks for that reminder @David Mo.)
  • Ciceronianus the White
    1.3k
    My daemon, Cicero, insists that old age is "the crown of life." I tend to think of it more as "the bottom of the barrel of life" in the sense that one expects less of it--naturally, as there is less of it left. So, we must ration it if we want it to last, but there comes a point when what's left is gone or isn't worth the effort. That's the fact, jack. The trick is to accept it without qualification, and do the best with it as we can.
  • jgill
    823
    I don't believe that old age is the age of wisdom, but a progressive advance towards stupidityDavid Mo

    And thus you pave the road ahead - a passage fraught with loathe and dread. :groan:
  • David Mo
    887
    What exactly is the standard of measure for this shield criterion?Mayor of Simpleton

    The ability to participate in the war. Hellenistic culture was a culture of war. Every citizen had placed in a preferential place in his house the weapons that served to defend his city. Weapons and citizenship were almost synonymous. Therefore, when one could not hold his coat of arms, he passed to a new state of citizenship: the old man.Then, he received an ambivalent consideration. Praised for his wisdom and ability to be an advisor on matters of justice and war, he was blamed for his decadence and uselessness in defending the community that equated him with a child. See both aspects in Homer. Nestor in Iliad and Laertes in Odyssey.

    In societies that exalt youth, like ours, the elderly fall mostly into the second category. They are dispensable, if not a nuisance that is relegated to mortuaries such as nursing homes. A highly visible role in the current pandemic crisis.

    Even perhaps too explicit I recommend "Torching the Dusties" in Margaret Atwood's Nine Wicked Tales.
  • David Mo
    887
    as speaking generally from experience isn't quite an empirical investigation or is it?Mayor of Simpleton

    It is empirical, though not scientific. Scientific inquiries that I know limit themselves to particular aspects of the problem. I am trying an overview.
  • David Mo
    887
    Or with the the self of say ´87. coolest thing is memory.Ansiktsburk

    There is a lot of talk about the problem of memory in the elderly. It is not just memory. There is a general loss of mental abilities. Especially that of handling abstract concepts, which is decisive for solving problems. For me it was a trauma when I saw my father confused because he didn't know how to solve a simple everyday problem like hooking up various electrical connections. My father was a philosopher and had written several books on very abstract subjects - phenomenology, Kant, analysis of language - which made me dizzy even when I was younger than I am now.

    There came a time when, due to some brain problem, he was able to write his last book, although he had reading difficulties. But he had the great wisdom of old age: he understood that his capacities were diminishing and he lowered the level of complexity of what he was writing by several degrees. This is the worst defect of the elders: they don't realise that they are no longer the young or adult man that they were.

    This is due to an inability to self-evaluate: the old man knows he is old, but he feels young. Here comes the old coquette (Goya) and the old man full of make-up (Aschenbach). Intellectually the problem arises because the old man, whose days are numbered, undertakes tasks for which he no longer has the time or the ability.
  • David Mo
    887
    My daemon, Cicero, insists that old age is "the crown of life." ICiceronianus the White

    What your daimon was doing was defending the senatorial power against imperial attacks. This is why he stresses that old age is only desirable for rich men with an active (political) life. But that is putting conditions that very few old men meet. I am talking about the common old man.
  • 180 Proof
    2k
    What exactly is the standard of measure for this shield criterion?
    — Mayor of Simpleton

    The ability to participate in the war. Hellenistic culture was a culture of war. Every citizen had placed in a preferential place in his house the weapons that served to defend his city. Weapons and citizenship were almost synonymous. Therefore, when one could not hold his coat of arms, he passed to a new state of citizenship: the old man.Then, he received an ambivalent consideration. Praised for his wisdom and ability to be an advisor on matters of justice and war, he was blamed for his decadence and uselessness in defending the community that equated him with a child. See both aspects in Homer. Nestor in Iliad and Laertes in Odyssey.
    David Mo
    Excellent. :fire:
  • TheMadFool
    7.5k
    I didn't doubt for a second that you count among the blessed as I described it :smile:

    The same, alas, can't be said of my life. :sad:
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    593

    Very good!

    So we have Socrates at about 70 (Apology 17b) and now a standard of measure for the category of old age via this shield criterion.

    As to modern day we can simply look at vital statistics for an life expectancy (probably somewhere in the 78 to 85 range), but here's a bit of a tough nut... how do we get to a modern day standard of measure for 'old age' then subsequently figure out is it a blessing or a curse?

    Back to the overview on Plato's time (to check my vague understanding of things)...

    Basically we 'start out' as immaterial souls prior to birth (Phaedo 70c-72e) and knew the 'Forms', but due to being in (embodied in) a physical realm we forgot a lot of it.

    Being 'damned' to stumble through life in the physical realm we eventually begin to recognize similarities between particulars. This development draws our attention upward towards the similarity and away from the particularity. Over time we experience moments of clarity and as we get older this process becomes more and more frequent; thus if this is correct, then people gain wisdom (or, at least, people ought to have fewer false beliefs) as they age. (I can't remember the reference at the moment, but I believe it's somewhere around Phaedrus 245 - 258 and something in Phadeo in the 70's... possibly elsewhere too)

    So why is such a process desirable instead of just living life without this critical thinking?

    In my looking up the age of Socrates it placed my attention to the Apology once again after a long long time. What I 'connected' (I'm certain many other have doe the same and far better) might give some insight to Plato's position.

    Socrates, famed for knowing he knows nothing, investigated the knowledge of others by his being interrogated by them. Other than the craftsmen, who knew their craft, these 'knowledgeable people' really knew nothing. Socrates has what he considered to be 'human wisdom', but knew it was worthless.

    Socrates suggests that as long as we are embodied this form of a human, we are not capable of knowing anything truly. Only the gods and, perhaps, the dead have true wisdom. If the dead have such knowledge, then perhaps death isn’t an evil after all (Apology 40b-42a )

    I'm not sure if this is the direction you are heading or if I've basically run off chasing rabbit again.

    Also, my knowledge on the topic is certainly not that of a specialist.

    One thing I can remember (I believe it was in Republic... maybe) was a dialog between Cephallus and Socrates when Socrates goes to visit him because “the more the pleasures of the body fade, the greater becomes one’s desire and taste for conversation”.

    They talk quite a bit (I suppose as old farts do), but what I remember was that Cephalus states that a person with a good character will find it to be a great help to their old age. It is not that old age (per se) is bad or unpleasant, but rather old age coupled with a dreadful past days of youth.

    More or less if your character was screwed up as a youth, it'll likely be the same when you are older; thus making old age not so desirable.

    I'm quite certain I'm leaving a lot out of this, but it basically what I can remember (the classics were about 35 years ago for me and I'm not really sure my memory is on the mark nor my understanding at the time it was taught)

    Back to the present day...

    Indeed this sounds like a rather common description of getting old. Not a lot of new concepts here, but how does it relate to the present day and does it really stand to reason?

    Of course I might be chasing rabbits and none of this was worth writing, but my take on the issue isn't quite in line with the perspective of either Socrates or Cephallus, but before I bore you more with the 'notions of the Mayor' I kind of need to know if this the tree upon which I should be barking upward?
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