Aging is a physical process that will always be with us. But conceptions of aging, views about the contributions older people can make to society, and what society owes them change from era to er
Retirement, as we think of it, goes like this. A person has a right, or maybe a duty, but at least a choice, to retire at a certain age, and between the government, his or her employers, and their own diligence, should have a pension to live on for the rest of their days without having to continue earning money. Retirement isn’t the sort of topic you can find much about in Plato, Aristotle, Descartes or Hume. It’s basically a nineteenth century German invention.
But there are philosophical questions. Given the scarcity of jobs in academia, and the aging professoriate, does one have a duty to retire? Or is the feeling that one has such a duty just plot to discriminate against old people?
People have different views of retirement. On the one hand, we have:
Retirement is like a long vacation in Las Vegas. The goal is to enjoy it the fullest, but not so fully that you run out of money. —Jonathan Clements
On the other hand, the view of two famous authors:
As to that leisure evening of life, I must say that I do not want it. I can conceive of no contentment of which toil is not to be the immediate parent. —Anthony Trollope
The only way to avoid being miserable [in retirement] is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not. —George Bernard Shaw
My advice to retirees is basically the same I give frosh:
College is a time to hold all the belief and goals that have been put in your head by parents, society, etc. up to the light, and see if they are really yours.
Retirement is the same. Decisions you made early in life, requirements for tenure, expectations of journals—all of this has shaped your life. But you can hold it up to the light and ask, should these things continue to guide my life? It’s hard to internalize the fact that things have changed. It’s hard to accept, after years of dreaming about spending your retirement on the golf course or fishing, that what you really enjoy is what you have been doing all along, sitting by yourself and writing. But that’s what happened to me.
On the other hand, you may find, after years of telling yourself that you love what you do for a living, that given the choice you’d rather play golf (one of the world's truly time-consuming and frustrating sports) or go fishing.
But these days, if you retire at 66, you may have twenty or thirty years left, or even more. Don’t waste it listening to the voices in your head from the past!
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