Thoughts on Retirement

06 January 2018

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!

Comments (2)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, January 7, 2018 -- 12:26 PM

Sage advice, Professor Perry.

Sage advice, Professor Perry. The writing I did during life as a public servant was only rewarding in a monetary sense. The writing I have been doing for the last ten years or so is something I have wanted to do for at least twenty. I'd like to think I have another twenty years. But, I'll happily take what I am given...

mirugai's picture


Monday, January 8, 2018 -- 11:45 AM

Finally, a use for philosophy

Finally, a use for philosophy (other than "drawing lines when it is immoral not to draw lines" (like, when does life begin for a fetus)): how to make use of the freedom you have won by retirement. The program got a good start on this subject when dealing with the necessity of "work" for personal fulfillment, in the discussion of robotics displacing human workers. I commented then that no one should worry about not working, it is amazing to me the number of people I meet who are really good at painting, or poetry writing, or playing piano or guitar, or electrical and plumbing repair, or speaking some other language, or taking classes in, like, eastern European history, or some such.

I am the same person today that I was at 16 -- same interests, same passions, same mentality, same intellect. I have been retired for 25 years, and still don't have an extra minute in a day to waste (I even regard sleep as a waste of valuable conscious time). Every day I 1. Write something 2. Paint or draw something 3. Play a musical instrument 4. Study a subject or read poetry. And John I too have reached points where golf wasn't fun anymore so I quit for awhile until it sounded like fun again. Here is how I have fun playing golf at 75: 1. Play from the red tees 2. Carry only 4 (to tee off with) 5, 7, PW and putter in a tiny bag. 3. Tee up all fairway shots. 4. Keep track only of pars and birdies (check mark on the scorecard). And you still get to walk in beautiful nature, with a few strangers whose behavior is governed by the civility of etiquette, and get the only recreational exercise possible for a 75 year old.