The Philosophy of Retirement

Sunday, January 7, 2018

What is it

Many of us look forward to retirement, that time in life when we stop working for a living. But what exactly is retirement and why do we retire? Does retirement always mean an end to work, or can it sometimes just mean a shift to a different kind of work? Ought we retire for purely selfish reasons, such as to give ourselves more leisure time? Or ought we retire for the public good, to give younger people greater opportunities for employment? In an age when people are living longer and technology is displacing more and more workers, how should our attitudes about retirement change? The Philosophers coax John Perry out of radio retirement to ask about all the work he's been getting done since stepping away from the mic.

Listening Notes

Is retirement the best thing that can happen to us? Or is retirement a capitalist ploy to rotate expensive and experienced workers out of the workforce? Ken, Josh, and Debra explore this question with guest and former co-host John Perry, who has retired on three occasions from different positions. John first explains why he retired from working as a philosophy professor at Stanford University, though he still spends a lot of time reading and writing about philosophy now.

After a break, our hosts explore whether retirement is a good thing. Josh points out that the current system of retirement lends itself to a “useful-only-while-working mindset.” John agrees, glad that philosophy professors, by contrast, can contribute and still “be useful” to their field after retirement.

Josh proposes one possible purpose of retirement: to reflect on life and perhaps make up for one’s mistakes. A listener asks whether the choice to transition from a full-time job to a part-time job before retirement is a good one. In response, John shares his own experience of “gradual retirement.”

In the final segment, Josh asks John for advice on how to make the most of retirement. John recalls advice that he gave his freshmen students at Stanford: to make choices based on their own beliefs and desires and to find what they care about. Retirement affords us a similar opportunity, says John: to be free of the responsibilities that we had during our careers and to rediscover and do what we love. 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 2:56): Liza Veale chats with Darrel and Gene about how they save for retirement and whose responsibility it is to save for retirement: the individual’s, the government’s, employers’, or some combination of all three.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 46:24): Ian Shoales discusses our expectations of leisure activities and how some people never retire. 

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Comments (2)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, October 21, 2017 -- 12:03 PM

I remarked earlier that work

I remarked earlier that work was that which we do when we would rather be doing something else. I've been retired since September, 2008. It has not always been fun---but, it has all ways been interesting. And the things I do now are, in the main, things I'd rather be doing. Except for mowing grass and raking leaves...

decker walker's picture

decker walker

Sunday, November 12, 2017 -- 12:28 PM

Second chances

Most of us, in or after college, give up activities we love and neglect skills we worked hard to develop in order to concentrate on a 'career' that will be the major 'work' of our lives. We 'voluntarily' renounced sides of ourselves that once were important in order to concentrate on the facets of ourselves that were needed in our career. Retirement can be a time when we return to paths not taken and recover those facets of ourselves that we sacrificed early in life. In retirement we are free to return and explore the writing, music, acting, art, mathematics, woodworking, puppetry, or ... that we gave up to became lawyers, bankers, executives, technicians, professors, or .... This time we can do it for love, not money, and with no one to please but ourselves and our audiences. We can be true amateurs and experience the thrills we once felt when doing something we loved..



John Perry, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Stanford University and Host Emeritus of Philosophy Talk


Bonus Content

VIDEO: The Philosophy of Retirement was recorded before a live audience at Stanford. Watch the entire show!



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