The Long Life

Demographers have long predicted that our society is going to have to cope with an ageing population. In recent years the reality has hit home with The National Health Service and Social Care services under immense pressure. Along with this, dementia has risen to epidemic proportions (

Helen Small ( takes as her topic here this great social concern of our time – ageing.  The Long Life ranges widely from the writings of Plato through to recent philosophical work by Derek Parfit, Bernard Williams, and others, and from Shakespeare’s King Lear through works by Thomas Mann, Balzac, Dickens, Beckett, Stevie Smith, Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and J. M. Coetzee.

The author argues that if we want to understand old age, we have to think more fundamentally about what it means to be a person, to have a life and be part of a just society. What did Plato mean when he suggested that old age was the best place from which to practice philosophy – or Thomas Mann when he defined old age as the best time to be a writer – and were they right? If we think, as Aristotle did, that a good life requires the active pursuit of virtue, how will our view of later life be affected? If we think that lives and persons are unified, much as stories are said to be unified, how will our thinking about old age differ from that of someone who thinks that lives and persons are discontinuous? In a just society, what constitutes a fair distribution of limited resources between the young and the old? How, if at all, should recent developments in the theory of evolutionary senescence alter our thinking about what it means to grow old?

Worth reading before the dementia sets in.

Check if this thought-provoking book on ageing is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at

362 pages in Oxford University Press

First published 2007

ISBN  978-0199229932

Professor Helen Small

Scroll to Top