Penn Grad Talk: Kyle West (Penn ANCH Grad Student) "Aging Virtuously: Cicero on Old Age, Disability, and Character"

Friday, February 24, 2023 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Widener Lecture Hall at the Penn Museum (3260 South Street)

Speaker: Kyle West, Ancient History Graduate Student, University of Pennsylvania

Title: "Aging Virtuously: Cicero on Old Age, Disability, and Character"

Abstract: In Cicero’s dialogue on aging well, the de Senectute, heavy emphasis is placed on the power of self-discipline and a positive mind. Mental and physical decline affect many older people, Cicero admits; he is profoundly concerned about the vulnerability we all experience as we age. However, he insists that if we live virtuously from youth up, this will prepare us so that we hardly feel our age as older people. But this poses a serious problem: if we accept Cicero’s message of “mind over matter,” does this require us to judge those whom old age makes miserable?

On its own, the De Senectute implies that if older people end up impaired, this flows from a corrupt character. However, other texts, especially Cicero’s treatment of older role models in the speech Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo, suggest that in practice Cicero’s attitude was shaped by context, such as political values and interpersonal relationships, more than by philosophical theory. This has important implications for how elderly and disabled people are considered today. We share with ancient people anxieties about the vulnerability of our bodies. But the interpretations we put on disabilities matter just as much or more than physical factors for individuals’ well-being.

The finalist with the most in-person and online votes across all the speakers that day will win the Audience Choice award, so it’s really important to attend to support him.
You can see a complete list of speakers, topics, and the full schedule for the day HERE. There will be a lot of delicious food (including vegan and vegetarian options) on-hand throughout the afternoon.