Congratulations to Kyle West (ANCH), winner of the 2023 Penn Grad Talks Humanities Division

Kyle West, ANCH graduate student, is this year’s winner of the Penn Grad Talks Humanities Division. The Penn Grad Talks are a series of  TED Talk-style presentations by graduate students from the School of Arts and Sciences. Kyle presented on “Aging Virtuously: Cicero on Old Age, Disability, and Character.”

Congratulations, Kyle!

Kyle West: “Aging Virtuously: Cicero on Old Age, Disability, and Character.”

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.

 Click here to watch the talk.