The Duty of Maturity
Susan Neiman is a moral philosopher with an interest in exploring the persistence of Enlightenment thought and reinterpreting past thinkers for contemporary contexts. She is the current Director of the Einstein Forum, having previously taught at Yale University and Tel Aviv University. The Wall Street Journal called her 2008 Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists “an argument for re-engaging with the moral vocabulary of the country.” Her 2002 work, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, explains philosophy’s quest, touching on Kant, among others, as one perpetually in search of a perfect understanding of evil. Born in Atlanta, Neiman received her doctorate degree from Harvard University.
Neiman: I think the duty of maturity is to recognize the difference between what is and what ought to be and to try to always keep your eye on both, which sounds much easier to do than it is. I think the duty of maturity is increasingly--and the older I get actually the more important I think it is--is not to resign, not to tell yourself that being realistic means giving up your hopes and your ideals. Most of the culture tells us that the best part of our lives are the times between--oh, I don’t know--16 and 25. I think anybody who’s made it over that period of time would rarely want to live- have those years back again. They’re really hard. You’re figuring out who you are, you’re figuring out your strengths and weaknesses, but the whole culture is combined in telling us that that’s the best time of our lives, but just think about what the message is ‘cause there’s no empirical evidence. In fact, there’s a host of psychological studies that show in the most cases people actually get happier as they get older. So the only reason I can think of for blasting that message is to prepare us for the idea that we shouldn’t expect much out of life and that’s a mistake.
The responsibilities that follow maturity, according to Susan Neiman.
Tragedy in art, from Ancient Greece to Breaking Bad, resists all our efforts to tie reality up in a neat bow, to draw some edifying lesson from it. Instead it confronts us with our own limitations, leaving us scrabbling in the rubble of certainty to figure out what's next.
- Why democracy has been unpopular with philosophers
- Tragedy's reminder that the past isn't finished with us
- …and why we need art in the first place
We're talking Ghost in the Shell type of stuff.
Maybe you watched Ghost in the Shell and maybe afterwards you and your friend had a conversation about whether or not you would opt in for some bionic upgrades if that was possible - like a liver that could let you drink unlimitedly or an eye that could give you superhuman vision. And maybe you had differing opinions but you concluded that it's irrelevant because the time to make such choices is far in the future. Well, it turns out, it's two years away.
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