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Toward a global geroethics – gerontology and the theory of the good human life

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Hans Joerg Ehni, Selma Kadi, Maartje Schermer, Sridhar Venkatapuram

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-268
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Early online date20 Apr 2018
Accepted/In press28 Feb 2018
E-pub ahead of print20 Apr 2018
Published1 May 2018


King's Authors


Gerontologists have proposed different concepts for ageing well such as ‘successful ageing’, ‘active ageing’, and ‘healthy ageing’. These conceptions are primarily focused on maintaining health and preventing disease. But they also raise the questions: what is a good life in old age and how can it be achieved? While medical in origin, these concepts and strategies for ageing well also contain ethical advice for individuals and societies on how to act regarding ageing and old age. This connection between gerontology and ethics is overlooked by both schools of thought. We thus develop this research programme for a systematic geroethics in four steps. First, we analyze ‘successful ageing’ as put forward by Rowe and Kahn as a paradigmatic example of a gerontological conception of ageing well. Then, in a second step, we move from criticisms within gerontology to an ethical perspective; in particular, we want to clarify the problem of the claim of universal validity of conceptions of the good life. In a third constructive step, we explain how the ‘capabilities approach’ could be applied in this context as a normative foundation for the implicit normative assumptions of gerontological conceptions of ageing well, such as a particular choice of functionings, the ethical relevance of human agency, and the resulting claims of individuals towards society. Finally, using a concept developed by the German philosopher Ursula Wolf, we systematically develop the different aspects of the connection between ageing well and the theory of the good life in their full complexity and show their interconnectedness.

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