Big Question: Why do we age? A philosopher's answer
Marquette Magazine posed this question to a philosopher and a scientist.
The expert: Dr. Susanne Foster, associate professor of philosophy
"Metaphysically speaking, we age because time passes without our having died. Aging, at the least, seems to beat the alternative.
"Ethically speaking, things are a bit more complicated. Here we speak not primarily of aging but of maturing. And it is with regard to the benefits of youthful enthusiasm and strength as opposed to those of wisdom and forethought, of possibility as opposed to accomplishment, that the 'war between the generations' is based.
"Youth is to be prized. For in youth is strength of body and freedom from all the aches of age. It is the young that are quick not only to decide, but also to see alternatives, which, according to Aristotle, is why they are so good at mathematics. Most of the great mathematical and scientific discoveries are made by the young. Archimedes, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, to name a few, began their exceptional careers in their 20s. It is the young who have the energy as well as the conviction of ideals to change the world.
"It is, on the other hand, the mature who have the insight to change the world in sustainable ways. All cultures have practices whereby they venerate the wisdom of their elders. The youthful Gandhi set in motion changes that his mature character was able to guide. Though the minimum age for the U.S. presidency is 35, the youngest men elected to that office have been John Kennedy (43), Bill Clinton and Ulysses Grant (46). And the average age of our elected presidents as they have taken office is 55. When they were inaugurated, the first 25 elected presidents were older than the average life expectancy for an American male of the time. It is the old whom we allow to guide or frustrate the enthusiasm of youth.
"But, unlike aging, maturing is optional. As Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics, 'And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living, and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs.' As we surrender the benefits of youth, we must work to acquire the prizes of age. Maturing, unlike merely aging, not only beats the alternative, it is to be desired."
How would a scientist answer this question? Read the reply of Dr. Sandra Hunter, associate professor of exercise science.