A philosopher offers practical advice on how to navigate one’s way through middle age and beyond.
Setiya (Philosophy/MIT; Knowing Right from Wrong, 2015, etc.) serves as an engaging companion for those in the throes of the dreaded midlife crisis, as he brings the wisdom of the ages—from Gilgamesh to Aristotle and Plato to John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, and beyond—to bear on the contemporary malaise. Part of the problem is that the choices you have made by midlife have often closed the doors on all the other lives you might have lived. Another problem is that death looms, closer, and however you keep busy pales in comparison to contemplating the end. Yet another is that each task must come to an end, leading to more feelings of emptiness. Like Peggy Lee, “you have lived long enough to ask ‘Is that all there is?’ ” It may be enough, and should be, if you can adopt the proper philosophical perspective. Though Setiya quotes Montaigne—“to philosophize is to learn how to die”—he treats the topic in a tone that is warm, conversational, and surprisingly good-humored. We are all going to go through it, and we are all going to die: “If we could persuade ourselves that immortality is undesirable, we might be reconciled to death.” And the truth of immortality, along with the impossibility, is that it could well leave us bored and bitter; we might prefer a return to the state of nonbeing that preceded our birth, “the prior abyss.” The author counsels that even the most task-oriented must commit themselves to pleasures that he calls “existential,” ones that can’t be completed—e.g., listening to music, enjoying time with friends, meditating.
A self-help book with a strong—but not heavy-handed—philosophical foundation.