Lichtenberg-Kolleg - The Göttingen Institute for Advanced Study

Core areas

Philosophical, ethical, and socio-cultural aspects of age and ageing; socio-empirical research and political participation in bioethics; questions of philosophical ethics and political philosophy

Project: Empirically informed ethics of aging in the horizon of modern medicine

While increasing life expectancy and demographic change pose major challenges for modern societies, philosophical and applied ethics have paid comparatively little attention to matters of age and aging, so far. There may be famous works treating old age as a topic of ethical concern, but there has been virtually no systematic reflection on aging as a fundamental premise of (bio-)ethical reasoning: If ethics is concerned with the evaluative and normative principles of human agency and the good life, what does it mean for ethical theorizing that the human condition is essentially characterized by certain inevitable and irreversible biological, psychological, and social changes over the life course? What role do socio-cultural images, conceptions and expectations of being young, growing older and reaching old age play in the (bio-)ethical debate? How are these ideas transformed in the light of new biomedical developments such as e.g. reproductive medicine, prevention, intensive care, ambient assisted living, or anti-aging medicine? And how can they be integrated in normative (bio-)ethical deliberation systematically and in a reflected manner?

Against this background, my research mobilizes philosophical analysis, socio-empirical methods, and ethical reflection, in order to understand the role and transformation of normative conceptions of aging, the life course, and human temporality in the horizon of modern biomedicine and life sciences. The aim is a more comprehensive theoretical perspective in current (bio-)ethical discourses: Discussing specific ethical problems in the context of modern medicine presupposes a general idea of what it means to grow older and to be old. This not only involves an empirical inventory and analysis of existing understandings of aging and human existence, critically uncovering hidden biases and exposing them to ethical discussion. It also entails the constructive task of developing a more appropriate conceptual framework for including the central significance of aging, the life course, and human temporality in (bio-)ethical debates.

Selcted publications

  • (2013): "Zwischen universalistischem Egalitarismus und gerontologischem Separatismus. Themenschwerpunkte und theoretische Perspektiven des medizinethischen Alter(n)sdiskurses", in: A. von Hülsen-Esch, M. Seidler & Chr. Tagsold (Hrsg.): Methoden der Alter(n)sforschung. Disziplinäre Positionen und transdisziplinäre Perspektiven, Bielefeld: transcript, pp. 53-71.
  • With Marckmann, G. (2013): "How do we want to grow old? Anti-aging medicine and the scope of public healthcare in liberal democracies", in: Bioethics 27/7, pp. 357-364.
  • With Schicktanz, S. (Hrsg.) (2012): Pro-Age oder Anti-Aging? Altern im Fokus der modernen Medizin, Frankfurt a.M./New York: Campus 2012.
  • With Schicktanz, S. & Wynne, B. (2011): "The ethics of 'public understanding of ethics' -- why and how bioethics expertise should include public and patients' voices", in: Medicine, Health Care & Philosophy 15/2, pp. 139-149.
  • With Bozzaro C. & Eichinger, T. (2010): "Diagnose Altern? Zu den ethischen Grenzen der Anti-Aging-Medizin", in: Zeitschrift für medizinische Ethik 56/3, pp. 203-216.