Excluded from the Good Life? An Ethical Approach to Conceptions of Active Ageing

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Excluded from the Good Life? An Ethical Approach to Conceptions of Active Ageing


  • Larissa Pfaller Institute of Sociology, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany
  • Mark Schweda Division of Ethics in Medicine, Department of Health Services Research, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany


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Abstract:  Contesting previous deficit-oriented models of ageing by focusing on the resources and potential of older people, concepts of ‘successful’, ‘productive’, and ‘active ageing’ permeate social policy discourses and agendas in ageing societies. They not only represent descriptive categories capturing the changing realities of later phases of life, but also involve positive visions and prescriptive claims regarding old age. However, the evaluative and normative content of these visions and claims is hardly ever explicitly acknowledged, let alone theoretically discussed and justified. Therefore, such conceptions of ‘ageing well’ have been criticised for promoting biased policies that privilege or simply impose particular practices and lifestyles. This appears problematic as it can obstruct or even effectively foreclose equal chances of leading a good life at old age. Against this backdrop, our contribution aims to discuss current conceptions of active ageing from an ethical point of view. Starting from an analysis of policy discourses and their critique, we first examine the moral implications of prominent conceptions of active ageing, focusing on evaluative and normative premises. By employing philosophical approaches, we analyse these premises in light of a eudemonistic ethics of good life at old age and detect fixations, shortcomings, and blind spots. Finally, we discuss consequences for ethically informed active ageing research and policies, highlighting the interrelations between one-sided ideals of ageing well and social discrimination and exclusion.

Keywords:  active ageing; discourse; ethics; gerontology; good life; philosophy

Published:   29 July 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v7i3.1918


© Larissa Pfaller, Mark Schweda. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.