Gilbert Meilaender


principal investigator

Gilbert Meilaender
Professor, Christian Ethics
Department of Theology
Valparaiso University

Gilbert Meilaender has taught since 1996 at Valparaiso University, where he holds the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christian Ethics. Prior to going there, he taught at the University of Virginia and at Oberlin College, where he was Francis Ward and Lydia Lord Davis Professor of Religion. He holds the Ph.D. degree (1976) from Princeton University. Professor Meilaender has published thirteen books and numerous articles. Among the books are Friendship: A Study in Theological Ethics; Faith and Faithfulness: Basic Themes in Christian Ethics; Bioethics: A Primer for Christians; Body, Soul and Bioethics; The Way that Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life; and Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person. He is co-editor (with William Werpehowski) of the Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Society of Christian Ethics, as an Associate Editor of Religious Studies Review, and on the Editorial Board and currently as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Religious Ethics. Professor Meilaender is a Fellow of the Hastings Center and served on the President’s Council on Bioethics from 2002 to 2009.


Acceptance of Decline or Thirst to Live: The Challenge of Anti-Aging Research
What does it mean to flourish as a human being? To answer that question --to try to depict the shape of a human life well lived-- is to talk about virtue. Virtues are not, however, simply means to an end. They are human excellences, elements of a flourishing human life. To think about virtue we may, therefore, need to know whether the shape of flourishing life necessarily involves aging, senescence, and death. The scientific and medical progress of the last century has invited us to reopen and rethink that question. The enormous increase in life expectancy achieved in the twentieth century was, for the most part, an increase in the average rather than the maximum life span of human beings. Anti-aging research continues to attempt to increase the average life span, but now some research also aims at an increase in the maximum life span. What are the implications of this work for a science of the virtues? The goal of this project is to examine attempts to retard aging, in order to evaluate their implications for the meaning of human virtue and virtues. Methodologically, the aim is to go beyond relatively familiar ways of evaluating our desire to enhance capacities we already have, to think prospectively rather than retrospectively about the nature and desirability of attempts to extend the maximum human life span. At the most general level, normative questions about the meaning of our humanity are involved: the connection between aging and disease, between aging and death, and between aging and our embodied condition. The last of these general issues is especially central, for, in its most visionary proponents, attempts to retard senescence begin to seem like attempts to transcend the limits of organic life. Central to the project will be an attempt to unpack the most general assumptions about human flourishing that are at work in anti-aging research.

Aging, senescence, and death characterize organic life and seem to set limits to our capacity to flourish as human beings. Virtue, as it has been classically understood within the Western tradition, points to excellence of character that enables us to realize the full potential of our nature. It might seem reasonable, therefore, to suppose that the path of virtue would move us to seek ways to retard aging and extend the life span. Nevertheless, some have thought it more virtuous to acknowledge the limits of organic life and accept decline than to struggle endlessly against it. These competing views have provided the focus for study and examination by the P.I. in this project. He has examined successively (a) theories about why we age and research aimed at retarding aging, (b) attempts to think normatively about whether aging and decline should be accepted as part of a flourishing human life, (c) the relation between the virtuous impulse to generate and nurture the next generation and the acceptance of aging, (d) the place of the virtue of patience within an indefinitely extended life span, and (e) the implications of age-retardation for our understanding of an integrated, whole, and complete life. In a society marked by an increasingly aged population and, at the same time, by various kinds of research aimed at retarding aging, sustained attention to these questions is needed if we are to think about how we ought to live and how best to use our resources.

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