A wry and witty meditation on modernity's obsession with youth and its denigration of maturity
In Why Grow Up? the philosopher Susan Neiman asks not just why one should grow up but how. In making her case she draws chiefly from the thought of Kant and Rousseau, who articulated very different theories on the proper way to "come of age." But these thinkers complement each other in seeking a "path between mindlessly accepting everything you're told and mindlessly rejecting it," and in learning to live without despair in a world marked by painful realities and uncertainties.
Neiman challenges both those who dogmatically privilege innocence and those who see youth as weakness. Her chief opponents are those who equate maturity with cynicism. "In our day it is more common to meet people who are stuck in the mire of adolescence. The world turns out not to reflect the idea and ideals they had for it? So much the worse for ideals."
To move beyond these immature positions, Neiman writes, is not simply to lapse into quiet resignation but to learn to take joy and satisfaction in what can be done and known, and to face rather than feel defeated by our inevitable limits.
1. Historical Backgrounds
It's fair to ask whether philosophy can say much at all about a process as diverse as coming of age. Philosophers trade in general truths - some still seek necessary or universal...
Praise for Why Grow Up?
“Susan Neiman exemplifies the virtue she praises. Her book is courageous, wise, knowing, and often funny. More: it is reassuring to discover how challenging philosophers have always considered this project we all fail at, growing up.” —Peter D. Kramer, author of Against Depression
“Susan Neiman's Why Grow Up is a spirited defence of the aspiration to maturity. As she sagely observes, by clinging impotently to youth, we impoverish youth and maturity alike . . . So how, when the force of an entire culture seems to be ranged against maturity, can we make a serious case for growing up? The question takes Neiman to debates at the heart of Enlightenment moral philosophy . . . Neiman is an impassioned and lucid expositor of some very recondite concepts, with that rare ability . . . to convey the continued relevance and urgency of philosophy for our distracted times.” —Josh Cohen, The Guardian
“An excellent work of popular, applied philosophy. Parts are as thought-provoking as reading Kant himself--and a damned sight easier.” —Brandon Robshaw, The Independent
“This elegant and accessible book is the philosophical kick up the arse my generation desperately needs.” —Tom Slater, Spiked