Book Examines Challenges of Old Age and Dying Well

Author: Kathryn Pitts

The Evening of LifeThe Evening of Life

Decline and death are some of the most unsettling aspects of human experience. Across time, philosophy, religion, and civic cultures have helped people prepare for aging and dying “well;” however, this no longer happens. One need only consider the many controversies that frame aging as a problem to be solved—from anti-aging interventions to assisted suicide—to see our contemporary ethical impoverishment. Or we can look at the US COVID-19 deaths, which have taken the largest toll on the the oldest and most vulnerable among us, many in assisted living facilities, to realize that our protection of the frail elderly has not been a high priority.

The Evening of Life: The Challenges of Aging and Dying Well is addressed to the urgent need to recover a robust set of cultural concepts and practices for a good human life in its later years. It develops a positive picture of thriving in old age, rooted in our shared vulnerability, that engages frailty, dependence, and finitude. Editors Joseph E. Davis and Paul Scherz bring together contributions from sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians, and medical practitioners to provide alternative pictures of aging in the life course. The book develops an interrelated set of conceptual tools, drawing on ideas of flourishing, temporality, narrative, and friendship, that will help scholars, medical practitioners, care-givers, and others to better understand and confront the challenges to aging and dying well. And it shows how some of these tools and concepts can be specifically deployed to create a medical system that better responds to our needs. This work both illuminates our current predicament and charts a better way forward.


Joseph E. Davis is research professor of sociology at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He is the author, most recently, of Chemically Imbalanced: Everyday Suffering, Medication, and Our Troubled Quest for Self-Mastery.

Paul Scherz is associate professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of Science and Christian Ethics.

Read an article by Joseph E. Davis and Paul Scherz, which exposes our mixed feelings about the elderly during the pandemic.

The editors of The Evening of Life provided an interview on Notre Dame Press Blog.

Here is an excerpt from The Evening of Life.
The Evening of Life is published by the University of Notre Dame Press. It is available in paperback and digital editions. You can purchase them wherever books are sold. We encourage you to support your local independent bookshop either in-person or online.
Professors Davis and Scherz are available for interviews. For more information, or a review copy, contact Kathryn Pitts,, 574.631.3267.