The consolations of philosophy for the middle-aged


Midlife: A Philosophical Guide. By Kieran Setiya. Princeton University Press; 200 pages; $22.95 and £18.95.

JOHN STUART MILL had his midlife crisis at 20. Hothoused by his father and preternaturally accomplished, he saw that even if all his “objects in life were realised”, still he would not be content—and had a nervous breakdown. As Kieran Setiya explains in “Midlife”, two insights spurred his recovery. One was that happiness was to be found beyond himself: “Aiming thus at something else,” Mill saw, people “find happiness by the way.” The other was that life should involve more than the amelioration of suffering, noble as that goal was.

For Mr Setiya, a philosopher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mill exemplifies a syndrome that is less an age-specific ailment than a human predicament. At 41, the author is himself afflicted by “a disconcerting mixture of nostalgia, regret, claustrophobia, emptiness and fear”, beneath which lie “questions of…Continue reading

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