Reflecting on “On Old Age” by Cicero

By Woodcut by unknown artist; book printed by Hieronymus Scotus; page scanned by Aristeas (Roman Eisele) from his own copy of the page. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As today’s my 24th birthday, I thought it appropriate to fast forward to my death bed to reflect on “On Old Age” by Cicero to provide insights on how I should conduct my life 24 years old onwards so that I can say I lived a good life.

First off, I should focus on improving my character everyday to be reasonable, open-minded, good tempered, and be graceful“For old men who are reasonable and neither cross-grained nor churlish find old age tolerable enough: whereas unreason and churlishness cause uneasiness at every time of life.”

Secondly, I need to focus on living a life of virtue, since “the arms best adapted to old age are culture and the active exercise of the virtues. For if they have been maintained at every period—if one has lived much as well as long—the harvest they produce is wonderful, not only because they never fail us even in our last days (though that in itself is supremely important), but also because the consciousness of a well-spent life and the recollection of many virtuous actions are exceedingly delightful.”

Since what constitutes a moral life is subjective depending on which school of thought, I’d like to define mine. For me, a life mixed between libertarian, Rawlsianism and utilitarian would be the ideal that I strive for. I strongly believe that everyone should be able to decide what they want to do with their body in life (libertarian), but in order for that to work, everyone needs to be economically sufficient enough to make choices out of free will rather than out of necessity, so for those who’ve won the ovarian lottery and thus possess aptitudes that are highly valued by society at this moment of time, these people need to give back to society whether through government tax or self-enforced tax (Rawlsianism and utilitarian). In the event that society faces upheaval that requires tough decisions in order to survive, personal liberties should be scarified if deemed as a temporary measure, but if the day comes that survival is impossible or extremely improbable, than personal liberties should be restored until the end of life.

The implications for me to living a life of virtue is thus this:

  • In everything that involves other people’s services, I must ensure to the best of my ability that the person is complying to service by self will rather than forced will.
  • Costs must be justified by benefits. When society or lives are not under serious threat, my stance is firmly on the side of people being able to do whatever they want with their bodies. If the ideal of personal liberties threatens existence, then no action or words should be enacted if the less than ideal existence is still pleasant and bearable in general.
  • I will try to be as tax efficient as possible (eg. Focus on capital gains rather than dividends to minimize tax impact of 30% dividend withholding tax), but not exploit loopholes to avoid paying taxes (eg. Not reporting income or setting up overseas entities for tax purposes). I will happily and promptly pay my taxes.
  • I will further self-tax my post-tax income based on Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save calculator to ensure economic sufficiency can be effectively tackled in areas that aren’t reachable by government initiatives.
  • When investing, when it comes to long term holdings, I will only buy and hold stocks of companies that are good corporate citizens (tries their best to be fair to all stakeholders) and provide products / services that societies can’t live without. This ensures companies whose existence benefits society is rewarded accordingly by stock prices that are less likely to go down because I’m unwilling to sell.
  • Even though I will punch above my weight when it comes to giving back to society, my life is still my life, so I don’t owe it to society that every decision I make would optimize maximum compounded financial returns for society. As long as I fulfill above-weight class contributions, I can do whatever I want with my money as long as it doesn’t infringe on libertarian values (eg. purposefully buying products / services that further the agenda of slavery).

Thirdly, I will keep improving myself so that I can be of value to society. “The great affairs of life are not performed by physical strength, or activity, or nimbleness of body, but by deliberation, character, expression of opinion”, “Old men retain their intellects well enough, if only they keep their minds active and fully employed. Nor is that the case only with men of high position and great office: it applies equally to private life and peaceful pursuits” and “But this is enough to show you how, so far from being listless and sluggish, old age is even a busy time, always doing and attempting something, of course of the same nature as each man’s taste had been in the previous part of his life.”

Fourthly, I will do things that my body permits me to do at different seasons of life if I really want to do it and it doesn’t infringe on libertarian principles, and make sure I exercise regularly (eg. HIIT) to improve my chances of still being physically active into old age. “You should use what you have, and whatever you may chance to be doing, do it with all your might”, “For what is more charming than old age surrounded by the enthusiasm of youth? Shall we not allow old age even the strength to teach the young, to train and equip them for all the duties of life? And what can be a nobler employment?”, “The course of life is fixed, and nature admits of its being run but in one way, and only once; and to each part of our life there is something specially seasonable; so that the feebleness of children, as well as the high spirit of youth, the soberness of maturer years, and the ripe wisdom of old age—all have a certain natural advantage which should be secured in its proper season”, “Active exercise, therefore, and temperance can preserve some part of one’s former strength even in old age.”

Fifthly, I will enjoy the pleasures of life in moderation using the 80/20 principle, where I will only indulge in the pleasures of life 20% of the time to yield 80% of the fun. “No ore deadly curse than sensual pleasure has been inflicted on mankind by nature, to gratify which our wanton appetites are roused beyond all prudence or restraint… For when appetite is our master, there is no place for self-control; nor where pleasure reigns supreme can virtue hold its ground”, ” For pleasure hinders thought, is a foe to reason, and, so to speak, blinds the eyes of the mind. It is, moreover, entirely alien to virtue”, ” Nor was I, in fact, ever wont to measure my enjoyment even of these banquets by the physical pleasures they gave more than by the gathering and conversation of friends”, “What pleasures are there is feasts, games, or mistresses comparable to pleasures such as these? And they are all tastes, too, connected with learning, which in men of sense and good education grow with their growth.”

Sixthly, I shall live everyday of my life reminding myself of my mortality so that there’s urgency to live life to its fullest, but to not be afraid of death when the day comes. “Death, that is either to be totally disregarded, if it entirely extinguishes the soul, or is even to be desired, if it brings him where he is to exist forever. A third alternative, at any rate, cannot possibly be discovered. Why then should I be afraid if I am destined either not to be miserable after death or even to be happy? After all, who is such a fool as to feel certain—however young he may be—that he will be alive in the evening? Nay, that time of life has many more chances of death than ours”, “Now the harvest of old age is, as I have often said, the memory and rich store of blessings laid up in earlier life. Again, all things that accord with nature are to be counted as good. But what can be more in accordance with Nature than for old men to die?”


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