045: A Handbook to Midlife: Philosophical Tools, Wisdom & Avoiding the Midlife Crisis with Kieran Setiya (author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide)

045: A Handbook to Midlife: Philosophical Tools, Wisdom & Avoiding the Midlife Crisis with Kieran Setiya (author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide)

“Written with charming simplicity and wry humor, Midlife is a philosophically rich source of what might be called ‘the higher life hacks’ – reflective ways of dissolving the sense of emptiness and regret that tends to hit each of us with the onset of middle age. A work of disarming wisdom.” 

– Jim Holt (author of Why Does the World Exist?)

Have you ever asked yourself, what would my life have been like if I’d gone down another career path? Or wished you could release some past grudge that sits on your shoulder like a squaking parrot? The Contemplify conversation today revolves around questions of meaning, purpose and regret. My guest today is Kieran Setiya, professor of philosophy at MIT. Our conversation today revolves around his latest book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, which outlines a helpful framework for wrestling with existential questions.

Kieran Setiya is a philosopher who enjoys witty banter as much as delving into the depths of foundational life questions. In our conversation we dive into the waters of the stereotypes of philosophers, the rules for midlife crisis prevention, what we can learn from John Stuart Mill’s nervous breakdown, and what superman can teach us about the afterlife. What makes Kieran’s book Midlife sing is his curiosity and succinct wordsmithing that gleefully ushers you along through the difficult internal terrain. Which you will get a taste of in this conversation. Midlife is for any of you in the early stages, the thrush, or retrospect of the midlife years. Midlife creates a framework for the dizzying existential questions that arrive from new angles as the years accumulate.

Learn more about Kieran Setiya a ksetiya.net.

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Resources by Kieran Setiya

Resources Mentioned

Drinks Pairings

  • Bully Boy American Bourbon


  • When you hear the word “contemplative”, how does that moniker relate to you or work, if you think it does at all?
  • How does that manifest in your day-to-day life?
  • You are a professor of philosophy at MIT, what is the biggest misconception that people have about professors of philosophy?
  • How did you decide to write a philosophical guide to midlife?
  • What impact did writing this book have on you?
  • How have you learned to flex the atelic muscle?
  • Can you share your two rules of midlife crisis prevention?
  • In Chapter 3, you write about all of the other lives you did not lead, why does it matter to recognize your shadow lives?
  • In Chapter 5, you purpose that the ‘urge for immortality is akin to wishing for a superpower’, can you unpack that?
  • Facing your own demise and mortality seems to be one of the most important tasks in midlife, how do suggest that in the midst of a culture that idealizes youth?
  • What drink would you pair with this conversation?


Photo credit: Death To Stock Photo

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