The Postmodern Predicament: An Existentialist Approach to the Twenty-first Century

Bruce Ackerman (New Haven)


In the 1950s, people could expect to die before they were seventy – even if they were born in the richest parts of the world.  Things look different in 2020. In places like Western Europe, twenty-year olds can expect to live until they are ninety – or even longer, if medical advances continue at their present extraordinary pace.
My forthcoming book, The Postmodern Predicament, explores the fundamental questions of self-definition posed by this dramatically extended life cycle, with the aid of insights provided by the French and German existentialist tradition of the twentieth century.
The dilemmas people will confront at the age of twenty or forty will differ from those they will face at the age of sixty or eighty. Nevertheless, I shall try to persuade you that, by considering them within a single framework, we can gain a more thoughtful perspective on the unprecedented challenges involved in building a just society that will realistically respond to these postmodern dilemmas.


Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale, and the author of twenty wide-ranging books in philosophy, political science, and public law. He is a Commander of the Order of Merit of the French Republic and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The American Philosophical Society has awarded him the Henry Phillips Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Jurisprudence. He has spent two rewarding years in Berlin as a Research Fellow – one at the Wissenschaftskolleg; one at the American Academy.