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Love and justice. Kearney Ed. Ricoeur, Paul. Ricoeur, P , 'Love and justice', in Kearney, R ed. Richard Kearney.

Thinking with Paul Ricoeur: Ethics

SAGE Knowledge. Have you created a personal profile? Login or create a profile so that you can create alerts and save clips, playlists, and searches. Please log in from an authenticated institution or log into your member profile to access the email feature. Talking about love may be too easy, or rather too difficult. How can we avoid simply praising it or falling into sentimental platitudes?

One way of finding a way between these two extremes may be to take as our guide an attempt to think about the dialectic between love and justice. Here by dialectic I mean, on the one hand, the acknowledgment of the initial disproportionality between our two terms and, on the other hand, the search for practical mediations between them — mediations, let us quickly say, that are always fragile and provisory. The insight promised by such a dialectical approach seems to me to have been overlooked by the method of conceptual analysis that seeks to extract from some CQ Press Your definitive resource for politics, policy and people.

Remember me? Back Institutional Login Please choose from an option shown below. Need help logging in? What should we think about these efforts to avoid dying? One of the more notable philosophical discussions of death is by German philosopher Martin Heidegger Death, according to Heidegger, is not really an event that happens to me, since it only involves the termination of all possible experiences that I might have. After all, it is impossible for me to experience my own death. Rather than thinking of death as an episode that takes place at the tail end of my life, I should instead view it as an integral part of who I am right now, and during each moment of my life in the future.

I continually aim towards death and, even when I feel healthy, in a fundamental way I am really terminally ill. It is like playing a game such as soccer where, embedded in every moment, there is the idea that time is running out. So, Heidegger says, if I ignore my persistent movement towards death, or resist it as Gilgamesh did, I am only deceiving myself and living in a substandard world of make-believe. By contrast, a proper understanding of death clearly lays down the basic rules of the game of life and thereby gives life form and purpose. If I could continually think of myself as on the path towards death as Heidegger suggests, that might help me accept my mortality.

For one thing, the natural instinct to survive compels me to resist death at almost all costs, and this is something that I share with many creatures in the animal world. For another, I cannot psychologically conceive of the future without secretly injecting myself into it. Even if I try to picture the world a thousand years down the road, I am still there as a ghostly spectator to the events I am imagining.

Whether I like it or not, I am inherently resistant to the idea of my non-existence. My natural human attitude towards death, then, may be to assume that I am immortal, and, at the same time, be horrified when I look in the mirror and see my body disintegrating before my eyes. So, the desire for immortality and its accompanying despair, like Gilgamesh experienced, may simply be part of life. While there, he sees legendary people who are being punished for evils they committed when alive.

Lying helplessly, two vultures pick at his liver; he swats them to shoo them away, but they keep returning. Another fellow is parched with thirst, but cannot succeed in reaching water. Wading in a lake up to his chin, whenever he stoops down to drink, it immediately dries up leaving only dusty ground. He sees succulent fruit trees above him, but as soon as he reaches for their produce the wind sweeps the branches into the clouds. Then there is Sisyphus, a deceitful king who tricked the god of death and stayed alive longer than he should have.

He finally died and went to Hades, but the punishment for his trickery was not a pleasant one. Day after day he pushes a huge stone up a hill, but, always losing energy as he nears the top, he lets it go and it rolls back down. Homer describes the scene here:. I saw Sisyphus at his endless task raising his gigantic stone with both his hands. With hands and feet he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over onto the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and, without pity, the stone would come thundering down again onto the plain below.

Then he would begin trying to push it up hill again, and the sweat ran off him and steam rose from his head. All three of these scenes from Hades depict people trapped into performing futile tasks: swatting vultures, stooping to drink, pushing a bolder. Jill works in a lawnmower manufacturing plant, and her job is to bolt lawnmower blades onto motors. She has thirty seconds to line up the pieces and attach them together. As soon as one is done, another follows on its heels. To reduce monotony, the factory rotates Jill and other employees from one work station to another, but, after a few minutes, the routine kicks in.

Jill likes her co-workers and has no complaints against her supervisor. Still, at the end of the day, she feels that she may as well have been pushing a boulder up a hill. It is not just assembly line jobs that carry a sense of tedious futility. Accountants, teachers, doctors, and most skilled workers face early burnout. What we do in our spare time is often no more rewarding. A good portion of the day is spent in monotonous domestic chores, cleaning, driving to and fro, shopping, personal hygiene. Year after year, this seem as futile as assembling lawnmower blades.

French philosopher Albert Camus believed that the story of Sisyphus had another symbolic message. Camus called this the absurdity of life. Human life, he argued, cannot be neatly dissected and understood by human reason in the same way that scientists might successfully analyze and understand chemical reactions. We strive to be happy, but instead are trapped in a life of futile efforts. The problem is so bad that it might drive some to suicide. So, Sisyphus represents the overwhelming struggle that we each have in overcoming a pointless life.

But Camus is not content to let the issue rest with despair. Instead, he recommends that we revolt against the apparent pointlessness of life, accept our condition as limited as it is, and in that find happiness. Sisyphus should embrace his boulder-pushing task; the value rests in his effort, not in what he achieves. We must imagine Sisyphus happy. The problem may be resistant to a simple attitude adjustment, as zoo keepers have discovered in their experience with the mental well-being of gorillas.

For decades gorillas were kept in controlled enclosures with fixed routines like feeding schedules. While their basic needs were being met, the gorillas were all bored and depressed. Zoologists then discovered that gorillas needed complex tasks to challenge them throughout the day and keep their mental energies peaked.

Applying this lesson to human happiness, we might look for the kinds of challenging tasks that spark our interests throughout the day. We might need shorter and more varied work days; we might need more direct involvement with growing and preparing food; we might need the opportunity to explore new surroundings through travel; we might need to break free of overcrowded urban settings. In the end we might find that humans were designed to be content in tiny hunter-gatherer tribal groups — the condition in which the human species first evolved.

Modern industrial life may not be suited to ward off a sense of futility, and for us the human condition today may be inherently absurd with no real solution. Like Sisyphus, then, we unendingly push a boulder to no purpose. He breaks into a song about how enormous the galaxy is, containing a hundred billion stars over a distance of a hundred thousand light-years from side to side. The Milky Way itself, he explains, is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the ever-expanding universe. He concludes,. So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure,.

How amazingly unlikely is your birth;. And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,. The man climbs back into the refrigerator and closes the door. If you want to feel significant in life, it is best to avoid thinking of yourself as a mere dot within a colossal universe. Even without the aid of modern astronomical telescopes that can peer into distant galaxies, people in ancient times looked up at the stars and were overwhelmed by their sense of smallness.

One of the most disturbing ancient discussions of the sense of cosmic insignificance is that by the Roman philosopher Boethius — BCE. His personal story is a sad one. Born into a wealthy family, Boethius was an important diplomat within the Roman Empire, but a political misunderstanding turned the Emperor against him and, at the young age of 35, he was sentenced to death for treason. While awaiting execution in his prison cell, he reflected on everything that he would miss in life because of this injustice.

In this state of anguish he composed a work titled The Consolation of Philosophy. She explains that the size of the earth is only a speck compared to the heavens, that most of the earth is uninhabitable, that human societies are scattered remotely. It is not just cosmic space that dwarfs human achievements, she continues, but also cosmic time.

Even if Boethius does gain some temporary fame during his life, that would be absolutely nothing when compared with the eternity of time. The lesson that we learn from Lady Philosophy is that, like Boethius, each of us is isolated within the limitless space and time of the cosmos, with no hope of making any meaningful or lasting impact.

For someone like Boethius who is approaching death, maybe this will be a little consoling. So what if you are about to die: in the larger scheme of things your life does not amount to much anyway. But, for the rest of us who are not facing imminent death and have normal hopes and dreams, the brute reality of cosmic insignificance can be discouraging.

Why should I strive for anything if I am a mere imperceptible twitch within the infinite body of the cosmos? Contemporary French philosopher Paul Ricoeur — offered a solution to this problem of cosmic insignificance. That is, while I cannot grasp my personal significance within the incomprehensible cosmic timeline, I can still find my spot within American history, for example, and even more so within my family history.

I know how this country was founded, how my ancestors got here, what my grandparents and parents did with their lives, and how all this has shaped me. Thus, we invent a historical narrative of our human past which is larger than our individual selves, yet much smaller and more manageable than cosmic space and time. Does Ricoeur successfully solve the problem of cosmic insignificance? Without question, my personal knowledge of history does help clarify who I am and how I fit into the world around me.

Thus, when I think about my spot within human history, I do not feel like an isolated being adrift in an unfathomable cosmic ocean. But while this may temporarily distract me from my sense of cosmic insignificance, it does nothing to change the reality of the limitless cosmos. When I reflect on human history, I may feel at home, but the instant that I gaze at the stars, all of human history itself seems miniscule by comparison. The entire human legacy is confined to an infinitesimally small region of space for an infinitesimally small period of time, just as Lady Philosophy explained to Boetheus.

Try as I might to keep my focus on human history, the stars return each night to remind me once again of my true limited place within the cosmos, and the sense of cosmic insignificance returns. The story of Job from the Hebrew Bible explores another challenge to the meaning of life. Job was not obsessed with death like Gilgamesh, discouraged by futility like Sisyphus, or overwhelmed with insignificance like Boethius. Job is a wealthy and morally decent herdsman with a loving family, and he owns a large stock of sheep, oxen, camels, and donkeys.

Then everything changes for the worse. His animals are stolen, his servants are burnt to death by fire from the sky and, worst of all, his children are killed in a tornado. Job himself is infected with itchy skin boils, which he scratches with a broken piece of pottery. In a display of sorrow, he rips his clothes and shaves his head.

Three friends stop by for a visit and at first do not even recognize Job because he is so disfigured from his illness. One friend argues that people suffer when they forget God and, so, Job must have abandoned God at some point in his life. Another argues that people suffer when they commit some moral offense, and no one can fully know all the things that God finds evil. Job insists, though, that he did nothing wrong. Finally, God himself appears in a thunderstorm and sets the record straight: God is infinitely great, Job is virtually insignificant and, so, Job has no right to complain.

The problem raised in the story of Job is how we explain human suffering.

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While all suffering is inherently bad, it is only a specific type of misery that casts a serious shadow over the meaning of life. Suppose I pick up a hammer and intentionally hit myself on the foot with it. The explanation of my suffering is clear and there is no moral mystery to be solved: I have no one to blame but my foolish self.


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This is a rule of life that I understand and accept, no matter how miserable I make myself. Suffering of this sort, then, poses no real threat to a meaningful life.

Introduction

It may not even be so bad if you intentionally hammer away at my foot, so long as you are arrested and convicted of assault. Even though I am in pain, I can be consoled by the fact that justice has been done and you are held accountable for my suffering. So, even unjustified suffering like this will not necessarily make my life meaningless. The real problem occurs when the suffering exhibits two specific features, namely, it is both unprovoked and unresolved , which is exactly what Job faced.

It was also unresolved since, when his livestock was stolen the bad guys got away with it. If they had been arrested and forced to compensate Job for his losses, then perhaps Job could have accepted the situation and moved on.

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Job was not so lucky. Similarly, when his children were killed, he could not just replace his old family with a new one. He also could receive no compensation that would counterbalance his agonizing illness. With no resolution to these unprovoked tragedies, Job is left wondering why they happened. Part of human nature is to seek out the hidden causes of things and resolve mysteries. When tragedy strikes us through no fault of our own, we are inclined to find some cause and, more importantly, cast blame on that cause when we can. This is one reason why lawsuits are so common.

If Job had the chance, he might have sued his local police for not catching the thieves, or sued the National Weather Service for not forewarning him of the tornado. But the more irrational our accusations are, the less comfort we can take in them, and, in our more clear-headed moments, we are still left wondering why these tragedies happened. When we fail in our attempts to find blame with human causes for our misery, many people, like Job, cast blame on divine causes.

An all-powerful God should protect me from unprovoked suffering, and if he does not, then he is to blame. Nietzsche was a victim of chronic illness and, like Job, knew firsthand what it is like to experience unprovoked and unresolved suffering. It becomes all-consuming, everything wounds us and even our memories become gathering wounds.

However, he continues, there is a remedy to this sense of resentment, which is a kind of fatalism where you just lay down, accept your condition, and not even wish to be different. Imagine that you lost a relative in a tornado and you put the blame on God. God is infinitely great and you are by comparison insignificant; this is what we learn from the story of Job. In the course of our lives, most of us experience tragedies that are unprovoked and unresolved, such as property loss, the death of loved ones, or serious illness.

Just as these four stubborn problems with the meaning of life were voiced early on in human civilization, so too did the ancient world propose solutions. The first set of solutions we will look at are from ancient Greece. For a brief period of time, Greek philosophers were in the self-help business and they offered step-by-step methods for achieving happiness. Four approaches were so popular that even today their names are household words: Epicureanism, Stoicism, Skepticism, and Cynicism. Jack, an English professor from a prestigious university, thinks he has cracked the code to happiness.

He published a lot earlier in his career, but now he rides on his reputation and gets by doing minimal preparation for the few classes that he is required to teach. In his spare time he indulges his many cravings. An enthusiast of specialty foods, he is intimately familiar with the menus of every fine restaurant in his area and he regularly attends wine and cheese tasting events. During the day he reads novels, plays tennis, visits art museums, and takes sculpting classes. In the evening he watches foreign films, after which he goes to local jazz clubs.

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On school breaks he flies to Europe, sampling the cultural offerings there. His passions, though, are not limited to food, art and travel. Jack possesses an animal magnetism that makes him romantically successful. Each semester he invites a new female graduate assistant to be his lover for the duration of the term. While the women know that the affair is only temporary, they happily agree, and even recommend possible partners for his next semester. On his birthday, his former lovers who are still in the area throw him a party.

In a word, Jack is what we would call an Epicurean. The Greek philosopher Epicurus BCE believed that the job of philosophy is to help people attain happiness; a philosophy that does not heal the soul, he argues, is no better than medicine that cannot cure the body. His formula for attaining human happiness is simple: increase pleasure and decrease pain.

Personal pleasure is the only thing that we should pursue, and the value of everything we do in life is judged by that standard. The pleasures that Epicurus recommends are precisely the ones that Jack enjoys, but he warns that we should not pursue all pleasures with equal zeal. Second, some desires are not entirely necessary, such as the desire for luxury food, and we should pursue these with moderation. Third, Epicurus warns us to avoid placing short term desires above long-term ones. For example, if Jack skipped teaching his classes for the short term goal of visiting a museum, then he would likely lose his job and his happy lifestyle would come crashing down.

Is Epicureanism a reasonable path to human happiness? While we all naturally want pleasure, there is something suspicious about a lifestyle that is devoted entirely to its pursuit. Let us grant that Jack is truly happy with his Epicurean existence. There is no telling, though, how long those activities will sustain his interest. Part of the joy he experiences comes from the newness of his activities: a new restaurant, a new art exhibit, a new story plot, a new lover. He will be like Sisyphus pushing a gem-encrusted boulder up a hill, a task no less futile than pushing an ordinary rock.

Further, the happiness that Jack does experience rests on a stroke of good fortune that may easily change. If his university cracks down on his laziness, he will have less leisure time for his hobbies. If his ex-wife sues him for alimony, he will not be able to cover the costs of his activities. As he grows older, young women will be repulsed by his romantic advances. Thus, indulging in pleasure is not a stable road to happiness if it rests on so many factors beyond our control.

Epicurus himself was restrained with the pleasures that he pursued. He lived on a small food diet, avoided luxuries, and strived for self-sufficiency. Thus, pursuing pleasure alone is no guarantee of a meaningful life, which Epicurus himself recognized. Imagine that you are a captured soldier detained in a prisoner of war camp. Your captors, who are not particularly fond of the Geneva Convention, have provided you with grim and sometimes inhumane accommodations. Your cell block is unheated, your bedding is covered with fleas, your meals are unpredictable and, when they are served, the food is often rotten.

About once a week you are interrogated by your captors, who psychologically intimidate you and sometimes beat you. You do not know how long your detention will last, or even if you will survive. In these conditions, could you possibly be happy? First, you would have to condition yourself to ignore the physical harshness of your environment. Gathering all your mental strength, you might eventually get used to your cold room, unsanitary bedding and disgusting food.

You would then have to accept that you are at the mercy of the unpredictable whims of your captors who can beat you and even kill you as they see fit. Having no expectations at all about circumstances beyond your control, you might eventually be able to carve out some peace of mind. This is precisely the Stoic philosophy for achieving happiness.

While life is not always as despairing as a prisoner of war camp, sometimes it is that bad, and there is nothing we can do about it. If we place our hopes in pleasures that are beyond our control, we will inevitably be frustrated and unhappy. The moral of the story is that we should learn to accept the life that is fated for us, and never reach beyond that.

One of the great teachers of Stoicism was Epictetus 55— C. He offers a picturesque example to explain the Stoic solution. Think of life as a large banquet with many people sitting around a table waiting to be fed.


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Starting at one end of the table, serving dishes of food are passed around, and guests take out portions onto their plates. You are near the end of the table and for all you know the serving dishes will be empty by the time they reach you. You should not keep glancing down the table in anticipation, Epictetus advises, but wait patiently for your turn. Better yet, he says, when a serving dish finally arrives, you should just pass it along without taking anything. This is what our attitudes should be toward the things in life that we typically crave but which we can never count on, such as good jobs, a loving family, and luxuries.

For this Stoic formula to succeed, we must learn to habitually distance ourselves from things that we desire, even when things are going our way. The goal is to acquire a constant mental state of detachment so that, in the event that circumstances sour, we will not be disappointed. The Stoic path to happiness seems well suited for prisoners of war, slaves, and the financially destitute. It seems unnecessary to renounce all pleasures. Sometimes I will indeed be disappointed when a serving dish comes around empty.

However, contrary to Epictetus's Stoic recommendation, this may well be counterbalanced by joys I will experience when another serving dish is full. For example, when hunting for a job, I will undoubtedly be disappointed if a company rejects my application, but I can reasonably expect that some company will eventually hire me, and it does not hurt to anticipate that with hope.

His Stoic recommendation is that we should emotionally distance ourselves from our spouses and children so that, when fate unpredictably tears them away from us, we will not be distressed. Again, contrary to Epictetus's recommendation, while the death of loved ones is devastating, it is nevertheless counterbalanced by the joy we receive from our attachment to them while they are alive.

This is an important joy in life that we would sacrifice if we followed his Stoic advice. Stoicism, then, seems to be an unnecessarily extreme and restricting avenue towards happiness, which we should adopt only as a last resort when things become overwhelmingly dismal.

One writer for the society skeptically examined the famed alien space craft sighting in Roswell, New Mexico. The real event, he explains, was simply a military balloon experiment, which decades later was transformed into a UFO legend. He writes,. Those who hope to discover alien life are going to have to look where the aliens are -- which is if anywhere , somewhere else. Perhaps outer space would be a good place to start. By exposing the faults in controversial claims such as the Roswell incident, The Skeptics Society hopes to promote critical thinking and proper scientific inquiry.

The Society sees itself as following in a long skeptical tradition that began in ancient Greece, particularly the school of Skepticism founded by the philosopher Pyrrho — BCE. Pyrrho and his followers held that happiness is achieved through doubt. The sort of happiness that they envisioned was the mental tranquility that we experience when we suspend belief.

When we hold extreme views, such as belief that aliens visited Roswell, we experience a mental disturbance, and we risk being pulled from one conviction to another. If the aliens did appear there, what was their mission? If the government knew about the event, why are they covering it up? We quickly become tangled in a web of questions and concerns that do not have good answers.

It is not only strange beliefs like this that disrupt us, but any strong conviction upsets our peace of mind when we hold rigidly to it, even the belief that the grass in my yard is green or that the table in my kitchen is round. The solution, according to the skeptics, is to recognize that every belief is subject to doubt. The grass appears green to me because my eyes are constructed a specific way and light shines on it in a specific way. If these factors differed, then the grass would not appear green. So, I should suspend belief about whether the grass really is green.

Skeptics argued that I should in fact suspend all beliefs that I hold, including those about the existence of God, external objects, and moral values.


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By doing so I will free my mind of the conflict that these beliefs produce, achieve mental tranquility, and become happy. The skeptic is probably right that the more gullible we are, the more we set ourselves up for disappointment. By believing in UFOs, horoscopes or miracle cures, we go against respectable methods of inquiry and invite ridicule.

If I persist in my strange beliefs, contrary to strong evidence against them, then I must brainwash myself in thinking that I am right and everyone else is wrong, which then separates me from others. There are two problems with this position. First, suppose that the skeptic is right that even our most commonsensical beliefs can be called into question, such as the belief that the table in front of me is round. Commonsense beliefs like this may be beyond my control, regardless of how hard I try to suspend them.

I am forced to act on the assumption that the table is round every time I place an object onto it or walk around it. Thus, while skepticism may succeed at the theoretical level, it is virtually impossible at a practical level. Like Sisyphus, I can still be bored to tears with my assembly line job even if I doubt that the factory actually exists. Like Job, I can still suffer enormously if my family dies in a tornado, even if I doubt whether my family actually exists. We experience many painful emotions independently of our belief convictions, and skepticism has no solution for those.

Some years ago a music festival was launched called Lollapalooza, which traveled the country attracting crowds of young people. Many of the musical groups were in the crude and abrasive Punk genre, often with instruments out of tune and vocals off pitch. One band included a percussionist who grinded away on a chunk of sheet metal with an industrial disk sander.

The festival was so successful that it became a yearly event and several non-musical performances were added, including a television-smashing pit. Most bizarre was a circus sideshow in which one performer ate broken glass, another impaled his cheeks with long skewers, and another lifted heavy weights from body piercings. With its growing notoriety, Lollapalooza became a symbol for a growing youth counterculture that was frustrated with pointless social expectations and rebelled against established values. Many of our conceptions of human happiness are rooted in traditional social expectations, such as how we should dress, what counts as good music, what we should find entertaining, how we should view authority figures.

These expectations are not only restrictive, but often misguided. The social rebelliousness of recent youth cultures is in many ways an embodiment of the ancient Greek philosophical school of Cynicism. The aim of that ancient movement was to show contempt for traditional social structures and values, such as power, wealth and social status. A case in point is Diogenes of Sinope c. As a young man, he was exiled from his home town for defacing coins, which were symbols of economic power and political authority.

There is a famous, though fictitious story that Alexander the Great visited him to express his admiration. It is difficult to see how the benefits of the extreme Cynical lifestyle outweigh such self-imposed misery. Second, for more moderate Cynics, what is edgy today becomes the convention of tomorrow. Rebellious perspectives on life quickly become fashionable — even commercially profitable.

The immediate impact of Cynicism in the ancient world was that writers incorporated its biting views of society into literary satire. This made for more interesting literature of the time, but its shock value eventually became less shocking. That must be discouraging for a true rebel. Third, both extreme and moderate Cynicism are overly negative approaches to life that thrive on publicly dismantling the accomplishments of others.

It is hard to see how Cynics could be happy by continually having a chip on their shoulders. Offering an occasional social criticism is one thing, but doing so as a way of life would be demoralizing for the critic, and very annoying for everyone else. For thousands of years, religious traditions around the world have taken on the task of explaining the meaning of life. For whatever woes we have, there is some spiritual explanation that aims to redirect us. One of the more famous stories from both the Jewish Bible and Muslim Koran is that of Abraham, a nomadic herdsman who longed to have children in spite of the fact that his wife was infertile.

Abraham agreed, he had his children as promised, and ultimately became the father of both the Jewish and Arabic people.

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Conservative Judaism is a case in point. Reproduction is a way of achieving a type of immortality in the present world. I die, but my name, my legacy, and my family history live on through my children. Medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that God implants instincts in human nature to help guide our conduct on earth, one of which is the drive to procreate.

A more secular understanding of this crucial urge is that it is the result of blind evolutionary forces which keeps animal species like ours from going extinct. Regardless of whether the desire to procreate originates from God or blind evolution, though, it is a fact of human nature that when we reach a certain age, we have a compelling desire to have children.