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INTRODUCTION: GERIATRICS TODAY AND YESTERDAY
‘Old age is not an academic subject’ – thus the Italian legal philosopher and polit-ical scientist Norberto Bobbio, then eighty-ve, began a brutally honest portrayalo his own experience o ageing. In this 1994 essay he speaks out vehementlyagainst the rhetorical glorication o lie’s nal phase that has been commonamong scholars, especially under the inuence o Cicero.
Tere is no doubt thatthe personal experience o ageing on which Bobbio insists cannot be replacedby scholarly discourse. Nevertheless, universities have devoted a wide range o research and teaching to the topic, and their contribution to the discourse o age-ing is such that modern society can no longer be imagined without it.Early Western universities also treated the subject o ageing. Te study o Aristotle and Galen was o especial importance. What it indicates, paradigmati-cally, is1. an almost exclusively theoretical approach based on the scholarly reading,discussion and organization o accumulated knowledge. In contrast, prac-tical observation (
) possessed almost no independent heuristicsignicance, generally serving instead to conrm theory. Teories weredeveloped2. predominantly through the reception and adaptation o a canon o vener-able writings endowed with the highest authority. Finally, the naturalist and philosopher Aristotle also represents3. the starting point or the interdisciplinary academic study o old age, as he was an authority not only or medieval philosophy and theology, but also orthe emerging university discipline o medicine.Te modern university, it is true, is still undamentally characterized by the pri-macy o theory, the ruitul incorporation o available knowledge in teaching and research, and interdisciplinarity. Medicine, however, as an empirical liescience, has distanced itsel rom these basic principles; instead, practical rele- vance, innovation in knowledge and skills, and progressive specialization are at a