Is changing legal age denying of facts?

By Joona Räsänen.

In my article ‘Moral case for legal age change’, I argue that sometimes people should be allowed to change their legal age. I claim that age change should be allowed when a person is at risk of being discriminated against because of their age, and they are in better condition than people of their age in general, and they themselves feel that their current age is not apt.

Perhaps the most common objection against age change is that changing age is denying of facts. Age change cannot be permissible because age is a fact, which cannot be changed. Therefore, changing age is impossible.

This was the first objection I considered and refuted in the paper. It is impossible to change a person’s chronological age – the fact of how long they have been alive for. But I raise a question of whether it is ethical that legal age is always forced to match chronological age. I propose that sometimes, legal age should be allowed to match one’s emotional and biological age instead.

Ten years ago, I received a small bottle of 21-year-old Scotch whisky as a gift. At the time, the whisky was older than I was. But time has passed and now I am older than the whisky. No one claims that I am denying facts when I say that my Scotch whisky is still 21 years old even though ten years have passed. That is because when we speak about the age of whisky we do not refer to its chronological age. It does not matter how long that bottle of whisky has existed – it matters how long it has matured in a cask.

While we can stop whisky from ageing by bottling it, we cannot stop humans from ageing. However, we can influence how fast we age. Our eating and lifestyle habits, genes and epigenetic mechanisms affect how fast our bodies age and how quickly our cells deteriorate. It is usually sensible to base legal rights and duties on chronological age because, often, older people are in poorer condition than younger people. But this is not always the case. Dutchman Emile Ratelband made headlines all over the world, requesting that his official age be reduced by 20 years because he faces discrimination due to his age. He does not feel his age is apt and his body is, allegedly, in as good condition as that of a younger man.

So, why should legal age match how long a person has existed for? Why not match legal age with how able and functioning the person actually is? Why not match legal age with biological or emotional age rather than chronological age – at least when the person is at risk of being discriminated against due to their chronological age? Perhaps one can give a satisfying response to the question of why we should not allow legal age change, but the objection from denying facts, at least in the way it has been presented to me, is not a convincing reason to reject the argument for age change.


Paper title: Moral case for legal age change

Author(s): Joona Räsänen


1. Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

2. Department of Management Studies, Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland

Competing interests: No competing interests

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