Biologists' current habit of explaining each feature of human life separately through its evolutionary function — its assumed tendency to enhance each individual's reproductive prospects — is unworkable. It also sits oddly with these scientists' official rejection of teleology, since it treats all life as a process which does have an aim, namely, to perpetuate itself. But that aim is empty because it is circular. If we want to understand the behaviour of living things (including humans) we have to treat (...) them seriously as subjects, creatures with needs, tendencies and directions of their own. The supposedly objective idea of a world of objects without subjects is an unprofitable fantasy. (shrink)
Feared and admired in equal measure, Mary Midgely has carefully, yet profoundly challenged many of the scientific and moral orthodoxies of the twentieth century. The Essential Mary Midgley collects for the first time the very best of this famous philosopher's work, described by the Financial Times as "commonsense philosophy of the highest order." This anthology includes carefully chosen selections from her best-selling books, including Wickedness, Beast and Man, Science and Poetry and The Myths We Live By . It provides a (...) superb and eminently accessible insight into questions she has returned to again and again in her renowned sharp prose, from the roots of human nature, reason and imagination to the myths of science and the importance of holism in thinking about science and the environment. It offers an unrivalled introduction to a great philosopher and a brilliant writer, and also includes a specially written foreword by James Lovelock. (shrink)
"Charming, interesting, thought-provoking and a great read." Rosalind Hursthouse The daughter of a pacifist rector who answered "No!" when his congregation asked him "Is everything in the bible true?", perhaps Mary Midgley was destined to become a philosopher. Yet few would have thought this inquisitive, untidy, nature-loving child would become "one of the sharpest critical pens in the west." This is her remarkable story. Probably the only philosopher to have been in Vienna on the eve of its invasion by Nazi (...) Germany in 1938 and dance in Trafalgar Square on VE day seven year later, she studied philosophy at Oxford in the same year as Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot, all of whom became close friends. Midgley tells us in vivid and humorous fashion how they cut a swathe through the arid landscape of 1950s British philosophy, writing and arguing - often with each other - about the grand themes of character, beauty and the meaning of rudeness while the spectral figure of Ludwig Wittgenstein hovered in the background. She also charts the highs and lows of philosophy and academia in Britain. On joining the Reading philosophy department on £400 a year in 1949, she doubled its staff complement. But her many years at Newcastle University - where Mike Brearley, who later captained England at cricket, also used to teach - were rewarded with the closure of the philosophy department in the 1980s. The mother of three children, her journey is also one of a woman who in the 1950s and 1960s was fighting to combine a professional career with raising a family. In startling contrast to many of the academic stars of her generation, we learn that Midgley nearly became a novelist and started writing philosophy only when in her fifties, suggesting that Minerva's owl really does fly at dusk. Plainly told like her philosophy, this is an elegiac and moving account of friendships found and lost, bitter philosophical battles and of a profound love of teaching all too rarely acknowledged today. (shrink)
Britain's foremost living philosopher argues that myth, far from being in opposition to, is actually part and parcel of science. According to Midgley, myths are neither lies nor stories, but a network of powerful symbols that suggest particular ways of interpreting the world. In this interpretation she demolishes three of our most potent myths: the myth of the social contract, the myth of progress, and the myth of science.
"Midgley writes perceptively -- and beautifully -- about many things. But, in the end, it is the poetry, including the poetry of Midgley's prose, that makes the book worth reading." --Philip Clayton, Nature Science, according to the received wisdom of the day, can in the end answer any question we choose to put to it -- even the most fundamental questions about ourselves, our behavior and our cultures. Many go as far as to claim that science is all we need (...) to explain the world. But for Mary Midgley, science, while undeniably a key element in this quest, can never be the whole story as it cannot truly explain what it means to be human. In this typically crusading work, universally acclaimed as a classic on first publication, she powerfully asserts her corrective view that without poetry (or literature, or music, or history, even theology) we cannot hope to understand our humanity. Reading this remarkable book, which draws equally on both the great artists and poets for its inspiration, the reader is struck by both the simplicity and power of her argument and the sheer pleasure to be gained from reading one of our most accessible philosophers. (shrink)
Complete determinism is, as Karl Popper said, “a daydream of omniscience.” Determinism is usually conceived as linked with a particular science whose explanations are deemed fundamental. As Rose rightly points out, biological enquiry includes many different kinds of question. Genetic determinism, making genes central to biology, is therefore biased and misguided. The crucial unit must be the whole organism. Correspondence:c1 IA Collingwood Terrace, Newcastle on Tyne NE2 2JP, United Kingdom email@example.com.
Discussions of environmental ethics, and of applied ethics generally, easily produce a sense of unreality. But they are not a luxury. Faced with a new and monstrous predicament, we do need new thinking. Enlightenment morality, on which we still largely rely, has had enormous merits, but it strongly tends towards egoism and social atomism. This makes it hard for us to think, as we now must, about larger wholes.
In Utopias, Dolphins and Computers Mary Midgley brings philosophy into the real world by using it to consider environmental, educational and gender issues. From "Freedom, Feminism and War" to "Artificial Intelligence and Creativity," this book searches for what is distorting our judgement and helps us to see more clearly the dramas which are unfolding in the world around us. Utopias, Dolphins and Computers aims to counter today's anti-intellectualism, not to mention philosophy's twentieth-century view of itself as futile. Mary Midgley explains (...) the point of philosophy: how to do it, why it is needed, what difficulties confront it and what topics need its attention. (shrink)
Philosophers have traditionally concentrated on the qualities that make human beings different from other species. In Beast and Man Mary Midgley, one of our foremost intellectuals, stresses continuities. What makes people tick? Largely, she asserts, the same things as animals. She tells us humans are rather more like other animals than we previously allowed ourselves to believe, and reminds us just how primitive we are in comparison to the sophistication of many animals. A veritable classic for our age, Beast and (...) Man has helped change the way we think about ourselves and the world in which we live. (shrink)
In The Ethical Primate, renowned philosopher Mary Midgley tackles important questions about human freedom and morality. Scientists and philosophers have found it difficult to understand how each human being can be both a living part of the natural world and, at the same time, a genuinely free agent. Midgley explores their responses to this seeming paradox and argues that our evolutionary origin, properly understood, explains why human freedom and morality have come about.
Apparent clashes of interest between 'deep ecologists' and 'animal liberationists' can be understood as differences in emphasis rather than conflicts of principle, although it is only too easy for campaigners to regard as rivals good causes other than their own. Moral principles are part of a larger whole, within which they can be related, rather than absolute all-purpose rules of right conduct. This is illustrated using the practical dilemma which often occurs in conservation management, of whether or not to cull (...) animals that are damaging their habitat by overgrazing. Here, and in general, when we are faced with a choice between two evils, the need for scrupulous discrimination and honesty cannot be overstated; but it is not a worthy option to retreat behind moral principles of limited application. (shrink)
Science as Salvation discusses the high spiritual ambitions which tend to gather round the notion of science. Officially, science claims only the modest function of establishing facts. Yet people still hope for something much grander from it--namely, the myths by which to shape and support life in an increasingly confusing age. Our faith in science is abused by some scientists whose adolescent fantasies have spilled over into their professional lives. Salvation, immortality, mastery of the universe, humans without bodies, and intelligent (...) self-reproducing computers are just some of the notions and speculations that are now found--not on the pages of science fiction--but on the pages of science itself. The danger is that these concepts are given to a myth-hungry public who turn to science now that religion has lost its ability to create myth. Science as Salvation discusses the function and meaning of such fantasies. Midgley examines the need for and the use of myth in science, and how science and religion are related. She argues that we need to develop a realistic understanding of scientific imagination and its importance. Taking them seriously as symptoms of a genuine myth-hunger, it suggests that the proper function of science may need to include wider perspectives, which would make it plain that such desperate, compensatory dramas are unnecessary. (shrink)