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Shouting across the gulf

Mary Midgley, 18 October 1984

Greenham Common: Women at the Wire 
edited by Barbara Harford and Sarah Hopkins.
Women’s Press, 171 pp., £3.95, June 1984, 0 7043 3926 9
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Weapons and Hope 
by Freeman Dyson.
Harper and Row, 347 pp., £10.95, May 1984, 0 06 337037 9
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... Is there anyone who can keep in focus both sides of the debate about armaments, who can see fully what is meant by both armers and disarmers? To the armers, who occupy most of the positions of power, British arms, and Western arms generally, appear as the natural and only possible response to a pressing danger. They look like a roof over our heads. To the disarmers, they appear as the main source of that danger ...

Animal, Spiritual and Cerebral

Mary Midgley, 18 August 1983

Animal Thought 
by Stephen Walker.
Routledge, 388 pp., £17.50, January 1983, 0 7100 9037 4
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On the Evolution of Human Behaviour 
by Peter Reynolds.
California, 259 pp., £20, December 1981, 0 520 04294 8
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The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit 
by Melvin Konner.
Heinemann, 436 pp., £16.50, October 1982, 0 434 39703 2
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Sociobiology and the Human Dimension 
by Georg Breuer.
Cambridge, 264 pp., £22.50, January 1983, 0 521 24544 3
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Sociobiology and the Pre-Emption of Social Science 
by Alexander Rosenberg.
Blackwell, 210 pp., £9.90, March 1981, 0 631 12625 2
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... In what ways are people similar to other animals, and in what ways are they different? There are real problems of method about the right approach to this question, but they are nothing to the emotional ones which rise, like a buzzing cloud of insects, as soon as we approach its frontiers. The need to determine answers in advance of investigations is perhaps felt more strongly in this area than in any other outside political history – if indeed it is outside it ...

Who did you say was dumb?

Mary Midgley, 5 February 1987

Adam’s Task: Calling animals by name 
by Vicki Hearne.
Heinemann, 274 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 434 31421 8
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... The Lord, having apparently grown tired of hearing a certain sort of behaviourist boloney talked about animals, seems to have designed a most unusual missile for dealing with it. The warhead consists of a skilled, experienced, professional animal trainer. The directive system – which is the most surprising component – is an acute, trained student of contemporary philosophy, psychology and literary criticism, who has paid particular attention to the work of Wittgenstein ...

Updating Freud

Mary Midgley, 16 September 1982

Narcissus and Oedipus: The Children of Psychoanalysis 
by Victoria Hamilton.
Routledge, 284 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 7100 0869 4
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Archetype: A Natural History of the Self 
by Anthony Stevens.
Routledge, 295 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 7100 0980 1
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Freud on Femininity and Faith 
by Judith van Herik.
California, 216 pp., £17.50, June 1982, 0 520 04368 5
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... If Freud were now – much against his principles – to poke his head out of the tomb and look in on us, what would he say? The appalling state of the world would of course not surprise him. But what about his own therapeutic and theoretical empire? He need scarcely be disappointed at its size, or at the number of his entries in indexes. He would still find himself named as prime mover of the movement he fought so hard to keep under his own control ...

The Limits of Humanism

Mary Midgley, 7 June 1984

The Case for Animal Rights 
by Tom Regan.
Routledge, 425 pp., £17.95, January 1984, 0 7102 0150 8
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Rights, Killing and Suffering: Moral Vegetarianism and Applied Ethics 
by R.G. Frey.
Blackwell, 256 pp., £17.50, September 1983, 0 631 12684 8
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... Out of the ivory tower troop the English-speaking moral philosophers, blinking a little, but certainly invigorated by their new freedom. Their imprisonment was a stiff one. The notion that it was rather unprofessional for them to mention the real world, and doubly so to take sides about it, became obligatory more than fifty years ago, and has only gradually loosened its grip ...

Why are we bad?

Paul Seabright, 15 November 1984

Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay 
by Mary Midgley.
Routledge, 224 pp., £14.95, September 1984, 9780710097590
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... only creature that has a nasty mind.’ Why? There, in a word, you have the question addressed by Mary Midgley’s new book. It is different from the Problem of Evil as this has been traditionally known to theologians – namely, how an omnipotent and good God could create a world that has evil within. Theodicy has always been capable of interpretation ...

Private Lives and Public Affairs

Onora O’Neill, 18 October 1984

Public and Private in Social Life 
edited by S.I. Benn and G.F. Gaus.
Croom Helm, 412 pp., £19.95, July 1983, 0 7099 0668 4
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Public Man, Private Woman 
by Jean Bethke Elshtain.
Martin Robertson, 376 pp., £22.50, February 1982, 0 85520 470 2
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Women’s Choices: Philosophical Problems facing Feminism 
by Mary Midgley and Judith Hughes.
Weidenfeld, 242 pp., £12.95, September 1983, 0 297 78221 5
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... Rich’s Of Woman Born, Selma Fraiberg’s Every Child’s Birthright: In Defence of Mothering, Mary O’Brien’s The Politics of Reproduction, Carol McMillan’s Women, Reason and Nature, as well as Women’s Choices: Philosophical Problems facing Feminism by Mary Midgley and Judith Hughes, which appears as ...

Human Nature

Stuart Hampshire, 25 October 1979

Beast and Man 
by Mary Midgley.
Harvester, 396 pp., £7.50
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... Biology​ as a guide to ethics has been an intellectual fad of the last decade, and Mrs Midgley is trying to restore a sense of proportion. Sociobiology has had its home principally in the United States rather than in the land of Herbert Spencer, and Professor E.O. Wilson of Harvard, author of Sociobiology the New Synthesis, is now the leading figure in this new, or revived, philosophy of human nature ...

Great Creatures

Christopher Small, 17 August 1989

Sacred Elephant 
by Heathcote Williams.
Cape, 175 pp., £9.95, July 1989, 0 224 02642 9
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... what we ought to do about it all. One of the most incisive and successful of these philosophers, Mary Midgley, supplies a number of pregnant quotations in Sacred Elephant from her own book Beast and Man (1978). She has indeed so much to say on the subject that one is in danger, when attempting to discuss Heathcote Williams’s work, of arguing ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: A Looking-Glass Land of Sorts, 23 February 1995

... to rubble as we speak. In this world abstract ethical considerations are entirely absent. Forget Mary Midgley, expunge all uses of the word ‘right’ other than those that define direction. There are no moral imperatives here. I don’t doubt that the ‘if you’ve never had it, you don’t need it’ argument would extend well beyond calves, but I ...

Thinking about how they think

Francis Gooding: Is nature intelligent?, 16 February 2017

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? 
by Frans de Waal.
Granta, 340 pp., £14.99, September 2016, 978 1 78378 304 5
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The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate 
by Peter Wohlleben, translated by Jane Billinghurst.
Greystone, 272 pp., £16.99, September 2016, 978 1 77164 248 4
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... Why​ should we try to understand the lives of animals? The English moral philosopher Mary Midgley’s Beast and Man (1978) ended with a succinct answer: humankind ‘can neither be understood nor saved alone’. No philosophy can hope to understand ‘human nature’, Midgley argued, without acknowledging our integration into incomparably larger and older natural systems ...

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