Review Of "Mary Midgley: An Introduction" By G. S. McElwain

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An original and imaginative philosopher, Midgley (1919–2018) wrote with passion, wit, and clarity on a wide range of subjects, including why animals matter, the place of science in human life, the environment, feminism, and morality. She took her cue from Darwin—not a selfish Darwin obsessed with ruthless competitiveness, but a Darwin who espoused human continuity, indeed unity, with nature. Midgley's targets were reductivism (the view that complexities can be reduced to something simple), scientism (the view that the only way to understand the world is through science), and exceptionalism (the view that humans stand outside nature). With her deeply integrative approach to philosophy and her view that morality consists not simply of principles but of solving—if only temporarily—exigent practical problems of great importance, Midgley reminds one of John Dewey. This introduction to Midgley's thought is admirably clear, accessible, wide-ranging, and sympathetic. Though the book does not cast a sharp critical eye on some of Midgley's more controversial views (e.g., the Gaia hypothesis), it is none the worse for that. This book could be usefully coupled with The Essential Mary Midgley, ed. by David Midgley (2005), and, of course, with Midgley's many monographs, e.g., What Is philosophy For? (CH, Mar'19, 56-2720) and The Ethical Primate (CH, Apr'95, 32-4431). Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, general readers.


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