mary midgley


Mary Midgley’s emphasis on her early life in The Owl of Minerva is consistent with one of her most fundamental beliefs: that philosophical positions are not arrived at quite as impersonally as many philosophers would like to believe. The tendency, particularly marked among some analytical philosophers, to narrow philosophy to a technical exercise, dealing piecemeal with ever smaller issues, and its modelling itself on science and avoiding metaphysics, or even any sense of the wider context of the questions being addressed, is one she has vigorously opposed. For Midgley, reason is a tool that should serve reasonableness which itself has more disparate sources and deeper roots than many philosophers acknowledge. Even the most aseptic philosophical inquiry has a frame of reference defined at least in part by unargued intuitions and passions. It is entirely appropriate, then, that her early years figure so large in this memoir: the child is the mother of the philosopher. And what an interesting childhood she had; or at least how interesting she makes it. By the time I had reached the end of her early years, I really did want to know about her ancestors. That they occupy the second, not the first, chapter in her book is not mere eccentricity.

more from the TLS here.