Sunday, October 14, 2018

Mary Midgley (1919-2018)

Mary Midgley died on October 10 at the age of 99. From a letter to the Guardian, in which she talked about the remarkable generation of women philosophers coming out of Oxford soon after World War II:

It was clear that we were all more interested in understanding this deeply puzzling world than in putting each other down. That was how Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, Mary Warnock and I, in our various ways, all came to think out alternatives to the brash, unreal style of philosophising – based essentially on logical positivism – that was current at the time. And these were the ideas that we later expressed in our own writings.

To be sure, 'putting each other down' is very different from philosophical criticism, and Mary Midgley, perhaps more than the others she names, was a master of sharp and pointed criticism. But for her it was always about the argument, not about outmaneuvering anyone. Despite her brilliance, she never got her doctorate, which she would later note probably helped to keep her from being boxed into the standard narrow questions people learn to discuss in graduate school. She only started writing books on philosophy at the age of fifty-nine -- she would joke that it was a good thing, because before then she didn't know what she thought. They are all excellent and rather different from the usual fare.

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