Here’s a Female Philosopher after my own heart — and soul

Mary Midgley, philosopher

Moral philosopher Mary Midgley at home in Newcastle. Photographed for the Observer by Gary Calton

Mary Midgley: A Late Stand for a Philosopher with Soul


Her latest book is provocatively titled Are You an Illusion? Like much of her previous work, it’s an attack on what she views as the shibboleths of materialism – the notion that everything in the universe, including us, can ultimately be understood through its physical properties. But it focuses in particular on the thorny issue of the self or consciousness or even, as Midgley sometimes puts it, the soul.

And currently there is what might be called a battle for the human soul being fought between the humanities and the sciences over who is best placed to examine the nature of consciousness and what it means to be human.


In a recent letter to the Guardian, explaining why she thought there was a shortfall in women philosophers, she wrote: “The trouble is not, of course, men as such – men have done good enough philosophy in the past. What is wrong is a particular style of philosophising that results from encouraging a lot of clever young men to compete in winning arguments. These people then quickly build up a set of games out of simple oppositions and elaborate them until, in the end, nobody else can see what they are talking about.”

She and I agree that consciousness is primary, and that it shapes material form. But her view of consciousness is evolutionary: she assumes that it arises at some point in the universal creative process, rather than being utterly primary, forever and ever pervading and informing the entire universe — which tends to be my perspective.

Meanwhile, it’s refreshing to now know of at least one female academic philosopher who directly and unashamedly talks about “soul.”

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