Inside Cover Blurb
- One of the most neglected topics in recent philosophy is the problem of wrong-doing. What are the immediate sources of moral evil in human affairs? Why are human beings selfish, aggressive, callous, destructive, vindictive? Without simply blaming these phenomena on an outside agency such as God, the devil or Nature, can we trace the workings of evil realistically in the human heart, in a way that will help us to get some control over them?
- This topic raises so many problems that social scientists have lately tended to sweep it right under the carpet, reducing wrong-doing to mental illness, social conditioning, or a figment of the punitive imagination, while philosophers have concealed it behind a decent veil of general scepticism.
- Mary Midgley, a moral philosopher with a special interest in human evolution, believes it is better to face these difficulties directly. The capacity for real wickedness is, she argues, inevitably part of such creatures as human beings, whose evolution endows them both with conflicting motives and high intelligence. It is an aspect of our freedom. A clearer understanding of it will help that freedom, not commit us to a fatalistic acceptance of evil.
- Mary Midgley was until 1980 Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Newcastle. Since her retirement she has devoted more time to writing, and her publications include
She is married to the philosopher Geoffrey Midgley and they have three sons.
- Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature (Harvester Press. 1979; Methuen University Paperback, 1979),
- Heart and Mind: Varieties of Moral Experience (Harvester Press. 1981: Methuen University Paperback, 1982).
- Animals and Why They Matter (Penguin. 1983) and
- Women’s Choices: Philosophical Problems facing Feminism (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983).
- The Problem of Natural Evil
- Intelligibility and Immoralism
- The Elusiveness of Responsibility
- Understanding Aggression
- Fates, Causes and Free-will
- Selves and Shadows
- The Instigators
- Evil in Evolution
- Based on the above summary, Midgley seems to adopt a sensible stance somewhat different to those of the evolutionary psychologists.
- Rather that saying that our evolutionary origins – which prepared us for our hunter-gatherer past – justify our behaviour, or at least make it inevitable, she (presumably) suggests that such a view is an example of the genetic fallacy. If so, I agree.
- I definitely agree that a naturalistic – as distinct from a supernatural – explanation of our wicked ways is correct. (Evangelical) Christianity has the right diagnosis of our “spiritual condition”, but the wrong explanation of its origin.
- Her association of the capacity for evil with freedom of the will is hardly original, but maybe placing this in a naturalistic setting is less derivative of the results of standard theological disputes.
Routledge, 1984, hardback
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