Mary Midgley

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Midgley in 2002
Thinking hard
or hardly thinking?

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Major trains of thought
The good, the bad
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Mary Midgley (b. 1919) is a British philosopher who specializes in ethics and has written extensively on moral philosophy, epistemology, science, and animal rights. Midgley is an atheist and argues for a naturalistic understanding of the universe, but opposes reductionism and scientism. Her first book, Beast and Man (1978), attacked both human exceptionalism that places humanity outside the natural realm and overly reductionist sociobiology that denies human agency and morality.[1] Midgley notably wrote a hyperbolic response to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene and J.L. Mackie's review of said book, claiming that their rhetorical anthropomorphism and equivocation led to an implicit endorsement of psychological egoism.[2] Dawkins replied, with some justification, that this was a straw man and he had been misread.[3] Midgley later apologized for her initial bombast, but reiterated her criticisms of neo-Darwinism.[4] Midgley has unfortunately been prone to endorsing dubious ideas and figures that flirt with pseudoscience or openly promote it. She is a booster of James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis[5] and has more recently endorsed the antics of Rupert Sheldrake.[6]


  1. David L. Hull. Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature by Mary Midgley. The Philosophical Review, Vol. 90, No. 2 (Apr., 1981), pp. 307-310
  2. Mary Midgley. "Gene Juggling", Philosophy, vol 54, no. 210, 1979, pp. 439–458
  3. Richard Dawkins. In Defence of Selfish Genes. Philosophy Vol. 56, No. 218 (Oct., 1981), pp. 556-573
  4. Mary Midgley. "Selfish Genes and Social Darwinism", Philosophy, vol 58, 1983, pp. 365–377
  5. See Myths We Live By (2002)
  6. Mary Midgley. The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake - review. The Guardian, 27 Jan. 2012