Midgley, Mary, Dr.

Dr. Mary Midgley, (UK), prolific moral philosopher known for her work on science, ethics and animal rights.

An interviewer from the Guardian newspaper once wrote that Mary Midgley ‘may be the most frightening philosopher in the country: the one before whom it is least pleasant to appear a fool’. In a series of books, particularly Beast and Man (1978), Evolution as a Religion (1985),Science as Salvation (1992; her 1990 Edinburgh Gifford Lectures) and Science and Poetry(2001), Midgley offers a trenchant critique of science’s pretence to be much more than it actually is, of the ways in which science often becomes a religion.

Perhaps appropriately, Midgley the scourge of ‘science as religion’ was born to an army and Cambridge college chaplain, Canon Tom Scrutton, and educated in a boarding school in Charles Darwin’s old home, Downe House. Perhaps Midgley’s fascination with science came from her mother’s side; Lesley Hay’s father was an engineer who built the Mersey tunnel. It was in the Downe House library that Midgley first picked up Plato, and, in her own words, ‘thought it was tremendous stuff’ (although in later life perhaps Aristotelian questions have proved more fascinating). By this time, Midgley also realised that she was not a Christian, a position her clergyman father accepted rather matter-of-factly. Nevertheless, Midgley remains convinced that ‘the religious attitude’ is essential to human thriving, and in her work has repeatedly defended the place of religious belief (rather than particular religious beliefs) against its arrogant critics from the sciences.


Beast And Man: The Roots of Human Nature. Routledge, 1978; revised edition 1995.
Heart and Mind: The Varieties of Moral Experience. Routledge, 1981.
Animals And Why They Matter: A Journey Around the Species Barrier. University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Wickedness: A philosophical Essay. Routledge, 1984.
with Judith Hughes. Women’s Choices: Philosophical Problems Facing Feminism. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983.
Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears. Routledge, 1985; reprinted with new introduction 2002.
Can’t We Make Moral Judgements?. Bristol Press, 1989.
Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What Is Knowledge For?. Routledge, 1989.
Science As Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning. Routledge, 1992.
The Ethical Primate: Humans, Freedom and Morality. Routledge, 1994.
Utopias, Dolphins and Computers: Problems of Philosophical Plumbing. Routledge, 1996.
Science And Poetry. Routledge, 2001.
Myths We Live By. Routledge, 2003.
The Owl of Minerva: A Memoir. Routledge, 2005.
editor. Earthy Realism: The Meaning of Gaia. Imprint Academic, 2007.
The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene. Acumen, 2010.
Are you an Illusion?. Acumen, 2014.