Sunday, May 10, 2009

23b Mary Midgley

The next quote may be the best description of the philosophical stand of Mary Midgley. It is from "The Myths We Live by" (2004). Read it't worry if you do not get the meaning at first reading. I'll explain in detail what she means. It is fundamental for understanding her philosophical views.

"(..), any explanation [of human behavior] that invoked culture, however vague, abstract, far-fetched, infertile and implausible, tended to be readily accepted, while any explanation in terms of innate tendencies, however careful, rigorous, well-documented, limited and specific tended to be ignored.

In animal psychology, however, the opposite situation reigned. Here, what was taboo was the range of concepts that describes the conscious, cognitive side of experience.

The preferred, safe kind of explanation here derived from ideas of innate programming and mechanical conditioning. If anything cognitive was mentioned, standards of rigour at once soared into a stratosphere where few arguments could hope to follow."

Ok ..three paragraphs of text. In the first she says that the general trend of her time is to regard the human being as an organism without specific qualities that makes him human, an organism which is shaped by culture,by the environment it lives in.

If you dare to say that the human being is more than just an organism, that he has developed very specific qualities which find their origin in his innate qualities, qualities which you also find in animals to some extend, then you are ignored.

Second paragrpah: But, surprise, when we talk about animals, we reason 100% opposite. animals are organisms with innate programs, instincts, fixed responses on stimuli and so on.

Third paragraph: If you dare to say, that an animal also has an innate consciousness, that it even could considered alternative options of behaving, you are kicked out.

Here is a multitude of ideas fighting for your attention and consent. In the first place it goes as deep as the controversy between rationalism and empiricism, where the rationalist says "There is already something present in the mind" and the empiricist " There is only what I see".

It is about the debate between materialism and non materialistic philosophies. The tendency to reduce all nature to just one kind of matter ...say atoms ..or molecules and the processes going on there.

And related to that...those processes and the causal chain reactions that are so generally accepted of those processes, we run into the philosophical question of morals, determinism and free will.

These are all the deeper layers in this quote. All these elements can cross your mind, when you read this. In fact it is an exciting landscape. Which way to go ? Let's follow Mary Midgley.

In chapter 11: "On being an animal as well as rational" from "Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature" (1979) she tries to understand how we must relate Reason and Rationality to the human being. For 2000 years philosophers have focused on Reason and neglected the rest.

QUOTE: They are usually concerned essentially to celebrate reason, and to stress what is unique about it. This celebration I wholeheartedly accept and take for granted ...

My present purpose, however, is the distinct and supplementary one of asking how this unique thing, rationality, is possible in being that is not just a disembodied intellect, but also and among other things some kind of animal, how it fits into such a life. (...)

But the chief difficulty about accepting continuity between man and other species, or between the human intellect and the rest of man, now comes not from traditional religion,

but from those who do amputate the soul. It stems from the deep reverence people now feel for human success, and particularly for success in science.

This means that philosophers had cut the human being into pieces and kept what they thought was the best part: his reason. That beautiful tool that brought is all knowledge and science.

In the philosophic tradition, Reason, though not always equated with mere intellect, has usually been sharply opposed to Feeling or Desire. This has determined the attitude of most respectable philosophers to the related subjects of animals and human feelings.

They have usually just dismissed animal activities from all comparison with human ones, on the general ground that, in man, decision is a formal, rational process, while animals have only feeling, which is a kind of wholly contingent slop or flow, bare matter without form, so that its analysis cannot concern philosophy.

Here we come at the quintessence of Mary Midgley's philosophical discourse. This celebration of Reason and its product 'knowledge or science' is not able to create values.

In other words, knowing the facts does not logically imply that we know what we should do or ought to do.

This is again the famous IS / OUGHT problem, formulated by Hume. So, her fundamental question is, what makes us as human being moral beings?

How can we know what we ought to do? And in her view the answer is definitely NOT given by being a big bag of selfish genes.

The Discussion

[13:25] herman Bergson: Next lecture will be on the Midgley / Dawkins controversy ^_^
[13:25] hope63 Shepherd: down goes ayn rand grin..
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yes...for her was selfishness also the highest moral value
[13:26] herman Bergson: But a general problem with this point of view is the phenomenon of altruism
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: yes\oh yes\
[13:27] herman Bergson: and that is what Mary Midgley tries to explain in het book Beast and Man
[13:27] Corona Anatine: tho there are several levels of altruism in genetic terms
[13:27] herman Bergson: let's stick to altruistic behavior..
[13:27] Corona Anatine: family - species - mammals - all life
[13:28] herman Bergson: She wrote her book after she starded studying ethology
[13:28] herman Bergson: Her most important point is what you might call the 'wholeness' of the human being
[13:29] herman Bergson: reason, feelings , is one intertwined total in a man
[13:29] hope63 Shepherd: yes,, her thought permits to include the origins of mankind until today..
[13:30] herman Bergson: In fact she falls back on a typical Aristotelian idea of virtue, like Murdoch and Anscombe did too
[13:31] herman Bergson: It is just an idea..but while the men were busy with their emotivism and prescriptivism, were the women philosopher looking at Aristotelian ideas on ethics
[13:31] herman Bergson: may be coincidence
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: or not
[13:31] herman Bergson: yes indeed Gemma......
[13:32] herman Bergson: What shows clearly is that they all focused on character.....on how a person cna be a person
[13:32] herman Bergson: a whole person...not one set of rational thoughts and on the other hand a set of emotive feelings
[13:33] Corona Anatine: except in schizoids
[13:33] Daruma Boa: why?
[13:33] herman Bergson: and what is characteristic too is their opposition against materialist interpretations of man
[13:33] herman Bergson: why...?????
[13:34] Daruma Boa: why exept schizoids
[13:34] herman Bergson: It happens that these three women all studied in Oxford...
[13:34] Daruma Boa: they have more;-)
[13:34] Corona Anatine: cos they have split personality
[13:34] Corona Anatine: was an attempt at humour
[13:34] Daruma Boa: so double
[13:34] Daruma Boa: or three times
[13:34] Daruma Boa: or so^^
[13:34] herman Bergson: philosophically not so relevant Corona
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: the whole person consists of both the extremse of Ms Midgly and Ms Rand....both subjective selves and objective selves
[13:35] herman Bergson: Seems I wear you down pretty much with a difficult lecture ^_^
[13:35] Daruma Boa: no not
[13:35] Daruma Boa: but there is not only one way;-)
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: very interesting tho
[13:36] Corona Anatine: not so difficult Herman
[13:36] Daruma Boa: its not so easy;-)#
[13:36] Ze Novikov: I like her intergrative ideas about humans
[13:36] Corona Anatine: all fairly light to understand
[13:36] herman Bergson: yes Ze...that is her thing
[13:36] Daruma Boa: humas like to find rules...
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: bothe seem to be spiingin away from the true center of our own duality
[13:37] herman Bergson: In fact, Mary Midgley doesnt talk about duality at all
[13:37] Ze Novikov: how difficult was it for her with the others philosophers
[13:37] herman Bergson: 2000 years of philosophers did
[13:37] Daruma Boa: aloha rodeney!!+
[13:37] Corona Anatine: hi rod
[13:37] herman Bergson: Well....I think she was a pretty angry debater
[13:37] Daruma Boa: long time no see^^^
[13:37] Rodney Handrick: Hi Corona
[13:37] herman Bergson: if you look at the first quote...
[13:37] Gemma Cleanslate: rodney
[13:38] Rodney Handrick: Hi Gemma
[13:38] herman Bergson: Hi Rodney
[13:38] Rodney Handrick: Hi Herman
[13:38] herman Bergson: And the uproar about her article against Dawkins in Philosophy issue 53 or 54..
[13:38] herman Bergson: 54....She reacted on Makzie
[13:39] Ze Novikov: umm
[13:39] herman Bergson: Dawkins was not amused by her personal style
[13:39] Ze Novikov: i suspected so
[13:39] herman Bergson: So I think she was an "angry old girl" in fact
[13:40] Alarice Beaumont: lol
[13:40] herman Bergson: Her first book she wrote when she was 59
[13:40] Corona Anatine: just realised i dont have a single photo of any class - so excuse the flash
[13:40] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. that was what astounded me... i thought.. well i still stand a chance to get an understanding of philosophie then ^^
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: you will be older when you write your book: philosophy and sl.. herman..
[13:40] Corona Anatine: : )
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes Hope, that's true..:-)
[13:41] herman Bergson: unless I do it now :-)
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: no.. we still want you preparing
[13:41] herman Bergson: got still 6 months
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:42] Corona Anatine: that is true of any book not yet written
[13:42] Corona Anatine: we are older when we write them
[13:43] herman Bergson: I'll stick to preparing for class for the moment :-)
[13:43] Ze Novikov: :))
[13:43] Alarice Beaumont: :-))
[13:44] herman Bergson: And for the next class I'll tell you about Dawkins....
[13:44] Daruma Boa: okee
[13:44] herman Bergson: and Midgley
[13:44] Alarice Beaumont: I'll try too.. but it is quite difficult...
[13:44] Corona Anatine: ok
[13:44] Alarice Beaumont: ah cool..
[13:44] Daruma Boa: on thursday i will be not here
[13:44] herman Bergson: is short ^_^
[13:44] Daruma Boa: lol
[13:44] Daruma Boa: thats good
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes life
[13:45] hope63 Shepherd: running wild daruma?
[13:45] Corona Anatine: dawkins is almost an anagram of god is wank
[13:45] Daruma Boa: no london calling in rl
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: oh my goodness
[13:45] Daruma Boa: lol
[13:45] herman Bergson: Yes..Dawkins is a story on its own
[13:45] Daruma Boa: yes drama drama drama baby ;-))
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well......then I would your selfish genes and see you next class ^_^
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:46] Ze Novikov: lol
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: i'll inform bild reporters you are on the loose
[13:46] herman Bergson: And have a look at the subject of Altruism
[13:47] Daruma Boa: ohhh ha
[13:47] Rodney Handrick: HA HA HA HA HA
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: camus la chute is all about it..
Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-03-29 09:16:42

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