Thursday 8th June | 12 – 1:30pm | St Aidan’s College, Lindisfarne 3
Chair: Alda Balthrop-Lewis
with Hannah Winther and Karl Pike
Introduction to Non-human world
Western philosophical traditions have often nourished human hubris relative to other species, and species hubris has sometimes warped social, political, and philosophical life. This panel focuses on tools from the Wartime Quartet that might address this problem. Panelists work with the following questions: What is the place of myth in how humans determine what a world is in the first place and what belongs in it? How do the disappearance of these worlds or their transformation affect thinking within them? And, more practically, how can contemporary animal ethics make a larger space for empirical studies of actual animals? As contemporary scholars invest increasing effort into understanding human cultures as embedded in multispecies communities and the agency of other things, how might the Wartime Quartet inspire new social, political, and philosophical responses to human species hubris?
Attention to difficulties of reality: Animal ethics proceeding from the Wartime Quartet
Our attempts to understand our moral relations with animals are often blocked by a sense of unreality, Mary Midgley writes. Animals are difficult to fit into our moral picture, and when we try to make room for them, this attempt is often met with resistance. Another philosopher who has written about the sense of unreality Midgley refers to is Cora Diamond. Diamond writes about “the difficulty of reality” and challenges capacity-based approaches to animal ethics, arguing instead that we should consider animals as our fellow creatures. In developing her response to moral individualism, Diamond combines two gestures that can be traced back to the Quartet. On the one hand, she rejects attempts to fit our moral realities into a single theoretical model. On the other, she develops an approach to animal ethics that takes its cue from the Quartet’s moral realism generally and Murdoch’s concept of attention specifically. This presentation defends this approach to animal ethics using genome edited animals as a case and argues, following Midgley, for the importance of interdisciplinarity in animal ethics, pointing to the relevance of empirical ethics methodology in particular.
Politics and Midgley’s ‘myth maps’
Human beings ‘map their world’, Mary Midgley argued, because of how complex our social world is. They do so through ‘imposing meaning communally on it’. Such maps, or visions, were sometimes referred to as ‘myths’ by Midgley. In her later work, ‘myths’ were associated with ‘truth’ just as much as falsehood. A central purpose was to identify meanings that warrant greater understanding. Sometimes the objective was myth-busting, at other times simply to better understand. Without proposing a rigid schema, this paper outlines how thinking on ‘myth’, and the meanings we ascribe to aspects of our social world, helps elucidate political discourse.
Putting Midgley’s work in dialogue with other thinkers, such as Charles Taylor and Chiara Bottici, among others, the paper argues for the usefulness of the concept for understanding politics. The paper then offers some examples of ‘myths’, applying this way of thinking to contemporary politics. It concludes by reflecting on how the identification of these ‘imaginative patterns’ – to use Midgley’s words – can change the way we understand political life. Many of these myths are integral to people’s view of the world, though – as Midgley noted – they need to be better understood.
Alda is a senior research fellow in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry at Australian Catholic University. She is a scholar of religion and ethics, and her research methods have been inspired by the Wartime Quartet’s dissent from mainstream Anglo-American modes of mid-century moral philosophy. Alda works across the environmental humanities and is the author of Thoreau’s Religion: Walden Woods, Social Justice, and the Politics of Asceticism (Cambridge, 2021).
Hannah is a PhD candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. She is writing a dissertation about the ethics of using genome editing technologies in the salmon farming industry, and is interested in animal ethics, bioethics, and ethics after Wittgenstein.
Karl is lecturer in public policy in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. He was awarded the PSA Walter Bagehot Prize in 2020 for his PhD thesis, and has published in a number of academic journals. He is currently writing his first book, titled Getting Over New Labour.