This page links Mary Midgley’s work to the AQA A-Level Philosophy sylabus in the subejct areas of Moral Philosophy, Metaphysics of God and Metaphysics of Mind and is to accompany Amia’s introduction to Mary Midgely’s philosophy.

3. 2 Moral Philosophy

3.2.1 Aristotelian Virtue ethics

‘Concept of Beastliness’ pp. 113-118
Blending the Aristotelian account – the ‘good’ for human beings, eudaimonia, and asking whether virtue ethics gives us sufficiently clear guidance to act – with Midgley’s defence of natural normativity to generate a virtue account compatible with an eco-ethic.

‘Animals and Why They Matter,’ pp. 112-124
Exploring the ‘mixed community’ as an alternative to the Aristotelian polis, questioning if the highest form of community must be a political body, or if we may synthesize animal, environmental and human ethics in a naturalistic virtue ethic.


3.2.3. Meta-ethics

‘Objection to Systematic Humbug,’ pp. 147-169
Integrating the concepts of ‘reason’ and ‘emotion/attitudes’ in moral philosophy to regard the myth that emotions are outside of the sphere of reason as generating a wholly alien view of human life. Contrasting rationality with ‘systematic humbug,’ Midgley sees feeling and thought as ‘conceptually’ connected as aspects of conduct.

‘Is ‘moral’ a dirty word?’ pp. 206-223
To carefully examine the use of the word ‘moral’ and its derivates (and to some extent those of ‘ethical’ too) to see how they show signs of ‘strain’ as we stretch them to stretch to fill holes in our thinking.


3.2.3 Moral realism

‘Metaphysical Animals,’ Chapter 5 ‘A Joint “No!”
Looking at the Quartet’s response to the logical positivist orthodoxy of the day: viewing A. J. Ayer’s verification principle against the Quartet’s revival of metaphysics, and Hume’s is-ought gap with their attempt to reconnect fact and value.

‘The Game Game,’ pp. 231-240
Emphasising the idea of ‘goodness’ as both natural and culturally formed, reflecting our needs as social animals. Thought and choice cannot be considered in a vacuum, rather seen as springing from activities of the human life: sex, playing games, laughing, promising, and so forth.

‘Human Needs and Human Ideals,’ pp. 89-94
G.E. Moore divided ethics into two questions: what does goodness mean, and what things are good? But Midgley saw ethics as living in the chasm between these two questions, dealing with conflicts between ‘admitted goods (or evils).’ She calls for, a ‘priority system of goods,’ arrived at by a naturalistic assesses the system of needs which they satisfy: human nature.


3.3 Metaphysics of God

3.3.1 The concept and nature of ‘God’

‘Dover Beach: Understanding the Pains of Bereavement,’ pp. 209-230
Exploring God as a conceptual underpinning to traditional philosophy and drawing out the consequences of his absence to see an empty life without connection to a dead world. Midgley urges us to shed the Cartesian dualism fuelling the split between ourselves and natural world, and to embrace our position as animals beginning with the classical imagery of the Earth as Gaia, Greek goddess of all life.


3.3.2 The Problem of Evil

‘Wickedness,’ pp. 1-16
Conceiving of evil as a negative, a failure to live as we are capable. The Problem of Evil put in terms of ‘natural’ unavoidable evil and ‘moral’ deliberate human evil fails to see the importance of a range of natural motives – concern for power, aggression, territorial defence. These motives often contribute to flourishing. We need not approve of all things capable of desire, but we face a task of corresponding these goods with needs of conscious beings. Thus, we require a full analysis of the complexities of human motivation to create a priority system among these needs.


3.4 Metaphysics of Mind

3.4.2 Dualist theories

‘Souls, Minds, Bodies & Planets,’ Philosophy Now
Proposing a Platonic conception of the soul as an emotionally conflicted ‘committee system’ against the unified, abstract Cartesian soul. As part of the age-old attempt to sever Reason from Feeling, and establish Reason as the “dominant partner, seventeenth century philosophy ‘flatten[ed] out’ notions of mind and body to ‘look parallel.’ After Ryle’s Concept of Mind, we could keep the machine, and jettison the mental ghost, but twentieth century philosophers could not grasp the world as machines without users. Cue the ‘hard problem of consciousness.’ Midgley suggests that through a Platonic ‘committee system’ we can see the Self as deliberating conflicting considerations in an inner life profoundly influenced by the outer world.


3.4.3 Physicalist theories

‘What Is Philosophy For?’ pp. 152-208
Considering the difficulty of the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ as a problem with its materialistic terms. Midgley saw this set up as futile, leaving us to reconcile how a ‘lump of meat’ can generate subjective awareness. Rather, once we take a ‘philosophical look’ we can see reductive physicalism as only one way of explaining the world, and subjective awareness another. Here, Midgley emphasizes the role of philosophy to stand from different positions to fully understand a problem.


Resources for Schools

Visit this section of our website to find videos that provide clear, brief summaries of key ideas from Anscombe, Foot, Midgley, and Murdoch, on topics often taught in the classroom.

The videos are designed to fit with topics in the AQA and OCR AS and A-Level curricula and were produced by Liz McKinnell between 2019-2021.