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Mary Midgley - The Gifford Lectures
"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.

A number of Midgley’s contemporaries at Somerville College, Oxford, went on to achieve philosophical distinction in later life, including Iris Murdoch, another Edinburgh Gifford Lecturer, with whom Midgley became a close friend. Midgley relished doing philosophy in wartime Oxford, partly because there wasn’t ‘an endless gaggle of young men’ to offer distraction. But she considered it ‘providential’ that she did not get the post she applied for at St. Hugh’s College, and left Oxford, since she thought that the then-prevailing climate of Oxford philosophy would have destroyed her as a philosopher.

She met Geoffrey Midgley while at Oxford. They married in 1950 at Newcastle, where Geoffrey had a job. She then raised a family and did not take up a post in the Department of Philosophy in Newcastle until 1962, where she remained until she retired as Senior Lecturer when the department closed.

Midgley’s animated critique of scientism—science become religion—has been taken by some, especially scientists, as an attack on science itself. This may partly be because Midgley seems much more adept at demolishing others’ positions than in stating her own clearly. In fact, Midgley’s critique of science should be seen against her own metaphor of the philosopher as plumber: the philosopher, like the plumber, engages in an activity that civilisation depends on, but it is an activity which people only notice and require when certain rather essential workings have gone wrong. At her best, Midgley is a ‘science critic’ (using the word ‘critic’ in the way it is used in ‘literary critic’), seeking dialogue with the important activity called science to enable it to do more good and less harm in the modern world. Midgley’s contribution to this project is perhaps largely that of negative criticism. However, her friendship with and support for James Lovelock, the scientist who developed the Gaia hypothesis (that the planet earth as a whole is a living system), tells us a lot about her positive beliefs. Presumably, in Lovelock, she finds a scientific approach that is more congenial and conducive to human flourishing."
marymidgley  scientism  2018  philosophy  behavior  humans  richarddawkins  eowilson  evolution  thinking  science  religion  theselfishgene  selfishness  society  feminism  cognition  humannature  animals  sociobiology  reductionism  christianity 
october 2018 by robertogreco
Mary Midgley, 99, Moral Philosopher for the General Reader, Is Dead - The New York Times
"The biologist Stephen Rose, writing in The Times Literary Supplement in 1992, called Dr. Midgley “a philosopher with what many have come to admire, and some to fear, as one of the sharpest critical pens in the West.”

Andrew Brown, writing in The Guardian in 1981, called her “the foremost scourge of scientific pretension in this country.”

Dr. Midgley unhesitatingly challenged scientists like the entomologist Edward O. Wilson and the biologist, and noted atheist, Richard Dawkins. By her lights they practiced a rigid “academic imperialism” when they tried to extend scientific findings to the social sciences and the humanities.

In place of what she saw as their constricted, “reductionistic” worldview, she proposed a holistic approach in which “many maps” — that is, varied ways of looking at life — are used to get to the nub of what is real.

One challenge came in 1978 in her first book, “Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature,” based on a conference she had organized on that slippery, perennial subject as a visiting scholar at Cornell University.

She was later asked to revise her original manuscript to reflect her critical reaction to Professor Wilson’s best-selling 1975 book, “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” (“a volume the size of a paving stone,” she wrote later in a well-received 2005 autobiography, “The Owl of Minerva”). She described the field of sociobiology as a kind of reactionary “biological Thatcherism.”

Sociobiology — the application of gene-centered theories of natural selection to the social life of organisms — was not itself overly controversial, especially, as Professor Wilson originally used it, in the study of ants and insects. Dr. Midgley, given her own interest in emphasizing humans’ animal nature — that “we are not, and do not need to be, disembodied intellects” — praised parts of Professor Wilson’s book.

What provoked her and others was his hypothesis that the tenets of sociobiology could be applied to humans. That idea, according to scholars, threatened to radically revise generally accepted notions of human nature.

“The term ‘human nature’ is suspect because it does suggest cure-all explanations, sweeping theories that man is basically sexual, basically selfish or acquisitive, basically evil or basically good,” Dr. Midgley wrote in “Beast and Man.”

In “The Owl of Minerva,” she wrote that the need to address Professor Wilson’s concepts had distracted readers from her crucial topic: “the meaning of rationality itself — the fact that reason can’t mean just deductive logic but must cover what makes sense for beings who have a certain sort of emotional nature.”

She added that “Beast and Man” remained “the trunk out of which all my various later ideas have branched.”

Dr. Midgley took pains to distinguish between the important contributions of science and the philosophy of “scientism,” in which “prophets,” she wrote, decree that science is “not just omnicompetent but unchallenged, the sole form of rational thinking.”

“We do not need to esteem science less,” she continued. “We need to stop isolating it artificially from the rest of our mental life.”

Dr. Midgley did not align herself with any specific school of thought: She wrote that moral philosophy and plain “common sense” often covered the same ground. She targeted what she saw as some of the basic errors of modern scientific orthodoxy, including misplaced objectivity, the exclusion of purpose and motive, and the propensity to depersonalize nature.

The very titles of her books — among them “Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning” (1992) and “Evolution as a Religion” (1985) — and even irreverent chapter headings, like “Knowledge Considered as a Weed Killer,” conveyed her stance against what she called the “parsimonious” worldview of science.

In 1979, in the journal Philosophy, she issued a scathing critique of Professor Dawkins’s widely popular book “The Selfish Gene,” taking issue with what she called his “crude, cheap, blurred genetics.”

In that book, Professor Dawkins suggested that evolution is a product of an innate drive in genes to perpetuate themselves, “selfishly,” through the vehicle of a given species, and that the behavior of living things is in service to their genes.

Dr. Midgley explained her disagreement years later in The Guardian, writing: “Selfish is an odd word because its meaning is almost entirely negative. It does not mean ‘prudent, promoting one’s own interest.’ It means ‘not promoting other people’s’ or, as the dictionary puts it, ‘devoted to or concerned with one’s own advantage to the exclusion of regard for others.’”

She refuted the notion that selfishness underpinned all life.

“Just as there would be no word for white if everything was white, there could surely be no word for selfish if everyone was always selfish,” she wrote, adding, “Selfishness cannot, then, be a universal condition.”

In a long career as a published philosopher, Dr. Midgley addressed a great number of subjects. Evolution, the importance of animals, the role of science in society, cognitive science, feminism and human nature all came under her scrutiny.

She ranged more widely in “Science and Poetry” (2001), in which she considered the place of the imagination in human life. She found excesses of materialism and fatalism in human life, discussed the unusual compatibility of physics and religion, and approved of philosophical and metaphorical aspects of the Gaia hypothesis, which looks at the earth as a living system.

“With this book,” Brian Appleyard wrote in The Sunday Times of London, “Professor Midgley establishes herself as the most cool, coherent and sane critic of contemporary superstition that we have.”"
marymidgley  scientism  2018  philosophy  behavior  humans  richarddawkins  eowilson  evolution  thinking  science  religion  theselfishgene  selfishness  society  feminism  cognition  humannature  animals  sociobiology  reductionism  christianity 
october 2018 by robertogreco
VINCIANE DESPRET: Lecture (part 1 of 2) - YouTube

An ecosophical roadmap for artists and other futurists

Conference -- festival that took place from 12--15 March, 2013 at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

Gabriëlle Schleijpen, head of Studium Generale Rietveld Academie invited Anselm Franke, Binna Choi, Carolyn Christof - Bakargiev, Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl to each inaugurate a discursive and performative program of one day.

Friday March 15


Bringing together research, art, and various approaches and concerns relating to ecology, artist Ayreen Anastas, author, researcher, organiser of events and exhibitions, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, writer, philosopher and ethologist Vinciane Despret, artist Rene Gabri, artist and rural sociologist Fernando García-Dory and interdisciplinary artist Marcos Lutyens explored collectively what a 'poiesis of worlding' could involve. What could be a process of re-apprehending and re-animating worlds which our current systems of knowledge and understanding exclude? And how do such foreclosures relate to some of the most pressing challenges of our time? Departing from a lecture program by playing with predefined lecture protocols and later opening a space for shared doing-thinking, the day's journey was split into two parts which were sewn together by a collective hypnosis. "

[part 2:]
vincianedespret  animals  storytelling  2013  via:anne  ethology  ecosophy  perspective  science  pov  multispecies  empathy  knowing  waysofknowing  waltwhitman  agency  poiesis  worlding  interdisciplinary  art  arts  ayreenanastas  meaning  meaningmaking  carolynchristov-bakargiev  perception  renegabri  fernandogarcía-dory  marcoslutyens  knowledge  future  futurism  human-animalrelations  human-animalrelationships  worldbuilding  being  feeling  seeing  constructivism  richarddawkins  theselfishgene 
march 2015 by robertogreco
There is no Such Thing as Invention — I.M.H.O. — Medium
"I remember the very instant that I learned to be creative, to ‘invent’ things, to do things in an interesting and unusual way, and it happened by accident, literally.

I created mess around myself, the kind of chaos that would be very dangerous in an operating theater but which is synonymous with artists’ studios, and in that mess I edited the accidents. By increasing the amount of mess I had freed things up and increased the possibilities, I had maximised the adjacent possible and was able to create the appearance of inventing new things by editing the mistakes which appeared novel and interesting.

[photo with caption "Francis Bacon’s studio did not look like a clinical laboratory.']

If you really think about it, there is no other way. Whether this mess in internal in our brains, or external in our environment, we can only select things that are possible, invention is merely when the possible is new. Real invention, out of nowhere, not selecting from the possible, is impossible, by definition."

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davidgalbraith  creativity  invention  messiness  adjacentpossible  2013  francisbacon  howwework  reynerbanham  alanturing  claudeshannon  jazz  harlem  richarddawkins  theselfishgene  stuartkauffman  naturalselection  siliconvalley  freedom  autonomy  burningman  openstudioproject  lcproject  environment  innovation  critical-messtheory  criticalmesses 
june 2013 by robertogreco

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