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The Writing Desk

The lead essay in this issue, “Rings & Books,” is a script prepared for BBC radio in the 1950s by the British philosopher Mary Midgley (1919-2018). Rejected by the editor as a “trivial, irrelevant intrusion of domestic matters into intellectual life,” it was never aired—or published—until now. It comes to us courtesy of the Midgley Estate and the research collaboration (Women) in Parenthesis, whose website displays the original typescript, transcribed by Hazel Tucker, Kings College, London. The original is housed in the Mary and Geoff Midgley Papers special collection at Durham University’s Library Archives.

Midgley belonged to a quartet of women philosophers who are the subject of two recent books: Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life, by the Women in Parenthesis team of Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman (UK: Chatto and Windus, US: Doubleday); and The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics, by Benjamin J.B. Lipscomb (Oxford).

Midgley’s major philosophical publications, beginning with Beast and Man (Routledge 1978), explored human nature as illuminated by animal ethology—a perspective from which “domestic matters,” like this essay, are anything but an “intrusion” into intellectual life. Here Midgley displays profound insight into the presuppositions of modern philosophy, attributing them to the “adolescent” male mindset of bachelor philosophers.

Note that the BBC editor’s objection to Midgley’s essay was not that it’s too esoteric but that it’s too down-to-earth—as if philosophy should not address itself to readers concerned with such mundane matters as bearing and rearing children. We at The Raven—like Midgley, as we understand her—are dedicated to the proposition that philosophy should address itself, whenever possible, to ordinary people interested in exercising their intellects, whether or not they are “intellectuals” in an exclusionary sense of the term.

Mary Midgley in the 1937 matriculation photograph of Somerville College, Oxford