Mary Midgley (1919-2018) (updated)

Mary Midgley, a well-known British moral philosopher, has died at age 99.

Professor Midgley studied philosophy and classics at Oxford, worked in the British civil service during World War II, returned to Oxford for graduate study in 1947, taught at University of Reading for several terms, and eventually took up an appointment at Newcastle University, where she taught from 1962-1980. She never received a doctorate in philosophy; as she explained, “I ended up unqualified—and grateful for it.”

Midgley wrote her first philosophy book at age 59. She is known for her writings on ethics, animals, the environment, scientism, and the nature of philosophy. Her last book, What is Philosophy For?, was just published last month.

Midgley was one of number of prominent 20th Century British women philosophers who studied at Oxford together in the 1940s who, she says, “were all more interested in understanding this deeply puzzling world than in putting each other down” and who “in our various ways, all came to think out alternatives to the brash, unreal style of philosophising—based essentially on logical positivism—that was current at the time.”

In 2007 she published her memoir, Owl of Minerva.

(This post will be updated with links to obituaries elsewhere. If you see any, please share them in the comments or  email them to me. Thank you.)

UPDATE: Obituaries elsewhere:

  • “Mary was at her best when engaged in her determined efforts to expose and combat various efforts to ‘narrow’ our visions and imagination.” —  Ian James Kidd, in a beautiful and detailed obituary that first appeared at SWIP-UK and is now available here.
  • “She will be remembered and missed by many as an unfailing source of challenging ideas and generous friendship.” — Jane Heal at The Guardian.
  • “An accessible, persistent and sometimes witty critic of the view that modern science should be the sole arbiter of reality.” — John Motyka at The New York Times.
  • “We should accept that we must understand ourselves and the world from many different perspectives, which make it impossible to reduce moral questions to one simple synthesis.” — at The Telegraph. (via Andrew Gray)
  • A philosopher who turned “again and again to the human scene, our shared forms of life, our human nature, and our capacities to create myth, image and narrative” — Rachael Wiseman and Clare Mac Cumhaill at IAI News.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please enter an e-mail address