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Category: Mary Midgley

The buck stops everywhere

“Humanists who do not believe in God or a future life have been in a stronger position to insist on the urgency of making things better at once, in this one. If this is the only life that anybody has, then the fact that many people must spend it in such misery becomes more obviously and inexcusably scandalous. Salvation is needed now; it can’t be put off to some vaguely planned future state.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation


What are the assumptions underlying your assumptions?

“Any conclusions that specialists may draw about the relation of physical discoveries to life come from the whole of life, not just from physics, and are no stronger than their weakest link. Physics itself, moreover, is no self-contained enclave. Its arguments, like all other arguments, involve philosophical presuppositions, ideas that come from outside it. The questions involved in causal problems about the Big Bang are not internal to physics. They are shaped by crucial metaphysical notions about how causality, necessity, space, time, etc. should in general be conceived. Scientists who deal with these questions are doing metaphysics. They are perfectly entitled to do it and indeed must do it for these large, structural purposes. But whether their metaphysics leads them into religious thinking depends on all sorts of considerations internal to it and quite outside physical science itself. There is no short cut.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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Amassing new opiates

“Among intellectuals, Marxism attracted people who like the heroic because of its emphasis on conflict, and it reassured those among them who might have distrusted its purely emotional appeal by the cragginess of its texts. (At this level, it pays to be unintelligible. Ex-party members who have had to study the works, not just of Marx, Engels and Lenin but also of Stalin, can still testify to the stiffness of the ordeal.) For a time, this body of theory seemed to many thinkers to open an intellectual new Jerusalem, not just because it promised a millennium gained by conflict, but because it seemed to back this promise with a scientific status. It seemed like a means of extending the reliability of science over the whole area of practical thinking—a way of spreading it that would be free from doubtful value-judgments, since the theory was impartial, non-sectarian, essentially scientific. The modesty of science was to be combined with the constructive achievement of a new and central moral insight.  This hope appealed to the architectonic intelligence in many bright scientists. It satisfied that urge towards a general, comprehensive understanding which had brought them into science in the first place. It balanced the fragmentation of their specialized studies, allowing them to relate scientific aims to a wider humanitarian idealism. This was not a trifling gain; it was not a luxury. If we find no new way of making that relation—if nothing better now replaces Marxism—the loss will be serious. We are not in a position just to dance on the grave of Marx. We need to learn from his failures.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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Or if you are so scared you spy on them

“Though it is possible to be too trusting, someone who systematically distrusts people rather than trusting them does not strike us as an admirable or sensible character. Some degree of social courage—the willingness to risk being hurt in order to get near to people, to risk being misled in order to communicate—is an essential cognitive tool. It is also a necessary virtue, since the things that need doing for people cannot be done if you are too scared to go near them.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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Prospects for rape were daily contrived

“The literature of early modern science is a mine of highly-coloured passages that describe Nature, by no means as a neutral object, but as a seductive but troublesome female, to be unrelentingly pursued, sought out, fought against, chased into her inmost sanctuaries, prevented from escaping, persistently courted, wooed, harried, vexed, tormented, unveiled, unrobed, and ‘put to the question’ (i.e. interrogated under torture), forced to confess ‘all that lay in her most intimate recesses’, her ‘beautiful bosom’ must be laid bare, she must be held down and finally ‘penetrated’, ‘pierced’ and ‘vanquished’ (words which constantly recur).  Now this odd talk does not come just from a few exceptionally uninhibited writers. It has not been invented by modern feminists. It is the common, constant idiom of the age.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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Would you like fries with that?

“If our curiosity is in no way respectful—if we don’t see the objects we speculate about as joined with us and related to us, however distantly, within some vast enclosing common enterprise which gives them their independent importance—then (it appears) our curiosity, though it may remain intense, shrinks, corrupts and becomes just a form of predation. We then respond to these beings we enquire about with some more or less hostile, alienated attitude, something ranging between fear, aggression, callous contempt and violent suppression. We see them either as enemies to be conquered or as brute objects ranged over against us—as aliens, as monsters, as victims, as trivia or as meat to be eaten.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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By the sign of the rod and cave

“Psychological symbols cannot be altered in the brisk way in which one might change a road-sign. They are not, like words, conventional signs, loose pieces arbitrarily nailed to their meanings. Nor are they even fixed items, standing in regularly for a single meaning, as Freud seems to have thought. For him, pen simply meant penis and bag meant womb. Questions scarcely ever arose about what the penis or womb themselves meant.  In our imaginations, however, these questions are extremely important. Such symbols are not simple counters, they are gateways to whole uncharted territories.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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Varying your order

“Order in the world does not consist in a single, simple, basic arrangement of indestructible balls or bricks which give the real explanation of everything. Instead, it is a wide range of much less simple, interconnected patterns. Order as we perceive it at the level of everyday experience is not an illusion. It is not a mask for a quite different order at the microscopic level, and below that for real contingency, for radical disorder among distinct bricks. It is one set among others of these real patterns—subtle, complex, interconnected arrangements. Elementary particles, as much as ponds or people, are inherently unstable, transient, incomplete entities, deeply dependent for their existence on the contexts around them. But that in no way interferes with either their reality or their meaning.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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And just how did that happen?

“Science is important for exactly the same reason that the study of history or of language is important—because we are beings that need in general to understand the world in which we live, and our culture has chosen a way of life to which that understanding is central. All human beings need some kind of mental map to show them the structure of the world. And we in the West have placed particular confidence in mapping it through methodical, detailed study.” – Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

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