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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new favorite I will read again and again.
Mary Midgley, one of Britian's most cherished moral philosophers, wrote "Beast and Man" at age 50. At a time where behaviorism and existentialism told the world that there was no such thing as instinct or human nature, Midgley took pen to paper after raising three kids and in observing them, realized how wrong that notion was. Kids have instincts, natures. What's more,...
Published on June 14, 2003 by Kevin Currie-Knight

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2.0 out of 5 stars Dead wrong about science and natural selection, but with many valuable insights
Midgley had a complete draft of this book written when Edward Wilson's Sociobiology was dropped on her desk by her editor and she was told to revise the draft to address that seminal work. It would be interesting to read that original draft. Much of what is valuable in Beast and Man is in response to Sociobiology, but everything wrong with Beast and Man also stems from...
Published 21 days ago by Curtis


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new favorite I will read again and again., June 14, 2003
Mary Midgley, one of Britian's most cherished moral philosophers, wrote "Beast and Man" at age 50. At a time where behaviorism and existentialism told the world that there was no such thing as instinct or human nature, Midgley took pen to paper after raising three kids and in observing them, realized how wrong that notion was. Kids have instincts, natures. What's more, these natures are not so far off from what we know of animals natures.
Now before I give the impression that Midgley's book is another sociobiology book in disguise, it is the farthest thing from it. The first thing Midgley does is to make it clear that phrases like "Man is JUST (substitute "merely", "only" or "simply") an animmal are not only unfair to animals, they are unfair to humans. Sociobiology even sadomasochistically revels in depressions like this. (after all, aren't we 'only' the 'third chimpanzee'?) Usually, the mistake made is to thihk that animals are 'humans that just haven't gotten there yet' or that humans are 'dressed up brutes that play at ratiionality'. Midgley spends many pages on tackling both of these assumptions, as tacit as they sometimes are.
From there, she tackles things like what it means to say 'instinct', why 'reductionism' doesn't explain much of anything, and intertwining them all with examples of why the 'lower animals' and humans have so much in common yet are so incredibly different.
In short, this book is not to be missed. It is informative, provocative, challenging and all the while written in a crisp and sensitive prose. Never has it felt so good to be called an animal.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whats the difference between man and animal?, August 11, 2002
By 
"repeatonceagain" (Dexter, MI United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Beast and Man (Paperback)
After reading this book, you may decide that the similarities between man and beast are more important than the differences. Mary Midgley discusses many types of animals and how they compare to humans. Are you sure you are attracted to a certain behaviour because of something only inside yourself, or is it because you are moving as part of a flock similar to how birds do? When you learn something, is it because of your own experience or are you mimicking a leader like a rat does? How much better is the human race, in terms of love and compassion, compared to animals such as elephants? The exploration of these and many other questions might stun you.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Dead wrong about science and natural selection, but with many valuable insights, June 21, 2014
Midgley had a complete draft of this book written when Edward Wilson's Sociobiology was dropped on her desk by her editor and she was told to revise the draft to address that seminal work. It would be interesting to read that original draft. Much of what is valuable in Beast and Man is in response to Sociobiology, but everything wrong with Beast and Man also stems from her attempt to critique work she never fully grasped.

Midgley provides valuable insights into why we both align ourselves with nature and distance ourselves from it, and how we do ourselves and the animals a disservice in the process. Midgley makes compelling arguments for including motivations within the science of human and animal behavior. She also provides much needed clarity on the difference between biological selfishness and 'egoism'. The later chapters are particularly strong--discussing what rationality is, how rationality and instinct (or unconscious bias) can coexist, and how culture is a product of evolution, not an alternative to it.

Meanwhile, Midgley does not understand science or want to. She sets holism against reductionism in a tired fashion. Her definition of science is wholly self-serving and useless.

Worse for the book, she also fails to grasp the 'selfish gene' view of natural selection and evolution, which underlies the sociobiology she is criticizing. She does not understand that it is not generally 'survival of the group' that matters; she does not grasp the technical sense in which 'altruism' is used in biology with no connotations of intentions. She misconstrues the biological shorthand ("genes want...", "genes engineer...") and fails to understand how the end result of natural selection are 'designs' that do indeed provide for the survival and propagation of genes despite their being merely "little bits of complex goo". While there is much worth reading here, and many valuable cautions and caveats are offered to Sociobiology, Midgley is not equipped to 'correct' a theory she does not comprehend.
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Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature (Routledge Classics)
Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature (Routledge Classics) by Mary Midgley (Hardcover - November 15, 2002)
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