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Science and Poetry (Routledge Classics) Paperback – January 24, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0415378482 ISBN-10: 0415378486 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Series: Routledge Classics
  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (January 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415378486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415378482
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,754,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


‘A fiercely combative philosopher … our foremost scourge of scientific pretension.’ – The Guardian

About the Author

Mary Midgley is a popular moral philosopher and has been described by The Guardian as "the foremost scourge of scientific pretension in this country." She has recently completed her autobiography, The Owl of Minerva (Routledge, 2005).

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "pererro" on February 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Mary Midgley's book is mainly a critique of the relevance of atomism, that great legacy of the enlightenment that made us individuals and claimed that every aspect of the world could be reduced to collections of minute, interacting but passive particles. For her, like every viewpoint, this one perspective is built from its own very particular imagery, but while it produced great breakthroughs in some areas, it can't possibly describe all of the phenomena we perceive today. It has left us dangerously ill prepared to deal with the environmental and moral challenges we face three centuries after it first gained acceptance. A universal framework designed in the midst of religious oppression was bound to favor individual, self-contained, competing entities but how can it address the complexity we face in today's environmentally challenged, interrelated world?
Midgley believes that different domains require distinct analytical frameworks and that atomism with its need for clearly quantifiable elemental particles is just one approach. It is not, for example, despite the valiant attempts of some, applicable to the consideration of culture or the study of history.
Furthermore, by ignoring subjectivity all together, this singular viewpoint leaves no satisfactory place for consciousness or life in general, ideas that we all live by no matter how objective our beliefs. We are not passive automatons, self-contained slaves in an all-determining environment. Despite the now little believed notions of behaviorists, we're alive, distinct from any constituent atoms within us, part of a living earth and active participants in our own lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones on August 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
The very title of this book suggests some attempt at unification of C.P. Snow's Two Cultures.
Indeed, the whole essence of moral philosopher Mary Midgley's argument is a defence of holism, largely through a via negativa - presenting a critique of the attitudes and statements with which she disagrees. Thus, she is critical of Margaret Thatcher's infamous statement that there is no such thing as a society, of Cartesian dualism, which very largely still holds sway today within much of science, and of Richard Dawkins' statement that `Science is the only way we know to understand the real world' - concepts from the three disparate areas of sociology, philosophy and science for which Midgley is keen to provide connecting threads.

The idea that materialism or physicalism represents the essence of the world may provide a practical basis for scientists to investigate the workings of nature, but there are many other strands that make up human experience and thereby contribute to our interaction with one another and with the world. It is degrading to the nobility of the human mind to suggest that consciousness is a mere chance and incidental outcome of the collaboration of `selfish genes': `a world without subjects is even less conceivable than a world without objects.' But I don't get the sense of criticism of the whole theory evolution from this book that reviewer Jill Shepherd obviously does; however, I endorse her and Midgley's view that we need to be less anthropocentric and individualistic. I don't think Midgley is anti-science, only anti-scientism, like Bryan Appleyard (see my review).
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dev on April 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Chief purpose of science is to explain things, make the world less of a black box. But should science be the only way to do this explanation? Should it also be the way we explain such non-physical entities as culture? Is art just an escapism from "cosmic hostility" and from Dawkins' selfish robots, are Shelly's unacknowledged legislators "entertaining self-deception" (John Cornwell: The Limitless Power of Science in _Nature's Imagination_)? What qualifies for science? Is Robert Graves' _Greek Myths_ not scientific, shall it be replaced by Memetics?
How relevant in modern era it is to apply the extreme views (Lucretian atomism, Cartesian dualiaty) that were required to free us from the shackles of religion aeons ago? And are these views applicable to our daily life, life which is not made of atoms, quarks but of love, hate, home, office, pollution...?
These questions are not ones that demand more "research" but ones that are indicative of what Mary calls conceptual emergencies. So when out of these emergencies scientists start claiming omnicompetence and give disturbing picture of human life and of this world, it is time to look at the thinking that governs scientists' (and philospohers') this view, and time to check if it is on the correct path.
This, in short, what Mary's attempt is.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sirin on July 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
From her lair in Newcastle upon Tyne, Mary Midgley has proven to be a redoubtably clear and lucid thinker, and a scourge of philosophical pretension (especially of the scientific determinism kind). She is a self styled philosophical plumber, ripping up the floorboards and investigating the bad smells that emerge from suspect philosophy that just doesn't cut it when applied to the complex world of actual existence.

In this book she takes aim at modern intellectual theories that try and split the material world into merely so many atomic particles. This leads, she contends, to strains of thought such as existentialism and selfish gene theories which underestimate the role that the consciousness plays, human striving, and a holistic interpretation of the place of humanity in nature's great cycle.

Midgely believes the main cause of this is an overemphasis on the sciences invading the spheres of thought which are the natural preserve of the humanities - such as poetry. She defends Keats against Richard Dawkins lament that he was trapped in a primitive romanticism and did not embrace the scientific understanding of the composition of the rainbow. Not so, she says. Imagination, awe, sensation are as real as the physical processes that create the rainbow. As she has said in another context, toothache is as real as a tooth.

I kept thinking of Michel Houellebecq's novel, Atomised, while reading this book. Houellebecq has become the only French author in a generation to find a foreign audience with his bitter alienated stories of deracinated characters who cannot find any pleasure in traditional family ways of living.
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