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Wickedness (Routledge Classics) 2nd Edition

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0415253987
ISBN-10: 0415253985
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Editorial Reviews

Review

' I have now read the book twice, not because it is difficult (on the contrary it reads with the ease and elegance of Bertrand Russell), but because it is so stimulating.' - Brian Masters, The Spectator

About the Author

Mary Midgley (1919-), a philosopher with a special interest in ethics, human nature and science, has a widespread international following for her work. Other publications include The Ethical Primate, Science as Salvation, Utopias, Dolphins and Computers and, most recently, Science and Poetry
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Product Details

  • Series: Routledge Classics
  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (June 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415253985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415253987
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #967,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on July 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Who's Mary Midgley?"
"She's a moral philosopher."
"Isn't moral philosophy dead?"
"Obviously you've not read the book yet."
In my unhumble opinion, Mary Midgley has done us a great service by being one of the few to write great books on moral philosophy (others include Philippa Foote, Alistaire McIntyre and Owen Flanagan).
Actually, this book couldn't have come at a better time. Ever since the "war on terror" - as with most morally difficult times - we are quick to condemn bad acts, using the word evil not so much as a label but as a dismissal. Rarely do we a.) face up to the fact that evil tendencies seem inherent and b.) after having done that, be honest enough with ourselves to introspect on what exactly evil "is".
MIdgley is an astute introspecter and goes through many arguments that she disagrees with and gives us just as many that she finds satisfying. First, and this is the subtracted star, though, she tells us that our examination of evil as a positive trait (as opposed to the abscence of one) is misguided. The first chapter is spend by in large walking us through why she feels it easier to examine evil as more a degree of abscence of goodness, than as a positive trait unto itself. This I find entirely unconvincing. Not that I think it is a positive trait, just that I'm not sure why it is either. Introspection doesn't seem to tell us.
What is entirely welcome - and this accounts for the four stars - is that her discussion never strays from discussing evil as a natural part of us, rather than dismissing it as either something that we learn via a blank slate effect, or something that only some of us really have. Yes, we've come a long way from Rousseau's natural man and Locke's tabula rasa.
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Format: Paperback
Religious thought, and especially the formalizing aspects of theology, can have the effect of what I call “theologizing the natural.” When you theologize the natural, you take a perfectly earthly, human, natural occurrence or state and you attribute it to a higher power or function. This is what has essentially been done with the problem of human evil, or as Midgley calls it to avoid these overtly theological implications, “wickedness.” Instead of looking at the motivations for human behavior, we look for causes of “sin,” or transgressions against the will of God (note the religiously loaded language). Midgley thinks morality and wickedness are human phenomena. One of the strongest things this book has going for it is that it fights again this theologizing, and looks at human behavior for what it is.

One of points Midgley drives home from the very beginning is that we need to stop seeing wickedness in a Manichean way, as the opposite of goodness. Rather, it needs to be envisioned as a lack of certain capacities: we need “to think of wickedness not primarily as a positive, definite tendency like aggression, whose intrusion into human life needs a special explanation, but rather as negative, as a general kind of failure to live as we are capable of living.” For emphasis, and she does emphasize this point, she wants to see evil not as something that is present, but rather something that is absent: a “general denial and rejection of positive capacities” (p. 16).

She’s just as interested in combating the idea of moral skepticism, that is to say the idea that moral problems as such might not even exist, or if they did exist, that they would not have solutions.
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I read this book in a class for school called "The Philosophy of Evil". The book, as I recall, was a historical account of wickedness, what consitutes it and how it difffers from humans and animals. The book was well crafted and created an anchor for the class as we also read Ayan Rand, LaVey and Dawkins, the book "Dark Nature", among other. I suggest the book for those interested in studying the less than pleasent aspects of human nature.
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