In The Ethical Primate, renowned philosopher Mary Midgley tackles important questions about human freedom and morality. Scientists and philosophers have found it difficult to understand how each human being can be both a living part of the natural world and, at the same time, a genuinely free agent. Midgley explores their responses to this seeming paradox and argues that our evolutionary origin, properly understood, explains why human freedom and morality have come about.
Midgley shows that the unrealistic isolation of mind from body in reductive scientific ideologies still causes us confusion. Such ideologies posit a separate human will which exists outside the natural world. But such a crude picture ignores the manifest importance of the higher human faculties and fails to provide room for any realistic notion of the self.
Midgley attempts to make it easier for us to acknowledge an evolutionary origin for our higher faculties. She argues that human morality necessarily arises out of human freedom: we are uniquely free beings in that we are aware of our conflicting motives; those conflicts and our abilities to resolve them are part of our natural inheritance. Though our selves are in many ways divided, we share the difficult project of wholeness with other organisms. The Ethical Primate raises basic and profound questions about what it means to be human and proposes some provocative new answers.
Midgley (Can't We Make Moral Judgments, St. Martin's, 1994) aims at making evolutionary sense of human freedom and our capacity for morality. She analyzes and rejects as "folk psychology" the reductivism that dismisses the concepts with which we normally live. She claims that, because reductivists ignore the first-person view of agency, they cannot understand human freedom, and she therefore proposes a nonreductive pattern of explanation that enables her to bring together objective and subjective points of view. Midgley contends that morality is a response to natural conflicts of motive, emphasizing that we are far more aware than other animals of our own individuality and, unlike them, not only act but recognize the actions of others as actions. Clearly written and well argued, this commonsensical book will be profitable reading for anyone with a serious interest in ethical ideas and their application. Recommended for academic and public libraries.-Robert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY