The Myths We Live By by Mary Midgley
Bob Sharpe applauds Mary Midgley’s exposé of some modern myths.
Mary Midgley’s latest book, a set of nearly thirty brief inter-related essays, might have been called more aptly The Myths We Die By such are the dangers of some of the errors she tackles. By ‘myth’ she means an imaginative pattern, rather than a fable or a lie. Sometimes what she describes are pervasive metaphors, such as seeing society as composed of atoms (individuals who contract together to form the societies in which they live), or such as regarding nature as a machine or humankind as machines. Other cases reflect dubious values, for example the overweening privileging of natural science, which gives rise to the plans for cloning and genetic engineering, to the scandal of BSE and, more generally, to reductive programmes such as the replacement of ‘folk psychology’ by pukka neuro-science. So ‘myth’ is something of a catch-all conception.