1st Edition

Owl of Minerva A Memoir

By Mary Midgley Copyright 2005
    232 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    234 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    One of the UK’s foremost living moral philosophers, Mary Midgley recounts her remarkable story in this elegiac and moving account of friendships found and lost, bitter philosophical battles and of a profound love of teaching.

    In spite of her many books and public profile, little is known about Mary’s life. Part of a famous generation of women philosophers that includes Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Warnock and Iris Murdoch, Midgley tells us in vivid and humorous fashion how they cut a swathe through the arid landscape of 1950s British Philosophy, writing and arguing about the grand themes of character, beauty and the meaning of rudeness.

    The mother of three children, her journey is one of a woman who during the 1950s and 1960s was fighting to combine a professional career with raising a family. In startling contrast to many of the academic stars of her generation, we learn that Midgley nearly became a novelist and started writing philosophy only when in her fifties, suggesting that Minerva’s owl really does fly at dusk.

    Charting the highs and lows of philosophy and academia in Britain, this publication sheds light on Mary’s close friends, her moral philosophy and her meetings with major philosophers, including Wittgenstein and Isaiah Berlin.


    Foreword: Light, Darkness and Owls  Part 1: Early Days, 1924-33.  Greenford Rectory  Starting School.  Moving On.  Greenford Growing.  Parental Activities.  Other Scrutton Relatives.  More Relatives: The Hays.  Ladies and Non-Ladies  Part 2: Ancestors.  Thomas Urquhart and the Universal Language.  Early Scruttons.  The Lord Justice  Part 3: At Downe House School, 1932-37.  The Place.  Learning This And That.  Attending to History.  Collingwood: A World Apart  Part 4: At Oxford, 1938-42.  Preparations.  First Impressions.  Marxist Dreams.  Studying the Classics.  A Changing World.  Life in Wartime.  Marxism in Decline.  Starting Greats.  The Philosophical Scene.  What is Empiricism?  Gender Querie.s  What Iris Said  Part 5: Wartime Jobs, 1942-45.  In The Civil Service.  Interlude at Downe.  At Bedford School  Part 6: In Oxford Again, 1945-9.  On Boar’s Hill.  Winter Interlude.  Not Doing the B.Phil.  Part 7: At Reading, 1949-50.  Dialectical Difficulties  Part 8: At Newcastle, 1950 – 2004.  Settling In  Journalistic Ploys.  Newcastle University.  The Philosophy Department.  Writing About Beasts and Other Things.  Family Movements: Geoff’s Activities.  Darker Weather: Survival Strategies


    Mary Midgley (1919-2018) was one of the most renowned moral philosophers of her generation and the author of many books, including Beast and Man, Wickedness and The Myths We Live By. She has taken part in many broadcast events, including The Moral Maze and Woman's Hour.

    'Not only a superbly lively account of being educated in the first half of the twentieth century, but a portrait of one of the most utterly sensible, accessible and humane philosophers of our age.' - Rowan Williams (Archbishop), Times Literary Supplement

    'Her memoir is a warm and reassuring account of the value of civilised life and of the confidence it can provide.' - The Scotsman

    'This memoir contains humour as well as wit and is a joy to read.' - The Tablet

    'A warm and humorous memoir by one of the UKs leading moral philosophers. Many young students sense well enough that in the present darkness, articulate and well-informed understanding of their scientific civilization, its values and politics is necessary. They need their Midgleys.' - Simon Blackburn, The New Scientist

    'Insightful and enjoyable' TPM Online