Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature

Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature

Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature

Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature

Synopsis

Philosophers have traditionally concentrated on the qualities that make human beings different from other species. In Beast and Man Mary Midgley, one of our foremost intellectuals, stresses continuities. What makes people tick? Largely, she asserts, the same things as animals. She tells us humans are rather more like other animals than we previously allowed ourselves to believe, and reminds us just how primitive we are in comparison to the sophistication of many animals. A veritable classic for our age, Beast and Man has helped change the way we think about ourselves and the world in which we live.

Excerpt

Is it worthwhile trying to build bridges across disputes and constantly getting shot at from both sides? That has been my occupation since 1978, when Beast and Man first came out. I have to admit that it hasn't transformed the world. Polarized, tribal debating is a very deep human habit, highly resistant to efforts at reconciliation. Stephen Jay Gould has said (resignedly) that, since feuding goes so deep, one might as well drop the notion of bridge-building altogether, and simply try to balance things by plumping for the less disastrous of the two extremes that are contending in any given debate.

He has a point. Yet, even during the most ferocious feuds, some people do actually want to resolve the issues as well. When controversy has raged for a while and has sent both sides into absurdly extreme positions, fatigue and disillusion sometimes make attempts at reconciliation seem downright welcome. This is what happened during the 1960s and 1970s in the dispute about whether there was, or was not, something called Human Nature.

Both the positions that were being most loudly offered had grown increasingly fantastic and hard to swallow. On the one hand-roughly speaking, the left hand-social scientists were still insisting that human nature did not exist at all. Human beings were pure products of their

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