cover image Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life

Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life

Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman. Doubleday, $32.50 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-54570-9

This edifying debut by philosophy professors Cam Cumhaill and Wiseman tells the stories of four female philosophy pioneers: Mary Midgley, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, and Iris Murdoch. Through interviews with Midgley and “fragments from letters, journals, photos, conversations, notebooks, reminiscences and postcards,” the authors detail how these women broke into the male-dominated field of philosophy, beginning with the quartet’s time together as Oxford students during WWII and following their intellectual trajectories over the ensuing decades. Biographical anecdotes illuminate how these philosophers connected “seemingly abstract and esoteric enquiries with... urgent and real ethical, practical and spiritual questions,” including, for example, how Nazi atrocities convinced Midgley to pursue moral philosophy at a time when linguistics dominated the field, and how Harry S. Truman’s responsibility for civilian deaths at Hiroshima and Nagasaki spurred Anscombe to protest Oxford awarding him an honorary degree. Though the prose can be dense, the research is thorough and provides a cogent counternarrative to traditional male-centric histories of mid–20th-century philosophy. These four philosophers might not appear on standard syllabi, but this detailed chronicle makes a persuasive case that they should. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (May)