Books Feed

Wickedness

Wickedness (Routledge Classics)Wickedness by Mary Midgley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have not read Midgley before, but will definitely read more of her work. I appreciate the way she writes, including her wit, but mostly for the clear way it reveals a good, analytical mind at work.

This particular book has many keen and useful insights on human motivations and the way we get ourselves into trouble.

I did think the final chapters failed to drawn to any sort of grand conclusion, but her basic thesis--that we can explain (and therefore address) human wickedness by studying natural human motives--is one I agree with.

View all my reviews

Eluding Responsibility

I was drawn to some of philosopher Mary Midgley's comments on how we neglect our responsibilities in her book Wickedness.

The general recipe for inexcusable acts is neither madness nor a bizarre morality, but a steady refusal to attend both to the consequences of one's actions and to the principles involved.

And this

It seems clear that a great many of the worst acts actually done in the world are committed in the same sort of way in which the battlefields of the First World War were produced--by people who have simply failed to criticize the paths of action lying immediately before them.  Exploiters and oppressors, war-makers, executioners and destroyers of forests do not usually wear distinctive black hats, nor horns and hooves.  The positive motives which move them may not be bad at all; they are often quite decent ones like prudence, loyalty, self-fulfillment and professional conscientiousness.  The appalling element lies in the lack of the other motives which ought to balance these--in particular, of a proper regard for other people and of a proper priority system which would enforce it.  That kind of lack cannot be treated as a mere matter of chance.

Reading that chapter of the book left me musing on Trump as an example of what she was writing about.  Then that was clearer in a later chapter on "Selves and Shadows."

Influential psychopaths and related types, in fact, get their power not from originality, but from a perception of just what unacknowledged motives lie waiting to be exploited, and just what aspects of the world currently provide a suitable patch of darkness on to which they can be projected.

And this

To gain great political power, you must either be a genuinely creative genius, able to communicate new ideas very widely, or you must manage to give a great multitude permission for things which it already wants, but for which nobody else is currently prepared to give that permission.

 


Aggression in Children

An interesting discussion of the role of aggression in children in Mary Midgley's Wickedness.  

We have to consider realistically the part which mild, controlled aggression actually plays in human social life.  As with fear, it is probably best to start here by looking at the beahaviour of small children.  At this simple, primitive end of the spectrum, stimulated attack is a marked and essential part of play.  This is not because children are full of hatred and destruction.  It is because the sense of otherness, the contact with genuinely distinct personalities around them, fascinates them, and it is best conveyed by mild collision.  Laughter and other distancing devices safeguard the proceedings--but the wish to collide, to invade another's world, is a real one.  Without that contact, each child would be isolated.  Each needs the direct physical clash, the practical conviction that others as well as himself are capable both of feeling pain and of returning it.  Surprising though it may be, that interaction lies at the root of sympathy.  The young of other social animals play in the same mildly aggressive way, and derive the same sort of bond-forming effects from it.

Besides play, however, children also need at times more serious clashes.  Real disputes, properly expressed and resolved, seem essential for their emotional unfolding.  In this way they being to get a fuller sense of the independent reality of others.  They find that there is somebody at the other end.  They learn to control their own anger, to understand it and to reason themselves out of it.  A quarrel which is worked through and made up can be profoundly bond-forming.  But they need to feel anger before they can control it and to learn that it can sometimes be justified.  They learn the difference between justified and unjustified anger, and come to accept that justified anger in others can be the consequence of one's own bad conduct.  What they learn is thus not to eliminate anger and attack from their lives, but to use these things rightly.  And in adults, right up to the level of saints and heroes, this is an essential skill.  Mild, occasional anger is a necessary part of all social relations, and serious anger gives us, as I have suggested, a necessary range of responses to evil.  Our linked capacities for fear and anger--for fight and flight--form a positive organ to be used, not a malfunction.  This no more commits us to misusing it than our having feet commits us to kicking people.


Reading Midgley

 "To deny one's shadow is to lose solidity, to become something of a phantom. Self-deception about it may increase our confidence, but it surely threatens our wholeness."

A great quote from Mary Midgley,'s Wickedness.  I've never read Midgley before, but I am enjoying this book.  She has a very acute way of analyzing a topic and a sly but affectionate sense of humor in how she criticizes ideas.

Here is another passage I appreciated:

The keener we are to prevent evil, the more we need to be realistic about the difficulties.  Many cultures have expressed their sense of these difficulties by myths, painting our world as having something radically wrong with it.  In our own culture, this work has been done by the myth of the Fall.  Indignant rejection of this myth in recent times has been due to real misuses of it.  But the consequences of trying to do without any such notion may not have been fully understood.  There really is a deep, pervasive discrepancy between human ideals and human conduct.  In order to deal with this, we need to recognize it, not to deny it.


Novum Organon

The Novum Organon, Or A True Guide To The Interpretation Of NatureThe Novum Organon, Or A True Guide To The Interpretation Of Nature by Francis Bacon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book I on Bacon's Novum Organon is an enjoyable and insightful discussion of induction and the new science that he proposed to replace Aristotle and Medieval approaches to knowledge. I particularly liked his discussion of the "idols of the mind."

Book II was an application of the new method to the scientific ideas of his time, thus not very engaging and something to skim through.

View all my reviews

Ramadan

RamadanRamadan by Hannah Eliot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving in the car with our son when the folks on NPR were discussing Ramadan. Our son said from the backseat, "Ramadan! I have that book." I counted that as parenting success--our son loves his book, is listening to the radio, and is learning interfaith and multicultural appreciation.

We ordered this book after one it its series on Dia de los Muertos was given to our son as a gift. This series is about holidays from around the world. The pictures are pretty and engaging and the text is a helpful introduction for young children.

View all my reviews