... the sort of book that treats its readers to an old photo of the Lyons’ tearoom, complete with waitresses in frilled aprons, and to the gossipy revelation that, according to Midgley, Anscombe took offense when Murdoch suggested that people sometimes found Anscombe rude and walked out of the tearoom 'in dignified silence' ... the heart of this book resides in the friendship among the four women and the ways they supported and influenced one another ... The biographical material in Metaphysical Animals is evocative and sparkling, sketching each woman’s character with a novelist’s mastery of detail. The photographs provide a charming sense of intimacy and the texture of everyday midcentury British life, its teacups and cats and ration coupons. What’s less persuasive is the book’s overall thesis that the four friends somehow redirected the course of British philosophy or even that they shared a distinct cause or approach. This never comes into focus ... The four unconventional friends are delightful enough company that their story doesn’t require the How X changed the world overlay often used to pump up the import of popular nonfiction. To impose that theme on their story is to reduce it to one of those 'simple oppositions' that Midgley herself complained about, a form that could never do justice to these four fascinating women.
Invigorating ... The authors don’t try to present their heroines as proxy males; on the contrary they emphasize their femininity ... This fascinating work of historico-logico-feminism shows what led to that moment: how women fought their way on to the world stage of philosophy and turned its spotlight away from an analytical desert on to what was really important — moral clarity, wisdom and truth.
In this terrific book, Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman aruge that it was [Elizabeth] Anscombe, together with Mary Midgley, Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot, who dragged the ancient metaphysicians Aristotle and Plato from their pedestals and made them relevant to a post-war world...Metaphysical Animals follows this charismatic quartet as they plot to overturn the moral relativism of male colleagues such as A.J. Ayer who argue that there is no such thing as good or bad, merely self-interest...The result is a group biography that is both gossipy and gripping but also, like the women themselves, profoundly serious...A triumph.
Metaphysical Animals is both story and argument...The story is a fine one...Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley were students at Oxford during the second world war...They found a world in which many of the men were absent...Those who remained were either too old or too principled to fight...It was a world, as Midgley later put it, where women's voices could be heard...The narrative is of four brilliant women finding their voices, opposing received wisdom, and developing an alternative picture of human beings and their place in the world...The authors are friends as well as philosophers and the book is both product and expression of that friendship...Its story underwrites its argument: that philosophical insight is not conveyed primarily by words on a page but through a life lived well...Readers will have to tolerate a certain amount of reconstruction, and the use of 'perhaps' to mark transitions from one fact to another...But to read this story is to be reminded of the institutional barriers preventing women from studying philosophy, the grit and determination of those who resolve to do it anyway, and the way that life of the mind can be as intense and eventful as friendship itself.
Ms. Mac Cumhaill and Ms. Wiseman, two British lecturers in philosophy, focus on the 20-year period between 1938 and 1958 and provide a more formidable, granular account of the war years and the development of each woman’s ideas. An added bonus is its portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s intense working relationship with Elizabeth Anscombe ... Eschew[s] strict chronological timelines in order to weave together the four women’s stories—and, more challenging, convey their complex philosophical positions ... Although Peter J. Conradi’s 2001 biography remains the best book about Murdoch, Metaphysical Animals effectively traces the arc of her philosophical and artistic development along with her restless lifelong search for connection.
Metaphysical Animals lacks the narrative discipline of Wittgenstein’s Poker, and as a result is a baggier and less clearly defined book ... The four women all committed to establishing themselves as philosophers, and sought to refute Ayer and his ilk. Mac Cumhaill and Wiseman do attempt to explain how they did this, but too often the arguments are lost under a welter of descriptions of daily life in Oxford ... If you want to know what colour of silk cushions and bedspread Foot had in her rooms near Somerville College, then this is the book to read ... But the general reader interested in the subject may wish that it devoted the same care to dealing with philosophical definitions ... Even within its own defined terms, Metaphysical Animals isn’t entirely convincing in making its case. It’s hard to get an objective sense of where these four women stood in terms of influence in the greater scheme of philosophy.
An homage to four women friends whose collegiate lives benefited from the exodus of the generation of British men who traded academic dress for military uniforms during WWII ... Philosophy aficionados will relish the discussion.
A quartet of clever twentieth-century British women who brought the narrowing academic discipline of philosophy back to everyday life might not seem the most riveting subject for the general reader...And indeed, there are times when (even to one who studied the same subjects in the same place) this account feels to blithely abstruse...However, the four women in the spotlight are such strong characters, so disarmingly real, and so searching that their chosen subject comes to seem the only worth arguing about...Linked by friendship as well as well as intellectual ability, sharing flats and sometimes lovers (although destined for sharply contrasting private lives), and driven to ask the same central questions over and over, these women were an example of what can be achieved when good brains join forces and refuse to be shouted down...The authors, Mac Umhaill and Wiseman, were lucky enough to get to know the last survivor of the quartet, Mary Midgley, in her nineties and to hear her first-hand accounts of what she called 'The Golden Age of Female Philosophy'...A measure of the significance of the group—who may have flourished only because of their unique circumstances—is that two biographies have appeared at the same time...The other, published by Oxford University Press, is by American philosopher Benjamin Lipscomb...This one, by two young British female philosophers, is full of passion, colour and insight, as befits their subjects.
This edifying debut by philosophy professors Mac Cumhaill and Wiseman tells the stories of four female philosophy pioneers: Mary Midgley, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Goot, and Iris Murdoch...Through interviews with Midgley and 'fragments from letters, journals, photos, conversations, notebooks, reminiscences and postcard,' 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...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.