A vibrant portrait of four college friends—Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe, and Mary Midgley—who formed a new philosophical tradition while Oxford's men were away fighting World War II.
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.
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.