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The Concept of Beastliness: Philosophy, Ethics and Animal Behaviour

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 February 2009

Mary Midgley
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
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Every age has its pet contradictions. Thirty years ago, we used to accept Marx and Freud together, and then wonder, like the chameleon on the tartan, why life was so confusing. Today there is similar trouble over the question whether there is, or is not, something called Human Nature. On the one hand, there has been an explosion of animal behaviour studies, and comparisons between animals and men have become immensely popular. People use evidence from animals to decide whether man is naturally aggressive, or naturally territorial; even whether he has an Aggressive or Territorial Instinct. On the other hand, many sociologists and psychologists still seem to hold the Behaviourist view that man is a creature entirely without instincts, and so do existentialist philosophers. If so, all comparison with animals must be irrelevant. (To save space, I have had to simplify both these party lines here, but if anyone thinks I am oversimplifying the behaviourist one, I can only ask him to keep on reading New Society). On that view, man is entirely the product of his culture. He starts off infinitely plastic, and is formed completely by the society in which he grows up.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1973


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