Palace Green Library launches Mary Midgely Archives

by Melissa Tutesigensi

The archives of the world-renowned philosopher Mary Midgely have opened at Durham University’s Palace Green Library.

Midgely, who died recently in October 2018 at the age of 99, spent much of her professional career as a lecturer at the University of Newcastle from 1962 and 1980. After a long and successful career in academia, she was awarded honorary doctorates from both Newcastle and Durham University.

Midgely’s connection with Durham is further celebrated by In Parenthesis, a research project run by Dr Clare MacCumhaill of Durham University and Dr Rachael Wiseman of the University of Liverpool.

Its focus is to analyse how wartime (First World War) conditions allowed for ‘The Golden-Age of Female Philosophy’ to come to fruition.

As one of the prominent female philosophers of this time -alongside Iris Murdoch, Mary Anscombe and Phillipa Foot- Midgely is one of the subjects of In Parenthesis’ research. She had been involved with the project as she met with them regularly as well as contributing as an interviewee.

In Parenthesis marked the launch of the Midgley Archive with an event supported by the Royal Institute of Philosophy. It featured distinguished guests such as Professor Jane Heal and Midgely’s son David Midgely as well as archive tours.

Midgely was awarded an honorary doctorate from Durham University in 1995

Professor Anthony O’Hear, president of the Royal Institute of Philosophy has stated,

“Mary Midgley, who sadly died very recently, became an increasingly significant figure in philosophy and in wider public debates over the past few decades.

“The launch of her archive in Durham is a significant moment in the intellectual history of our times, and The Royal Institute of Philosophy is proud to be associated with it.”

Ellie Robson, Philosophy postgraduate student and intern at the In Parenthesis project reflects on ‘the impact Midgely has had on her:

“Personally, Mary Midgley has been of huge inspiration to me. During my time as an undergraduate at Durham University, I spent the most memorable moments of my degree discussing the deep complexities of the moral life with Mary in her house in Newcastle.

She was a formidable and rebellious philosopher, constantly concerned with the next task within contemporary philosophy.”

“Reading Midgley’s vast and prolific writing has shaped the way I approach moral philosophy and indeed the moral life: I understand philosophy to be as much a part of human life as raising our children or falling in love – it is not a privilege for the learned few, but a necessity; philosophy is simply and naturally human.”

“The launch of her archive in Durham is a significant moment in the intellectual history of our times”

In response to the question as to whether the female voice in Philosophy has strengthened in recent years Robson said:

“I like to think so. However, even though over half of philosophy undergraduates are women, only a quarter of university posts are occupied by women.

“I think philosophy is still conceived as a combative and argumentative endeavour, something typically not associated with women. Having said this, I think that the women’s voice has a growing platform within academia more generally.”

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons

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