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Midgley, Mary. The Concept of Beastliness: Philosophy, Ethics and Animal Behaviour
1973, Philosophy 48 (184):111-135
Added by: Anne-Marie McCallion

Introduction: 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. 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.

Comment: This text offers a relatively accessible and vibrant discussion of the concept of human nature as well as what can be learned philosophically about humanity by examining it in relation to the surrounding environment. It would be suitable for political theory classes – especially in relation to discussions on the State of Nature, Animal Ethics or Environmental ethics. Background knowledge of existing theories on human nature would be helpful though are not necessary in order to access the text.

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