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  • Published: 1 February 2022
  • ISBN: 9781784743291
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $35.00

Metaphysical Animals

How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life




'A wonderful, important and also a necessary book, which sets the records straight... and celebrates a remarkable quartet of women thinkers' Peter Conradi

'In philosophy, one must start from scratch - & it takes a very long time to reach scratch'

Iris Murdoch, Mary Midgley, Philippa Foot and Elizabeth Anscombe were philosophy students at Oxford during the Second World War when most male undergraduates (and many tutors) were conscripted. Taught by refugee scholars, women and conscientious objectors, the four friends developed a philosophy that could respond to the war's darkest revelations.

When images of the concentration camps emerged, Foot wrote: 'We had thought something like this could not happen.' And when the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima, Anscombe saw a terrifying new possibility: by signing his name at the foot of an order, US President Harry Truman had been able to act on so vast a scale as to end the war by killing hundreds of thousands. How, they asked, do we find our way through the darkness of what we have created? Not even the great thinkers of the past or the logical innovators and Existentialists of the early twentieth century could make sense of this new human reality. So, in search of an answer, the four friends set out to bring philosophy back to life.

What is freedom? What is real? What is human goodness? As creatures who use language - as human animals - it is in our nature to ask these questions. We are metaphysical animals. And the answers we give shape what we will become.

Written with expertise and flair, Metaphysical Animals is a vivid blend of philosophy and recovered history - bringing back the women who shared ideas, as well as sofas, shoes and even lovers. Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman show how from the disorder and despair of the war, four brilliant friends brought philosophy back to life and created a way of ethical thinking that is there for us today.

  • Published: 1 February 2022
  • ISBN: 9781784743291
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $35.00

Praise for Metaphysical Animals

Joyful... These four are enlivening companions... four glorious heroines, confident and curious, focused on the world and not on themselves

Spectator

Irresistible... Highly evocative... Bring[s] to life an important episode in intellectual history, and [has] made me again grateful that I was for a time a contemporary of these unforgettable women

Thomas Nagel, London Review of Books

Lively ... This fascinating work of historico-logico-feminism shows... 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

John Walsh, Sunday Times

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... To read this story is to be reminded...that the life of the mind can be as intense and eventful as friendship itself

Anil Gomes, Guardian

Lively and enlightening... the four heroines of this book were untimely... Metaphysical Animals is a portrait in intellectual courage

Jonathan Derbyshire, Financial Times

Terrific... A joyous story of four clever young women making their way in the world... A group biography that is both gossipy and gripping but also, like the women themselves, profoundly serious. A triumph

Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday

A very entertaining read that manages to turn dry, intellectual gymnastics into a high-stakes spectator sport

Irish Times

Tell[s] a wonderful story of four brilliant women whose audaciously unfashionable thought (as well as their attentive teaching and mentorship) has changed the face of the discipline... A delightful story of love, friendship and eccentricity

Cathy Mason, Literary Review

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