The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics (Hardback)
  • The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics (Hardback)
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The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics (Hardback)

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Hardback 344 Pages / Published: 01/11/2021
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The story of four remarkable women who shaped the intellectual history of the 20th century: Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch. On the cusp of the Second World War, four women went to Oxford to begin their studies: a fiercely brilliant Catholic convert; a daughter of privilege longing to escape her stifling upbringing; an ardent Communist and aspiring novelist with a list of would-be lovers as long as her arm; and a quiet, messy lover of newts and mice who would become a great public intellectual of our time. They became lifelong friends. At the time, only a handful of women had ever made lives in philosophy. But when Oxford's men were drafted in the war, everything changed. As Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch labored to make a place for themselves in a male-dominated world, as they made friendships and families, and as they drifted toward and away from each other, they never stopped insisting that some lives are better than others. They argued that courage and discernment and justice-and love-are the heart of a good life. This book presents the first sustained engagement with these women's contributions: with the critique and the alternative they framed. Drawing on a cluster of recently opened archives and extensive correspondence and interviews with those who knew them best, Benjamin Lipscomb traces the lives and ideas of four friends who gave us a better way to think about ethics, and ourselves.

Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
ISBN: 9780197541074
Number of pages: 344
Weight: 510 g
Dimensions: 216 x 148 x 32 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
[a] rich mixture of biography and philosophy... [Lipscomb] skilfully conveys how scientistic philosophers plunged ethics into the subjectivity and delusoriness they sought to avoid, and how four female philosophers helped steer it towards a more human, socially objective realism. * Jane O'Grady, The Daily Telegraph *
Revelatory * Prospect, Books of the Year 2021 *
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.It is also a delightful story of love, friendship and eccentricity. * Cathy Mason, Literary Review *
[Lipscomb] has produced a superior work of personal and intellectual history, sensitive and finely written. * Thomas Nagel, London Review of Books *
Benjamin Lipscomb's new group biography, The Women Are Up to Something, is a fascinating exploration of their life and thought... Lipscomb paints a vivid portrait not only of them as people, but also a moment in British philosophy too often told through the male line... Lipscomb's book succeeds wonderfully in presenting a particular era in philosophy, and the huge influence of, in particular, Anscombe and Foot in the field of ethics... Lipscomb is not only a powerful advocate for these thinkers, but he also tells their story with a combination of thoroughness and humour. His evocation of their cultural milieu, and the way each of them grappled with their ideas as well as with their world, is both adept and entertaining. * Peter Salmon, Prospect *
What Lipscomb's book does well is to paint a vivid and touching picture of the friendships between these four women, as they evolved through their lives. * Kate Manne, Times Literary Supplement *
Professor Lipscomb's ingenious method is to construct a multiple intellectual biography... The intertwined lives of these four, very remarkable women - the sheer intensity of their intellectual quests and of their emotional attachments, their contrasting characters and differing approaches to philosophy, their unifying mission to rescue ethics from the barren plateaus upon which it had been stranded by logical positivism and existentialism - all of this, Lipscomb brings to life in a virtuoso performance of its own, combining clear exposition of often complicated philosophical positions with an emotionally intelligent and highly readable example of the biographer's art. * Oliver Letwin, The Tablet *
Lipscomb draws from an impressive collection of sources to give us an insight into the lives, characters, and work of these four brilliant women, both showing how their ideas developed through their life experiences, and painting a very vivid picture of Oxford philosophy in the first half of the past century... highly recommended. The narrative is captivating and easily accessible to the general reader... thought-provoking and absorbing... an important contribution to the increasing number of books that aim to unearth the neglected contributions of women to philosophy. * Elly Vintiadis, The Philosopher *
[A] refreshing group biography... Lipscomb keeps things centered on [the] friendship, making powerful use of newly opened archives and the philosophers' unpublished correspondence, as when he brings Oxford to life using Murdoch's letters to friends. This credible corrective couldn't have arrived at a better time. * Publishers Weekly *
A welcome corrective to a narrative that centers men at the heart of post-war Oxford philosophy...fascinating and important...The biographical aspect of Lipscomb's book is excellent...These stories are interesting for their own sake, but also heartening for women who suffer still today from such feelings and problems. * Sheryl Misak, Philosopher's Magazine *
enthralling highly readable Lipscomb has cast his net very wide in his research and managed to interview or correspond with a huge number of people with relevant memories, some of them alas no longer with us. The resulting slice of intellectual history, with its lively and sympathetic portraits of these path-breaking women, fully bears out the back-cover blurb from Anthony Kenny, who confirms the authenticity of the books background and praises it as compulsively readable. Other readers, even those without a background in philosophy, will surely agree. * Lesley Brown, Oxford Magazine *
The story is fascinating. The Women Are Up to Something is certainly well worth reading. * Barbara Mujica , Washington Independent Review of Books *
Benjamin Lipscomb paints in vivid colours the encounter and long-lasting friendship between Elisabeth Anscombe, Philipa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch. * Marie Daouda, Engelsberg Ideas *
In showing us some of the virtues that make possible cooperation across difference, Lipscombs book does a valuable service. If we can learn from it, the quality of public debate and discussionon social media, in publications, and in the academycould be greatly improved. * Peter Blair, FareForward *
The Women Are Up to Something is certainly a good read, and a fine work of intellectual history (and a bit more) that will surely leave many readers wanting to know even more about the women, their work, and 1940s Oxford. * , Complete Review *
Four women, friends from studying at Oxford during and after the second world war, revolutionized the field of moral philosophy. At male-dominated Oxford, live issues of moral philosophy had for long been as unheard as the voices of women philosophers. Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe, Mary Midgley and Iris Murdoch developed their positions in distinct but overlapping ways, fortified by lasting and sustaining friendships. The difference they made brought about the single biggest change in moral philosophy for over a century, replacing arid scholasticism with rich discussions of goodness, virtue, and character. This lively and well-informed book tells us how the intertwined lives of four women philosophers also tell us the story of moral philosophy waking up after a long dogmatic slumber. It's a wonderful story which will keep any reader turning the pages. * Julia Annas, Regents Professor Emerita, Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona *
This is a compulsively readable book about a remarkable quartet of women who kept philosophy alive in Oxford during the second world war, and who gave it a new direction after the postwar return of the men. As a survivor of the main period of this story I can attest to the authenticity of its background, and I relished the vivid portraits of each of the heroines. It is a book which will fascinate not only those with an interest in the history of philosophy, but even more those who welcome women's major contributions to fields traditionally the preserve of men. * Sir Anthony Kenny, Emeritus Fellow, St John's College, University of Oxford *
Four of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century were friends at Oxford during World War II; they were women in a field still dominated by men; and they rebelled against a picture of ethics as the play of subjective attitudes, values to be set against the hard facts of science. Benjamin Lipscomb's book about Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch is absorbing, personal, and intellectually thrilling-at once a vivid recreation of a deep philosophical friendship and a timely defence of objectivity in ethics. I wish I had written it! * Kieran Setiya, Professor of Philosophy, MIT *

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