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M Midgley. Routledge, 2001, £19.99 (hc), £8.99 (pb), 230 pp. 0415237327
This is a book about personal identity, about who and what we are. It is about the unity of our lives.
In other words, the book is about a project many of us have entertained, in academic philosophy and elsewhere. We know, however, that there are serious obstacles to the successful realisation of the project. Far too often we raise dust by the methods of our thinking, and then complain that we cannot see. Then we are guided by visions that are inappropriate to the study we are engaged in.
One important vision or imaginative habit is atomism. It works well in natural sciences—for example, in physics and molecular genetics. Physical atomism is not a theory of physics; it is more like a presupposition concerning the ways in which theories of physics should be formed in order to make sense.
When atomism is transferred to the social sciences, individualism results. In cultural studies atomism appears as the presupposition of “memes”—that is, a cultural …