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15 Nov

World Philosophy Day: Francis Hutcheson, Iris Murdoch and the Good Place

Welcome! Everything is fine.

In his post on Virtual Philosopher for World Philosophy Day, Nigel Warburton says, “We are living in a Golden Age for public philosophy, philosophy presented to a general audience rather than a specialised academic one”1. The post includes numerous examples, but omits one which arguably demonstrates this most clearly: the first mainstream television series in which philosophy is front and centre, The Good Place.

The focus of The Good Place is ethics. It is a show where not just the ideas, but the physical books from courses in ethics make an appearance. One of the main characters is even a moral philosopher. Naturally, Consequentialism, Deontology and Virtue Ethics make an appearance, but I’m going to look at one ethical philosophy that does not feature: that of Francis Hutcheson.

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15 Jan

Iris Murdoch on the unity of the virtues

[M]oral advance carries with it intuitions of unity which are increasingly less misleading. Courage, which seemed at first to be something on its own, a sort of specialised daring of spirit, is now seen to be a particular operation of wisdom and love.[…] ​Freedom, we find out, is not an inconsequential chucking of one’s weight about, it is the disciplined overcoming of self. Humility is not a peculiar habit of self-effacement, rather like having an inaudible voice, it is self-less respect for reality and one of the most difficult and central of all virtues.

Iris Murdoch (1970/2013) The Sovereignty of Good, Routledge, p. 93.

15 Jul

Reading the Rising: The Red and the Green

An open book bearing Iris Murdoch's image.

Detail of Hughie O’Donoghue’s artwork “Red Books” (2013), John Paul II Library at Maynooth University

Iris Murdoch wrote only one historical novel, The Red and the Green1. It follows the events leading up to the 1916 Rising as they affect an Anglo-Irish extended family “in a complex story story of misunderstandings, failures of perception, and ultimate self-discovery” 2.

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23 Apr

Shakespeare, aesthetics and morality

So let us start by saying that Shakespeare is the greatest of all artists, and let our aesthetic grow to be the philosophical justification of this judgement. We may note that a similar method can, and in my view should, be used in moral philosophy. That is, if a moral philosophy does not give a satisfactory or sufficiently rich account of what we unphilosophically know to be goodness, then away with it.

Iris Murdoch (1959) “The Sublime and the Good”, Chicago Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 42-55. Quote from p. 42.

For the fourth centenary of  Shakespeare’s death, Iris Murdoch’s judgement of him as the greatest artist of all. Murdoch argues against Tolstoy that both aesthetics and morality have to start from the concrete, not from definitions which determine what is art, or what is good.

08 Feb

Being a woman

I think being a woman is like being Irish... Everyone says you're important and nice, but you take second place all the same - Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch (2008/1965) “The Red and the Green”, Random House, p. 36.

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17 Dec

Philosophy’s Two-Way Movement

There is a two-way movement in philosophy, a movement towards the building of elaborate theories, and a move back again towards the consideration of simple and obvious facts. McTaggart says that time is unreal. Moore replies that he has just had his breakfast. Both these aspects of philosophy are necessary to it.

Iris Murdoch, “The Idea of Perfection”, in The Sovereignty of Good (Routledge Classics, p. 1)

03 Feb

Iris Murdoch on Philosophy and Literature

Byran Magee discusses the areas in which philosophy and literature overlap with Iris Murdoch.

“Style and structure in philosophical writing are compared and contrasted with those in literature. The narrative abilities of Plato, Schopenhauer, and Kant are examined. Philosophy’s predilection for accepting only literature that supports its theories is discussed as a source of antagonism between the two disciplines.”

Many more of Magee’s interviews with contemporary philosophers are available here.

21 Aug

‘Archives and afterlife’ – The 7th Annual Iris Murdoch Conference, 12th-13th September

Celebrating ten years since the opening of the Iris Murdoch Archives and the inauguration of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies, the Seventh International Conference on Iris Murdoch will showcase published and on-going research that has been informed by material in our archives.

Venue: John Galsworthy building, Penrhyn Road campus, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE

Price: £65-£150

Click here for more information and to book.

15 Jul

Happiness and Self

Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. To be damned is for one’s ordinary everyday mode of consciousness to be unremitting agonising preoccupation with self.

Iris Murdoch, The Nice and the Good, (1968), chapter 22.

02 Jun

The (Moral) Persuasiveness of Narrative

For Murdoch, the most crucial moral virtue was a kind of attentiveness to detail, a wise, trained capacity for vision, which could see what was really going on in a situation and respond accordingly. The sort of psychological insight and attentiveness to detail necessary for writing fiction was also, for Murdoch, what enables a person to live a morally good life. ‘It is obvious here,’ she wrote, ‘what is the role, for the artist or spectator, of exactness and good vision:
unsentimental, detached, unselfish, objective attention.
It is also clear that in moral situations a similar exactness is called for.’

For Murdoch, what so often keeps us from acting morally is not that we fail to follow the moral rules that tell us how to act; rather, it is that we misunderstand the situation before us.[…] As [Jonathan] Dancy once described it, to give one’s justifications for responding in a certain way
‘is just to lay out how one sees the situation…The persuasiveness here is the persuasiveness of narrative: an internal coherence in the account which compels assent. We succeed in our aim when our story sounds right.’
Murdoch the novelist would have approved.

From Godless yet good, a piece on secular ethics by Troy Jollimore in Aeon Magazine.