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28 Jun

No God but The Good

When the great Irish novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch took up the old ontological argument that Anselm and Spinoza wrestled with, she came out not with Anselm’s God the Father, or Spinoza’s Nature, but, simply, Good. For her, “No existing thing could be what we have meant by God”; the God of religions is just a shadow of what beauty points us toward. (“Only an atheist can believe in what is unintended,” a novelist friend once told me.) What are we left with? “The unavoidable nature of morality,” Murdoch says. No matter how we try to avoid them, right and wrong pervade the universe. The Good exists, which is precisely why she believed that God does not.

Quote from 10 Proofs That Will Change How You Think About God, by in the Huffington Post. An excellent summary of ethical and religious beliefs of the only Irish philosopher mentioned (a more technical post on Murdoch’s position is here).

The whole piece is worth a read.

25 May

Theory about Theories

Marcus after the disaster reflects: ‘Would he go on working on his book? Perhaps it was a book which only a genius could write, and he was not a genius. It might be that what he wanted to say about love and about humanity was true but simply could not be expressed as a theory.’

What this suggests is not only that a truth may be uttered so that it is a lie, but that moral truth may be such as to evade any theoretical expression – perhaps with the consequence that all theoretical expression of it will be to some degree a lie. Iris Murdoch’s novels are philosophy: but they are philosophy which casts doubts on all philosophy including her own. […]

When I say that Iris Murdoch’s novels are philosophy, then, my claim has very little to do with the fact that her characters sometimes talk about Wittgenstein or quote Heidegger or Kant or go to dinner with Oxford philosophers, or that she makes philosophical jokes (‘There are some parts of London which are necessary and others which are contingent’).[…] What her novels systematically embody is a theory about theories, a theory which is to some degree against all theory – including itself. And if this does not entail that she had to be a novelist, it is at least clear that such a point of view could never have received adequate expression merely at the level of theory.

From Good for nothing by Alasdair MacIntyre in the LRB (£ to read full article).
A review of Iris Murdoch: Work for the Spirit by Elizabeth Dipple

09 Apr

Iris Murdoch on the Good, God and religion

Murdoch’s negative view of prevailing moral discourse may thus be summed up in four points:

1. The Utilitarian definition of moral goodness is inadequate, even as qualified by J.S. Mill or by Richard Hare (Antonaccio 1996, 84-95), because of lack of substance in that conception of the Good. This inadequacy was only partly remedied by G.E. Moore’s indefinability condition.

2. Murdoch alleged that a natural consequence of ‘Oxford philosophers’ not recognising the Good as real was an undue emphasis on ‘ordinary language’ analysis or on ‘language games’ played within the court rules of a Kantian morally autonomous will or freedom of choice.

3. She considered Gilbert Ryle’s (1949} behaviourist picture of the mind unreal and unhelpful in understanding or advancing moral life.

4. ‘Oxford philosophy’ had failed to develop a defensible theory of moral motivation; she asked: if the moral quality of an action depended on choice, should not what prepares a person to make that choice be important? (1970, 53). For Murdoch it was the quality of consciousness (Vision) that does and should determine the choice. A discriminating Vision of the Good is achieved by attending.

From Joseph Malikail, “Iris Murdoch on the Good, God and Religion”, Minerva, Vol 4 (online).

05 Apr

Iris Murdoch: A Renaissance?

Our conversation meanders back to the matter at hand, is there a renaissance in Iris Murdoch Studies? “She is being included increasingly in books from many disciplines.” Frances thinks that times are changing and that there is a “complete change in the way literature is viewed … the idea that western literature should be seen as better is absolutely shot to pieces now …. or people are saying there isn’t a canon at all”. She also makes the valid point that there “tends to be a pattern that after writers die they fall away a bit and then they come back”; this could be true for Iris just the same as for any writer.

Evidence of the growing interest in Iris Murdoch can be seen through the social media: “people are reading about her” and she has more than two thousand followers online on Twitter, and a lively appreciation page on Facebook. Frances becomes suddenly animated at the talk of the growing interest. “People chatting away [on Twitter] saying ‘oh my favorite character is Charles I really really love him’ and someone else saying ‘no I can’t stand him he is so full of himself!’ It’s very very nice the way people are just talking about the books.

From an interview with Frances White of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies in Kingston University. Iris Murdoch: A Renaissance? via @IrisMurdoch

02 Apr

(E-Book) Journeys of Janus: Explorations in Irish Philosophy

Journeys of Janus:Explorations in Irish Philosophy

A book by Leonard O’Brian exploring the work of five Irish philosophers.

Contents

  • Prologue
  • John Scottus Eriugena
  • John Toland
  • George Berkeley
  • Francis Hutcheson
  • Iris Murdoch
  • Epilogue