Goodness is connected with the attempt to see the unself, to see and to respond to the real world in the light of a virtuous consciousness. This is the non-metaphysical meaning of the idea of transcendence to which philosophers have so constantly resorted in their explanations of goodness. “Good is a transcendent reality” means that virtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is. It is an empirical fact about human nature that this attempt cannot be entirely successful.Iris Murdoch, “The Sovereignty of Good” quoted in An Occasion for Unselfing: Iris Murdoch on Imperfection as Integral to Goodness and How the Beauty of Nature and Art Leavens Our Most Unselfish Impulses
Whenever it’s the turn of a country, however small, to rise against its tyrants…
…it represents the oppressed peoples of the whole world.Iris Murdoch, “The Red and the Green”
Iris Murdoch: the virtue of paying attention
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.The Nice and the Good (1968)
I doubt that the description of damnation given by Willie in The Nice and the Good owes anything to that given by CS Lewis in The Great Divorce, but they agree surprisingly well. Lewis’ version of Hell is of an extreme social distancing, of each damned soul retreating from the others to focus on themselves, how they were wronged, how they were misunderstood.
This, of course, is not a state that requires an after-life to experience. Willie is saying that the difference between damnation and happiness (in the normal run of things) is purely a matter of where attention is directed: internally or externally. As Murdoch pointed out in her philosophical essay “The Sublime and the Good” (1959, Chicago Review, Vol. 13 Issue 3), “love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality”: the recognition of the entire world, not just what is inside ones own head.
Art and morals are…one. Their essence is the same.
The essence of both of them is Love. Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.Iris Murdoch (1959) “The Sublime and the Good” Chicago Review Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 42-55. See page 51.
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.
Reading the Rising: The Red and the Green
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.
Being a woman
Iris Murdoch (2008/1965) “The Red and the Green”, Random House, p. 36.
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)
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.