Posted in Iris Murdoch

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.

Posted in MOC Drury

Drury: “ceremonies were a form of language, a form of life.”

Wittgenstein got me to read aloud to him the opening chapters of Frazer’s Golden Bough. Frazer thinks he can make clear the origin of the rites and ceremonies he describes by regarding them as primitive and erroneous scientific beliefs. […] Now Wittgenstein made it clear to me that on the contrary the people who practised these rites already possessed a considerable scientific achievement: agriculture, metal working, building, etc., etc.; and the ceremonies existed alongside these sober techniques. They were not mistaken beliefs that produced the rites but the need to express something; the ceremonies were a form of language, a form of life. Thus today if we are introduced to someone we shake hands; if we enter a church we take off our hats and speak in a low voice; at Christmas perhaps we decorate a tree. These are expressions of friendliness, reverence, and of celebration.”

Maurice O’Connor Drury in the preface of “The Danger of Words”, on ritual and tradition as a form of life and a language.

Posted in C. S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, Irish philosopher?

A photograph of C. S. Lewis hanging in The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford
A photograph of C. S. Lewis hanging in The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford
(c) Freddie Phillips/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast on 29th November 1898, and a festival in that city celebrating him is in its second year.

So for the purposes of this, he’s Irish. But is C. S. Lewis a philosopher? A piece in the University of Oxford Practical Ethics blog argues that he is, in C. S Lewis as a moral philosopher:

All decent people believe essentially the same things, he thought. There is, in other words, not just a Universal Moral Grammar, but a Universal Moral Vocabulary. This is an old idea. It’s inherent in the idea and language of natural law. ‘[T]aking the race as a whole’, wrote Lewis, those who referred to the “Law of Nature’ ‘thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right.’ Our moral norms are hardwired. ‘It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong. But they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.’

Readers may see a certain similarity to the ethical theory of another Ulster man, Francis Hutcheson.
Continue reading “C.S. Lewis, Irish philosopher?”

Posted in John Stewart Bell

John Stewart Bell: The Nature of Reality

CERN / ATLAS Particle Collision
CERN / ATLAS Particle Collision
(c) Ars Electronica/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On the 4th November 1964, the physicist John S. Bell published a paper called On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox. This was an important paper for both philosophy and physics with implications for our understanding of reality and freedom.

When quantum theory was developed in the early 20th century, the philosophical implications troubled some, including Einstein. The “Copenhagen interpretation” put realism in science under threat. Although the “macro” world (people, planets, plates and platypuses) were argued to be real existing things, electrons and other particles were held not to be. The world was therefore divided into the “classical” and the “quantum” worlds, or as John S. Bell later called them, the “speakable” and the “unspeakable”.

In 1935, Einstein published a paper with Nathan Rosen and Boris Podolsky (known collectively as EPR) arguing that quantum mechanics was not a complete theory, but required additional “hidden” variables to preserve realism and locality. “In the vernacular of Einstein: locality meant no instantaneous (“spooky”) action at a distance; realism meant the moon is there even when not being observed.” (wiki)

Bell also argued for realism, thus rejecting the Copenhagen Interpretation. He worked with realist theories such as de Broglie–Bohm theory, but the theory violated the EPR locality criterion. This fact was used to argue that it was on the wrong track, but Bell’s 1964 paper showed that “any serious version of quantum theory (regardless of whether or not it is based on microscopic realism) must violate locality. This means that if nature is governed by the predictions of quantum theory, the ‘locality principle’ is simply wrong, and our world is nonlocal” (American Scientist)
Continue reading “John Stewart Bell: The Nature of Reality”

Posted in Cyril Barrett

Aesthetics, Art and Wittgenstein: the life and work of Cyril Barrett

Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, National Gallery of Ireland (WikiCommons)
Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, National Gallery of Ireland (WikiCommons)

Much of Wittgenstein’s writing was, at one remove, about aesthetics: questions of meaning, perception and emergence of sense. Yet there was little available explicitly about his aesthetics until notes from his lectures given by him in 1938 were collected and published in 1966 as Wittgenstein’s Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief (Hagberg, SEP). The notes, taken by students Rush Rhees, Yorick Smythies, and James Taylor, together with notes on conversations about Freud and lectures on religious belief were edited by Cyril Barrett. Given the protective attitude Wittgenstein’s students had to his work and legacy, this was not a trivial task and the volume is probably his most enduring contribution to philosophy (eg see The Herald, The Times (paywall)).

What might surprise some is that this work was done by an Irish Jesuit. Born on 9th May 1925 in Dublin, Cyril Barrett graduated from UCD in 1947 with a first in Latin and History. Barrett entered the Society of Jesus in 1942 and was ordained in 1956. After teaching in various institutions he became one of the two founding members of the philosophy department in Warwick University in 1965, where he stayed until his retirement as reader in philosophy in 1992. After retirement he was a tutor in Oxford. He kept writing up to his last days in Milltown Dublin, where he died on 30th December 2003.

As well as Wittgenstein’s Lectures and Conversations, in 1990 Barrett published a commentary on Wittgenstein’s works, Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Belief. In this he argued that questions of value (ethics and religious belief) were of prime importance to Wittgenstein, and “intimately interwoven” in his thought.
Continue reading “Aesthetics, Art and Wittgenstein: the life and work of Cyril Barrett”

Posted in Events Iris Murdoch

‘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.

Posted in A. A. Luce

Sense and Sensibilia

I have found these sense-data and sensibilia. I have not made them. I do not know how to make them. I have not brought them together. […]
What holds them together? Why not ask first, “What separated them? What broke them up?” And the answer is, of course, “My analysis separated them and broke them up.” What holds them together? Why, they are together.[…]
What holds them together? Why, nothing. What holds them together? Why, everything. Canst thou lose the bonds of Orion? What holds together the sense-data of the apple? They are together. That is the way the apple is made; that is the way God made it grow.

From Sense without Matter (1954), pp 62-3.

This book outlines Luce’s version of Berkeley’s thought, which is similar but not identical, and uses the terms current rather than those used by Berkeley. As with Berkeley, Luce is attacking the philosophical (rather than common sense) view of matter. In this section he deals with the objection that sense-data such as the taste, smell, feel and appearance of an apple always appear together, so must be linked by matter.

Posted in Onora O'Neill

Onora O’Neill: Acting on Principle

O’Neill explains that she was both attracted and repelled by utilitarianism. On the one hand, she shared with utilitarianism the view that moral theory should be something precise and determinate that guides actions – that one should look for (as Rawls put it in the title of his very first published article) “a decision procedure for ethics”. Yet utilitarianism’s own decision procedure is one of ruthless aggregation. Kant’s moral theory, by contrast, looks to be a way of defending the individual from instrumental subordination to collective ends. It is, to use the Rawlsian technical term, deontological. Finally, Rawls and his students took for granted that a Kantian ethical theory must be as thoroughly secular and compatible with natural science as its utilitarian rival seemed to be. Hence they focused on Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative as a “moral law” and not his – avowedly metaphysical – ideas about how human beings’ moral agency ties them to a “noumenal” realm of freedom.

From a review by Michael Rosen in The Times Literary Supplement of Acting on Principle: An Essay on Kantian Ethics (second edition), an updated version of the book written by Onora O’Neill in 1975.

A description, table of contents and introduction to the second edition is available on the Cambridge University Press website.

Posted in Iris Murdoch

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.

Posted in Samuel Beckett

Beckett at the Back: World Cup Philosophy

Panel from "World Cup Philosophy: Germany vs France" (c) Existential Comics
Panel from “World Cup Philosophy: Germany vs France”
(c) Existential Comics

Beckett playing (in some sense of the term) for the French team in a parallel universe version of the World Cup 2014 quarter-final game against Germany in Rio de Janeiro. See Existential Comics for more.