University of York, UK
Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting put us into contact with the world and other people. Understanding what it is to perceive, and why the contact with the world and others it provides is valuable, is a central part of understanding what it is to be human. Murdoch is one of the few philosophers for whom perceiving is, fundamentally, an ethical activity.
Hannah Marije Altorf
St Mary’s University, UK
Iris Murdoch has been my teacher. I never met her, but I have been learning from her ever since I first started reading Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, some twenty years ago. This is a book written by a great mind, someone with whom I share a love for Plato, Kant and great literature, as well as concern about the disappearance of religious experience. Above all, Murdoch has taught me to persist with a problem, however unfashionable.
Iris's reflections on art and in particular how humans are natural storytellers putting form on our "alarmingly formless rubble of a life" resonates with me. In particular as I facilitate philosophical discussions as a teacher of young people, the types of imaginative questions stimulated by stories, reflect Iris's suggestion that art can play a role in our ethical lives, offering a version of truth without prejudice, showing us that in the midst of modern chaos our moral questions matter.
University of Chicago, USA
In my work I seek to articulate a philosophically rigorous conception of how we are educated to reality by art, and Murdoch is one of the few modern philosophers that provides a grounding for such a claim, and more broadly for a non-religious (or at least non-doctrinal) way of conceiving the normative ground of human life ("the Good"). Murdoch's idea that (good) art shows us the world objectively, free from the 'rat-runs of fantasy,' has been foundational for my own thinking about art.
Iris Murdoch taught me to be wary of reductionist analyses in philosophy, and to look at complex dynamic patterns rather than relying on schematic and dichotomic explanations. Her critique of Kantian ethics spurred me to reconsider the relation between reason and the emotions, and search for novel ways to understand the challenges and opportunities of contingency and mutual vulnerability.
Reading Murdoch, I am constantly impressed by her vision – she sees further and more clearly than so many of her contemporaries – and by her courage to confront the philosophical orthodoxies of her time. So many of her ideas are arresting in both their novelty and their enduring perspicacity – the wonderful concept of “unselfing” is one such. In all this and more, her work is a continual source of insight, inspiration, and hope.
I find Iris Murdoch's philosophy enormously rich and imaginative, and driven by a pressing wish to understand human life in all its fullness, complexity, and variegation. Engaging with Murdoch's philosophy opens up exhilarating vistas of what it is to do philosophy, and what it is to be human.
McHenry County College, USA
Murdoch’s focus on virtue was always an antidote to the moralising tendencies of Deontology and Utilitarianism, and it was through her work that I gained such a respect and admiration for Athenian history and culture.
The philosophy of Iris Murdoch has shown me a radical form of visual ethics. Her writing on morality, vision, attention and goodness has enabled me to propose a way of looking and understanding cinema that makes a major intervention in the field of film philosophy. Iris Murdoch wrote that film is a major art, and her thinking on attention to art as moral training has profoundly affected my insight into how cinema works as popular moral philosophy.
Murdoch was someone who took the idea of the Good seriously. (So seriously that it must be capitalized!) The importance of goodness in all its forms characterizes her work; it's not enough to simply theorize about it but you have to seek it and notice it. It's a reassuring thought that lurking within the messy old details of life is something absolutely perfect.
One of my favorite Murdochian insights is the idea that the cognitive is always moral. For Murdoch, there are no neutral facts that - in the light of Kantian reason - give us moral direction. Rather, our choices are always already shaped by our particular vision of reality. To be a virtuous person, therefore, first and foremost means to be willing to learn to perceive others and the world around us in a just and loving way, because only then will we be able to act accordingly.
Brown University, USA
Murdoch was a European as much as British philosopher, constantly searching for ways to renew the practice. She arrived in Cambridge to study Husserl, used George Eliot to rebut Ryle, turned to Sartre to reply to A. J. Ayer: then found — in Hegelian fashion — that the opposites shared an assumption, which she put in question with the help of Simone Weil. The moral life—life itself, I’ve found — and philosophy — are changed.
Oxford Brookes University, UK
Iris Murdoch undertakes philosophy by relating it to lived experience and the circumstances of her time. She recognises the processes of demythologisation that sever the modern world from its premodern myths yet at the same time she aims to continue to see philosophy as making sense of the whole of life, including our moral vision, our political commitments and our appreciation of the role of art in alerting us to truths.
Encountering Murdoch’s philosophical work for the first time as an undergraduate was a liberation: here was a philosopher who appeared to remember that other people were central to the moral life – and not just other people as an undifferentiated number or as the object of my actions and exercise of my will but as people and so created a space in which compassion could reassert its proper place.
Iris Murdoch is modern Platonism—alive to how moral thought is saturated with metaphysical thinking, her Sovereignty of Good is a gripping articulation of the vital orientation in moral thought Plato offers. The novels’ recognise an affinity here with a Buddhist outlook. Suffusing her novels as well as her philosophical work is a critical moral sensitivity that is never censorious. Sheer gratitude to Murdoch for giving us the moral life back in all its richness, and allowing it to breathe.
Durham University, UK
Iris's is philosophy with a human side, complex, mixed, multifaceted, not altogether good, not altogether bad, without too-sharp boundaries -- life as I experience and must manage it.
University of Montana, USA
Murdoch showed that you have to be fearless, rigorous, and creative to illuminate the moral possibilities of everyday life and to address (what she called) "the real problems." She showed that you don't have to look to a faraway place to experience or to examine transcendence; it is a part of ordinary human life. She showed, and continues to show, how to reflect on moral questions in a way that is both good-humored and uncompromising.
University of Edinburgh, UK
Murdoch often talks about Kant - sometimes positively, more often not so much - but what she alway brings with her is an insightful and unexpected aspect of his thought. Reading Kant through Murdochian lenses has certainly taught me as much about him as it has about her.
I have come across Iris Murdoch as part of the Wartime Quartet. What I like about her is the way in which she unites philosophy and literature in her person, and how her thinking allows to oppose mainstream moral philosophy. I am inspired by her idea of and emphasis on moral vision, and by her attention to detail and context. As something like an ex-Platonist, I am not so sure that I can bring myself to be convinced by all of her mature moral philosophy, but I remain certainly fascinated.
To me, Iris Murdoch's philosophy conveys the importance of ideas of the good that are not purely subjective.
By combining a Platonic metaphysics that put love and the Good at the centre of ethics with some clear ideas about what that meant in terms of everyday experience, reading Murdoch greatly extended my idea of what ethics could be and completely changed the focus of my work and study.
Iris Murdoch taught me to view the attention I give to things - everything from rocks to chickens, my neighbours and even philosophical concepts - as a matter of love. Every encounter becomes an invitation to see, to love. Alarmingly, wonderfully, my character stands or falls on what I make of this invitation.
I am interested in (i) her idea of loving attention, and the example of M and D from 'The Idea of Perfection'; (ii) the relationship between perception, deliberation and action, as explored in her 'Vision and Choice in Morality'.
University of Edinburgh, UK
I discovered Iris by chance. After reading an article about her first novel I bought it&read it forthwith. I liked it a lot especially as I was also struggling with writing at the time. I work on history&philosophy of science, particularly on classifications. The philosophy&the science challenge me while the history fascinates me. I often find myself absorbed in the details of a case study. What draws me to Iris is her unfathomable ability to write both philosophy&fiction well at the same time.
Iris Murdoch has, over and over again, and in many different ways, opened up what moral philosophy can be. I think, for example, of the way she has emphasized the importance of not working with a a narrow delineation of what constitutes moral philosophy, a delineation which can exclude much that matters in moral life. I think also of the importance in her work of what is true to our experience as moral beings, and what in philosophy can distort that experience.
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
Murdoch’s philosophy could be neatly summarised as secular demythologized morality. It proposes a visualist laden conception of ethics that is not solely present in her philosophical works as it also infiltrates her fiction. The philosophical message of her novels concerns everyday moral reality. In other words, reading Murdoch's philosophy (& novels) is often akin to reading morals. Her philosophy offered an unorthodox/alternative place for secular theophanies & moral reflection.
Amber Sahara Donovan
Iris Murdoch’s philosophy has had a profound effect on me. Reading The Sovereignty of Good gave me the tools to salubriously transform my experience of the world, which subsequently led to a complete re-orientation of my perspective on ethics, and on the scope and potential for philosophy more broadly. This fresh perspective played an important role in my decision to pursue a career in academic philosophy and I continue to remind myself (daily - and to great effect) to pay loving attention.
University of Tübingen, Germany
Moral philosophy should not be concerned with how to make the right choice, but with how to be a better person. It should not be about making the right move, but about seeing justly. It should develop strategies to fight the big fat relentless ego. I wish I had read Iris Murdoch when I started doing philosophy, rather than twenty years in. Her writing is invigorating, meaningful, and deeply moving. And seems to get it just right.
Impressive and insightful.
I discovered Murdoch some 15 years ago now. Since then, she is in my philosophical bloodstream. I don't think I can write anything anymore that does not relate to her philosophical work in one way or another.
University College Cork, Ireland
Murdoch provides an example of what it can mean to be a philosopher. One in which the philosopher need not be a detached thinker, secluded from the concerns of society. Rather, she offers us a model of being a philosopher that involves friendship, literature, art, and the messy reality of the world. This is the kind of philosopher that I aspire to be.
I see Murdoch as a philosophical fellow traveler. For one, as a writer I also feel pulled in two directions—fiction and academic philosophy. But more substantively, her work helped me finish my Ph.D. I had been struggling to articulate the idea that it can be morally wrong to think about people using certain concepts or categories. I was delighted to find her expressing a similar idea through a vivid example: a woman who unfairly thinks badly of her son’s wife. This got my own thinking un-stuck.
Murdoch's philosophy, like her fiction, is populated with the varied reality of moral life: mothers who find their daughters-in-law juvenile, concentration camp guards who are kindly fathers. A loving gaze can discern this moral reality just as a good eye can appraise the length of a timber. And if we are to transcend our selfish egos, we need this capacity for loving attention. Murdoch’s work remains a provocation, where goodness is real, and love is seeing aright.
Iris Murdoch is one of my most favorite philosophers. She makes wonderful use of the best parts of Simone Weil; she has a rich, compelling moral theory; I recognize her Plato; she is an intellectual role model for those of us who think that Anglo-analytic philosophy, all by itself, falls far short of its object(s) -- that if nothing else we need the history of philosophy, as well as literature, in order to even begin to do philosophy.
I encountered Murdoch when doing my PhD on ethics and narrative literature: she was by far the strongest and most interesting voice among the thinkers I read. She has stayed with me ever since, probably because her writings have so many affordances. She thought about ethics and philosophy more broadly through the lens of life, not through the lens of philosophical debates. Her way of engaging the world in her work is exemplary and sets a high standard for anyone who reads her with engagement.
Iris Murdoch represents some neglected paths in contemporary philosophy. In aesthetics, her affiliation to Plato is significant - her attitude to Kant is interesting, and though I would question its correctness, it produces some interesting insights into the value of art, and in particular the contrast between art for art, and art for life's sake.
My working time with IM has been spent mainly with 'Vision and Choice in Morality' - that substantive content gets sneaked into or shut out of philosophy by the demands of mere 'form' is still a fertile idea - or with The Sovereignty of Good. How the capacity to love a particular other well relates (or fails to) to goodness more broadly is a constant theme of mine. I also love the novels, not least for the hijacking (if it is really that) of philosophical language to describe everyday affairs.
"The insistence that morality is essentially rules may be seen as an attempt to secure us against the ambiguity of the world", writes Murdoch in "Vision and Choice in Morality". This is a fundamental insight: rules can rarely tell us what the right thing to do is in a concrete situation, let alone what the right thing for me is. They are prone to fail in the face of the "inexhaustible detail of the world" and our own unique circumstances. Love, Murdoch teaches us, is a better moral guide.
University of Cambridge, UK
She wrote: 'Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.' Could this be right? And if so how, more exactly, should we understand it? And how should we live in the light of that understanding? Murdoch is someone who, in her novels, her philosophy and her life, makes the interest and importance of these issues vividly apparent!
I was first attracted to philosophy because of the way it made difficult and complex questions seem simpler and less mysterious. Murdoch was the first philosopher who showed me how it might be possible to do philosophy in a way that allowed the complexity and mystery of the world back in. I think many people feel instinctively that our experience of love and beauty is central to what makes us human; Murdoch helps us to understand why that might be true.
The philosophy of Iris Murdoch (which is found both in her essays and in her novels) opened up for me not only a number of fascinating questions in moral philosophy but also a way of approaching these questions that was sensitive to the way many of us struggle to understand one another and themselves. Murdoch encourages us to give answers as complex and indefinite as the practical questions of moral life.
Iris Murdoch's writings on our inner lives – both in her moral philosophy and her novels – is a refreshing change from much 20th century moral philosophy, which tends to focus exclusively on how to act outwardly. Her novels exploring freedom and honesty, particularly Under the Net, somehow manage to combine deep philosophical observation with genuine humour and beautiful writing.
Queen's University (Kingston), Canada
Iris Murdoch makes philosophy answerable to what our lives are like. She invites us to step back from theories of mind, language or morals; to look closely at what it's like to try to formulate a thought, the ways that a child's understanding of 'love' evolves over time, and what we would want to say about a woman who overcomes prejudice; and she shows us how philosophy sometimes ignores or mischaracterizes human experience. Murdoch helped me to understand why some philosophy feels so removed!
Having been taught philosophical in a very metaphysically austere environment--most of my teachers were nominalists and Humeans, while also being straightforward scientific realists--I found Murdoch's approach deeply refreshing. On one hand, she took the world seriously, and not just our observations and experiences of it. On the other hand, she took our experiences seriously, and not just scientists' mechanistic explanations of it.
Iris Murdoch made a significant contribution to our understanding of what it means to be ethical. She rejected the modern notion of the moral agent as a heroic figure who projects value onto the world by her will. Instead, she held that ethics is primarily about seeing others for what they are, and responding accordingly. Vision precedes choice, and loving attention is the only cure for our natural bias towards the self. For me, Murdoch is a deep and stimulating thinker who continues to inspire.
I think Murdoch was one of the most significant moral philosophers of the last century – a critic of facile forms of thinking about human life, and the champion of a broader inspirational vision of our situation within the wider order of things. She's a powerful example of a sort of moral philosopher that's unpopular these days – openly humane, existentially deep, historically informed, attentive to the complexities of human beings.
In my own work, I aim to think about attitudes and their role in alienating us from our own self-responsibility and freedom. Murdoch’s notion of attention is a key touchstone for thinking about the extent to which we can change our attitudes, and how we might have a responsibility to do so. I notice how a literary sensibility opens up new ways of doing philosophy and exploring philosophical issues. There’s always more to find in the work: the possibility of seeing the same thing with new eyes.
University of Michigan, USA
I first encountered Iris Murdoch’s work well into my career. It was a profound encounter. Here was, in many ways, “my” philosophy, but with more clarity and style. Her appreciation of the messiness of moral reality, of moral life as responsibility and responsivity to others, her emphasis on consciousness and attention not as transcendental structures but as the very real and flawed activity of very real and specific human beings — from all of this I drew and draw new and renewed inspiration.
I discovered Iris Murdoch about a year after I decided I believed in God. Though philosophy played an important part in figuring out my faith, the shift was mostly driven by personal experiences. Reading Iris Murdoch has been hugely significant for me getting to grips with how my faith and my philosophical views come together. I’m especially interested in the emphasis she puts on moral vision, and the implications this has for how we think about revelations and transformative experiences.
In many ways Murdoch's philosophy, especially her work on ethics and aesthetics, underpins my own beliefs. Discovering her work, and subsequently writing on her for the last 15 years, has changed my perception of the world, and of people.
Murdoch is a beacon for work in moral philosophy that embraces rather than eschews the immense complexities of a real moral life. Her emphasis on the role of perception in moral life is important, and her willingness to embrace the mystery of contemporary existence rather than the artificial precision of analytic moral philosophy is a model we should all keep in mind.
One of the first Plato scholars who understands the importance of art in knowledge of reality. She combines in her own work the same beauty that Plato uses to lead us to real philosophy. Her The Fire and the Sun shows a sufficiency in Plato's philosophy that gives sense to some of the apparent contradictions in Republic's criticism of poetry and poets. I love this book.
Murdoch’s writing overflows with everything I love about philosophy; it is buoyant, expansive, hard and deep – loaded with connexions and unremmitingly realistic about the kind of creatures we are. Reading Murdoch’s philosophy makes you feel you as if are on the precipice of breaking a secret code to…Everything. But what you learn, just when insight seems immanent, is that you are right back where you started – on an endless but impossible quest. A philosopher for the 21st century and a neglected star in the canon of Irish female writers.
Iris Murdoch's philosophy represents new opportunities: to understand a neglected thinker, to gain a deeper understanding of the era and Murdoch's peers, and to grasp the development of thought in a more thorough way. I see Murdoch's work as representing a bridge between Aristotelian virtue ethics and the development of care ethics and feminist relational theory, which is an exciting perspective to explore.
Cambridge University, UK
What Murdoch means to me: The first time I read Murdoch's philosophy, I was completely baffled by it. But pretty soon afterwards, I found myself picking it up again, and then again. Her work can be obscure, but it's rich and often powerfully written, and it somehow resonates with me. Reading Murdoch, you really feel the pull of her vision. On each new read, I find myself noticing wonderful throw-away lines that give me plenty to ponder, and that will certainly lead me to return to her work once more.
Murdoch makes a place for art in teaching us how to see. My work develops this idea: we appreciate visual art because it’s a part of learning to see; artists make it in order to teach us how to do this.
University of Manchester, UK
Iris Murdoch's philosophy, for me, embodies the possibility of a better philosophy. One which welcomes the challenge of shedding light on the complexities of human life, in manner which does not shy away from the messiness of such enquires.
I particularly admire Iris Murdoch’s refusal to allow her thinking to become detached from the reality of our predicament. Ironically, this leads her to commit to concepts that she knows others will find fanciful, but which she believes cannot be abandoned without blinding ourselves to something real, the most obvious example being the Good, ‘the least corruptible and most realistic picture for us to use in our reflections upon the moral life’ ('The Sovereignty of the Good', p. 13).
The Sovereignty of Good is, quite simply, one of the best works in ethics in the 20th century. It is dense and rigorously argued, but also funny and inventive, with its jabs at the 'Kantian man-god' who is 'forever capable of "stepping back"'. Read closely, she is not actually dismissing Kant, but rather what Kantian ethics had become; suffice it to say, her criticisms remain apt.
Iris Murdoch's philosophy is what sustains my faith in philosophy as an enterprise that looks past the fantasy of the intellectual self onto the individual reality of an other.
That we find some of the most important philosophical insights in fiction. And that there is continuity between philosophy and literature...
Philosophy is really looking.
When so many of Iris Murdoch's contemporaries were all about finding an existential authentic identity, this philosopher was writing entirely against that grain and connected liberation, not with the quest for an authentic identity , but demonstrated how liberation might manifest in the happiness that can arise when that quest, which is so often fuelled by craving, fear and delusion, can be relaxed.
University of Buckingham, UK
Iris Murdoch's philosophy is in the philosophical great tradition, the opposite of academic rotatory motion. All her philosophical writing centres on the question of how we should live, how we should see and how we should act. There is nothing ever less than robust in her work, intellectually and stylistically. She despises shoddy, easy thinking, as like Apollo in her favourite painting, she strips away illusion, fantasy and the indulgence of the soft fat ego.
I discovered the work of Iris Murdoch through the literature in Care Ethics. It right away captured my attention because her contribution to moral philosophy is original and powerful. Especially her idea that what happens in the moment of choice (when deciding what to do) is seldom the most crucial part of our moral life. Rather, as she suggests, it is what happens between these moments -- and which shapes our outlook on the world, that is important.
Freedom and inspiration. The freedom to speak against the establishment, to return to the common sense, and to think through more uncertain, and yet more real, frameworks. The inspiration that comes from thinking of goodness as something that reaches into one’s guts and takes one out of oneself, towards the not-yet-realised, and constantly stresses the possibility of being better in a way that is ever self-creating and therefore exhilarating.
University College Dublin, Ireland
Murdoch raises important questions about the way in which art might help us to experience things beyond ourselves including those things that others might have experienced that we have not. She also suggests that art might assist us to understand another person’s ethical view. I am particularly drawn to Murdoch's exploration of the interconnection between art and ethical life or the nature of goodness and her account of attention in regard to the perception of others.
Sean Enda Power
University College Cork, Ireland
Murdoch’s views on ethics inspired my own thinking, especially her ethical views’ challenges to existentialism, relativism, and behaviourism. My own work - on the philosophy of time - developed out of metaphysics, rather than ethics. However, her general form of argument opened the possibility of such non-reductive philosophical work. Also, her fiction - especially The Sea - forcefully illustrates the value of vivid images and storytelling in philosophical thought.
I approach Murdoch's work through my interest in Sartre's philosophy. Murdoch's first book was very positive about Sartre, but by 1970 she was taking a far more hostile position in relation to what she took to be his moral philosophy. I think the main criticism, about the importance of inward moral change, is very compelling.
Iris Murdoch’s "The Sovereignty of Good" demonstrates the importance of one’s inner life for matters of ethics. Her notion of the good life contrasts many dominant views of morality in important and powerful ways that have influenced how we view not only what we owe to each other, but perhaps more importantly, what we owe to ourselves. Her expanded notion of virtue permeates, in my mind, any accurate world-view concerning what matters in the world, and what constitutes a flourishing life.
I admire Murdoch's ability to weave narrative with philosophical rigour. This means that her philosophical thinking is not just for philosophy's sake, but to apply it to the human condition, not always to find answers, but to be able to ask the right questions.
University of Chichester/Kingston University, UK
I admire the accessibility of Iris Murdoch's philosophy. Sound practical and helpful common sense merges effortlessly with sophisticated philosophical positions in her novels, making them relevant to the lives of all her readers, regardless of their level of knowledge or background. All you need is to be human to enjoy and learn something of value, and that knowledge will sit like a small jewel in a box of treasured wisdom that can be taken with you throughout your life.
Her philosophy was anchored in life. While her moral philosophy recognises the importance of character, she also paid attention to complexity and appearances. She wasn't doing philosophy based on simplifying idealisations but rather her philosophy was for the world we inhabit.
Iris Murdoch teaches us the importance of moral perception - of attuning ourselves to the complex particularities around us so that we can see the world as it really is and respond accordingly.
University of Manchester, UK
I am intrigued by Murdoch’s conception of loving attention with its emphasis on effecting a change of vision which is simultaneously an act of loving attention directed towards the other but also a moral achievement which opens up the possibility of moral transformation and progress. Moral progress is achieved by a project of sustained imaginative attention, a loving and just regard towards others, which involves the overcoming of self-centred and selfish fantasies. Moral transformation is a struggle: “Love is the imaginative recognition of, that is respect for, this otherness” and “repentance may mean something different to an individual at different times in his life, and what it fully means is a part of this life and cannot be understood except in context”.
Iris Murdoch taught me that philosophy can be serious and severe but still emotionally sustaining. Her writing showed me that philosophical prose can still be beautiful. She enlarged my sense of what philosophy can be. “To do philosophy is to explore one's own temperament,” Murdoch wrote, “and yet at the same time to attempt to discover the truth.”
Above all, I was always struck by Iris Murdoch's deep ethical sensitivity and her iconoclasm (which are, to my mind, quite related). I find quite compelling her suggestion that we consider a person's "total vision of life" as important to any moral assessment .
A good novelist can produce a vivid depiction of a character from little detail, if the details selected are just right. I'm struck by Murdoch's idea that people have distinctive "visions" that can show up in "their mode of speech or silence, their choice of words, their assessments of others,... what they think attractive or praise-worthy, what they think funny". Here Murdoch shows us how a seemingly small detail can capture a person's distinctive texture of being.
One quotable claim of Murdoch's that has stuck with me is: "It is the role of tragedy, and also of comedy, and of painting to show us suffering without a thrill and death without a consolation." It's a pretty grim view to hold, but then again, most interesting views are.
Iris Murdoch, for me, is an inspirational philosopher. "We need more concepts", she says, through which to understand ourselves, each other and the world. She also writes that “We no longer see man against a background of values, of realities, which transcend him. We picture man as a brave naked will surrounded by an easily comprehended empirical world”. This image is encouraged by some attitudes that are influential in today’s thinking. I think Murdoch helps to show us a different way…
Murdoch is one of the most important and unique philosophers of the 20th century. Her work in ethics, showing the importance of the good while rejecting the primary approaches to ethical theory helped me to rethink ethics and any metaphysical grounding it may have.
University of Antwerp, The Netherlands
In my research I investigate whether we can make sense of the argument that we should love one another, which has led me to the works of Iris Murdoch. Her views on love and her picture of humanity are incredibly appealing! Shouldn't we all look less at our own ego's and desires and instead be more open to others?
One idea from Murdoch that really interests me is her concept of 'attention', as involving a kind of focus beyond the self and on the detail of the world, including other people. I think Murdoch displays this attention herself in the way she does philosophy, which saves her from an overly theoretical and reductive approach, and brings her close to some thinkers in the phenomenological tradition, in a way that I find attractive - and it makes her more enjoyable to read than most philosophers!
I'd read all her novels by the time I was 16, and then at college I discovered her Philosophy. It was the first time I had come across this idea of getting closer to the truth by perfecting your concepts and it had a big impact on me. Some of her ideas are quite mystical and I still find them mysterious and difficult.
Iris Murdoch's philosophical thought has served me as a guide to the perplexities of morality, including the importance of inner attitudes, and revealed to me the necessity for careful moral perception when considering particular cases. It has extended my moral imagination and illuminated, as she said, "regions of reality which were formerly dark".
Iris Murdoch's philosophy (as well as her philoso-fiction) in general and her critical interpretations of Plato especially has been of the utmost inspiration for and a fresh renewal of my thoughts on different subjects - metaphysics, ethics and aesthetics - for almost forty (slow!) years. The way she collected her ideas and integrated them into her own very special tricotage, has given us a longed-for method for a much needed, new way of thinking that is manycoloured, intricate and synoptic.
Her work provides rich insights into the concept of the good, and manages to convey something of its depth while acknowledging the inadequacy of conceptual analysis in this area of experience.
Queen's University, Canada
I first discovered Murdoch at age 13 when I went on a reading spree of all her novels whilst on summer holidays at Lake Superior in northern Ontario – some distance from the intrigues of the British middle classes captured by Murdoch. Years later as a political philosopher at Queen’s University I read her 1958 essay, ‘A House of Theory’. I am still amazed at how this piece, written during the Cold War, offers an eloquent vision of fulfilling work in a community of equals that speaks to us still.
"“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”
Murdoch makes us look twice at everything - people, the planet, and flowers."
Like Murdoch, I too am a woman philosopher who also reads and writes a lot of fiction. There are not many people like her in the philosophical world, and it matters to be able to look into the philosophical mirror and find someone who looks like me looking back out.
Murdoch is a staunch realist, who emphasises our engagement with an independent world imbued with value and meaning. She also, at the same time, emphasises that moral life is in an important sense private, and an individual achievement. This combination makes for a very distinctive outlook, on which action and knowledge are very closely entwined. This is a deep insight!
"As a legal philosopher one of the themes that I am interested in is how best to account for moral quality in legal practice.
In this context Iris Murdoch's moral philosophy has been an important source of inspiration, because of the prominent role she assigns to moral perception in everyday moral life. Despite the fact that Murdoch herself was largely evasive on matters of public morality, I think her ideas offer valuable insights in coming to grips with the nature of legal decision making."
Murdoch's reflections on love as "an exercise of justice and realism and *really looking*" have been essential to my writing on "love as a moral emotion".
University of Edinburgh, UK
An afternoon outside in the sun spent reading a copy of “The Sovereignty of Good” that I had picked up in a charity shop on a whim restored my faith in philosophy. Iris Murdoch’s philosophy reminds us of something that it’s easy to forget: philosophy is about trying to make sense of our lives and how to live them. Whenever I struggle to see why anyone should care about some abstruse bit of the history of philosophy, I look to see what Murdoch wrote about it, and she shows me.
In a tradition that tends to favour science-inspired models of philosophy Iris Murdoch fought for a more humanistic approach. Few thinkers have done more to reconnect English-language philosophy with the wider arts and humanities, and to bring ideas from the distant past to bear on present-day issues.
University of Hull, UK
I failed my first undergraduate essay by unwittingly submitting a literature answer to a philosophy question. Rather than learning how to isolate the disciplines, I persistently looked for ways to relate literature and philosophy and felt relief when I eventually discovered The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists. Murdoch showed me the significance of the struggle between poetry and philosophy and strengthened my desire for both. Thanks to her I recognised myself as a wayward Platonist at heart. Before Murdoch I had never read a book of philosophy by a female author, let alone imagined myself in a philosophical career. Much later, tutoring in Philosophy at St Anne's College, I had the daily inspiration of working at her writing desk, which had deep drawers that once held her manuscripts. Her perfectly imperfect mix of seriousness and irreverence has been a profound gift to my philosophical development.
I only wish I'd come across Iris Murdoch's philosophy and novels earlier. She is so courageous in her thinking and finds a way to make philosophy both serious and joyful. She is helping to illuminate for me the work of Elizabeth Anscombe and Wittgenstein - philosophers I have studied for a long time but now see in a new light thanks to Murdoch. Her insight that we can learn to see better - more justly, more lovingly - is so deep and important.
Iris Murdoch challenges us to think boldly about moral philosophy: what life would be like if centered around love, and what love and morality would be like if centered around vision and attention. She was that rare philosopher who unearths such deeply-held dogmas one is left shaken and unsure to what extent one’s own vision is clouded by those dogmas. She expands my imagination of what moral philosophy can be, demonstrating the possibility and importance of rich and ambitious work.