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Yet this takes place within a moral psychology which includes the claim that an idea of the Good is inescapably structured into human ways of thinking and judging. Hence, the overall outlook remains Platonist. What Antonaccio offers, and what Murdoch herself does seem to have offered, is a liberal Platonism — a mixture whose stability is a matter of debate.

This is all good stuff, and makes for a fascinating text. However, I do have a couple of reservations. This classification has drawn forth a weak objection and a strong objection. But this is perhaps my fault. Better by far to cut into new territory. They are not exactly the same. We can be egocentric in the sense of being preoccupied with our own interests without being selfish. We may, for example, be giving through being masochistic and guilt-ridden, and yet be preoccupied with ourselves precisely because of these hateful attitudes towards our merits.

On the one hand we are told that Murdoch 'thinks that romanticism, properly understood, entails … a recognition of one's self as relational and required to be attentive to others' This idea -- of the self as relational -- seems integral to Laverty's account of the Murdochian 'third way'. No doubt the idea can be developed in various ways, but common to them would be the thought that the 'meanings' articulated in my relationships my 'descriptions' are not a merely illusory projection onto a 'really' void and meaningless reality, for if they are such a projection the self that projects them is not fundamentally relational.

The metaphysical assumptions behind that 'projection' picture of reality surely drop away if the relational character of the self is taken seriously. If 'the good individual recognises that it is others … who are most real' and that the most important thing for her is 'to involve herself with what is other -- … other individuals, language, academic studies, good art and literature' 87 , then it can scarcely also be that the real challenge is for us to confront the 'nothingness that transcends consciousness and is so very difficult for us to acknowledge' 4. If 'it is others who are most real', then reality as 'so difficult for us to acknowledge' because it is void and meaningless is not what is 'most real'.

We are also told that '[u]nselfing entails that consciousness becomes less determined by the self and more available to reality. This reality that consciousness becomes determined by is principally made up of other individual selves who are also centres of meaning' On the face of it, to say that the reality that transcends consciousness is 'nothingness -- death, chance, void' is very different indeed from saying that this reality is 'principally made up of other individual selves who are also centres of meaning'.

The second passage allows for consciousness as 'relational'; the earlier quotation does not. In place of the 'prototypically masculine romantic protagonist, independent, isolated, intensely dedicated to his art, in possession of a muse, and an explorer of new and dangerous territories', Murdoch offers us her 'mother and daughter-in-law example and daily domestic chores such as sweeping the floor, paying the bills and potting plants ' And later Laverty also mentions the person facing a decision whether 'to keep the retarded child at home, ask the elderly relation to go away, leave the family in order to do political work' The way in which such a person made these decisions might indeed show her consciousness as determined by the reality of the 'individual selves' around her.

And the rhetoric of her having to confront the 'nothingness that transcends consciousness and is so very difficult for us to acknowledge' then seems out of place. Indeed that rhetoric is perhaps itself a vestige of the 'prototypically masculine romantic' perspective -- with its 'independent, isolated' non -relational self -- that Murdoch is opposing. Perhaps some of Murdoch's insights have to be rescued from her own formulations.

Laverty quotes this from Murdoch: 'Goodness is connected with the acceptance of real death and real chance and real transience' The phrase 'connected with' implies a link between two distinguishable things: goodness is not the same as 'acceptance of real death and real chance and real transience', even if it requires that acceptance. What more does goodness involve? According to Murdoch, it involves love or, since love can have better and worse forms, 'loving attention'. Laverty herself, though, comes very close indeed to equating goodness or at least love with something like this 'acceptance'.

She says: 'To accept the determination of consciousness by an undetermined reality is love' But even if the word 'accept' is allowed to bear a great weight in this 'definition' of love, I do not think it is true. Think again of those examples - 'the mother loving the retarded child or loving the tiresome elderly relation' -- that Murdoch speaks of in connection with the questions:.

Should [the] retarded child be kept at home or sent to an institution? Should [the] elderly relation who is a trouble-maker be cared for or asked to go away? Should an unhappy marriage be continued for the sake of the children? The love which brings the right answer is an exercise of justice and realism and really looking. Surely the love spoken of here is not simply or essentially 'accept[ing ] the determination of consciousness by an undetermined reality'. I think a similar reductionist tendency as it seems to me to be can be found in some not all of what Laverty says about the sublime.

She writes: 'Sublime experiences involve an encounter with death, chance, and the reality of other individuals' In 'a confrontation with the limits of representative consciousness -- death, chance, banality, the void or meaninglessness', Laverty continues, 'the individual experiences the sublime as an educational sacrament or source of good energy' Let us agree that when confrontation with those things is indeed experienced as 'an educational sacrament or source of good energy', we have the sublime.

But such a confrontation need not be so experienced. Svidrigaylov and Stavrogin, powerfully drawn characters in two of Dostoevsky's novels, are men whose recognition of 'the void or meaninglessness' is expressed in their sheer despair. They are driven right up against their own incapacity to love. The point is that so far as confrontation with death, chance, meaninglessness, etc. That capacity does not have its origin in the confrontation with those things.

Laverty might seek to defend the 'definition' of love I quoted from her, by invoking the distinction she draws in her final chapter between 'two senses of love' in Murdoch, one from her meta-ethics and the other from her philosophical psychology. Of the 'psychological' sense Laverty says: 'It typically describes a form of attachment: either between parent and child, as in the case of filial love; or between friends, as in the case of Platonic love; or between sexually intimate individuals, as in the case of romantic love' Murdoch does not provide a theory of love per se which seeks to explain how a person is in some respect the paradigmatic focus of our love while defining love.

How can love as an imaginative construal of the other which engages attention and imagination help one to overcome selfishness, as Murdoch claims? How does love come to be a virtue and also a means to virtue? The activity of learning a language requires grammar rules and understanding idiomatic expressions. In describing her personal experience of learning Russian, Murdoch makes an interesting parallel with the process of loving the other. T he insight we have into the other through love, similarly in the process of learning a language acts upon us and draws us to see goodness in that person, independent of the need to provide an evaluative rationale endorsing that person's behavior.

As a result of such insights, moral principles become something that we must ever learn anew, in and through particular cases. The other's independence exists and can only be grasped by our attention and imagination.


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I am learning, for instance, Russian, I am confronted by an authoritative structure, which commands my respect. The task is difficult and the goal is distant and perhaps never entirely attainable. My work is a progressive revelation of something which is independently of me. Attention is rewarded by knowledge of reality. Love of Russian leads me away from myself towards something alien to me, something that my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal Murdoch , In studying, we also appeal to a standard of perfection, which transcends the reality of the subject as applied in the real world.

To learn a language means to not only learn its grammar rules and how to apply them, but also to appreciate its individuality, its uniqueness and its independence. This fosters the love that is necessary for deeply understanding a foreign language. Thus the process of learning a language is both cognitive and affective with the capacity to learn requiring us to orient ourselves towards it in a sort of practical obedience.

Selfish thoughts and interests must be put aside even when there is a practical value in learning a language. While learning a language for its intrinsic value, the effort displays virtue for it is an example of loving something real outside the self. Similarly, the act of perceiving others through love especially engages attention and imagination. A loving gaze, however, needs to be qualified according to the role of love in cognition. Murdoch assimilates love of others into Plato's concept of Eros, which is also oriented toward seeing things in so far as they participate in the good.

The unity of the good as the unity of the virtues is realized through love. Virtue is goodness insofar as a human being participates in the good. In Murdoch's view, it is love as the primary virtue that reveals the fullness of others. It is in loving others that one is just to them; justice resides in the realism of this love that does not project ideals of what others should be, but accepts them as they are.

This accepting love needs to be disciplined by the aesthetic perception of the object of art or person, which implies exercising detachment to renounce the desire to own what you see: "What is truly beautiful is 'inaccessible' and cannot be possessed or destroyed" , Neither detachment nor the achievement of aesthetic perception through attentiveness toward others is easy to accomplish. However, through the force of disciplined love , the contemplation of beauty involves a movement towards transcendence. Ultimately, for Murdoch, morality is the perception of goodness through love.

Realism and the idea of transcendence are, however, closely related in this view of love and goodness. Goodness is real in the person, but it cannot be grasped through concepts alone since it is particularly immanent in each person. The idea of the transcendence of goodness is connected in Murdoch's work, on one hand, with perfection. The possibility of change that the very idea of perfection might imply comes from the capacity to love that inspires us.

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The indefinable good expresses itself through the idea of perfection which organizes our understanding of how we should see the world. Attention is the effort to counteract states of delusion that come from self-serving interests. Such an attempt to see others in an unselfish way as both the artist and the Good man do renders virtue selfless.

And the struggle to do so takes place in the mind, at the level of consciousness. Virtue, then, is knowledge of the Good by love of others which allows for moral progress through spiritual struggle. Under this model, we should not expect that our moral experience should arrive as a pre-packaged piece of observation followed by a rational response.

The main argument of this article is that to be moral is above all to have a regard for others. Murdoch conceives of the perfection of virtue through aesthetic perception as essential for the moral self in the process of learning how to see others as they really are. This kind of moral perception leaves room for moral progress and moral change.

Thus, the fundamental background of virtue is not the will: it is the good, and seeing the good corresponds to the right description of moral situations. In order to be realistic, the perception should not be related to personal desires or interests; its relations with desires and interests are only contingent. Murdoch suggests that when a morally admirable person sees a situation as being one which requires a selfless action, his character is such that all other reasons are overridden by his perception of the moral requirement and thus he is motivated to act selflessly.


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  5. Murdoch does not think of the virtuous self as ascetic, or as one whose appetites for worldly things are weakened by training or by natural inclinations. Where the dictates of morality do not forbid it, the virtuous person can relish pleasure with as much zest as anyone. However, virtue requires a certain moral discipline, through struggle, which would, if circumstances were different, disregard any other course of action incompatible with what is morally right.

    Her perception of what is morally required silences her own desires, interests, needs, etc. Thus, the virtuous person for Murdoch, does not decide that, on balance, the path of virtue is to be preferred to that of vice. Simply, vice has nothing to put into the balance which could weigh against virtue. Similarly, self-interest could not weigh against virtue either. Consequently, virtue needs moral discipline and change of consciousness so as to better see the others, without being influenced by desires or interests. Thus seeing the Good of others is in itself the framework of the ethical life of humans.

    If we conceive of virtue as Murdoch does, we also seem to cut ourselves off from any understanding of moral weaknesses or akratic phenomena. Common sense tells us that people often are knowledgeable of what morality requires for their actions towards others, yet they are tempted by other considerations interests, desires, needs, etc.

    It looks like there cannot be a moral case where the moral person as Murdoch conceives of it, clearly perceives the right thing to do but fails to do it. Only the lack of clarity of moral perception results in doing wrong. It is important to mention that beyond her emphasis on morally perceiving others, Murdoch does not deny the importance of acting morally by following moral rules.

    For her, facts and values are morally related and the clarity of vision of the situation becomes the condition of the right action towards others. Perception itself is a mode of evaluation so that for Murdoch, virtue is merely a matter of perception and change of consciousness.

    Moral Perception Beyond Supervenience: Iris Murdoch’s Radical Perspective

    Thus the moral self as other-regarding does not only respect the virtues in others; it has a regard for others especially when they suffer or fail to come up to a standard of virtue. One might argue that there is something superhuman about such an account of the moral self. In fact, we may never attain it. It represents, however, Murdoch's conclusion of what she thinks is a realist account of morality. The distinctive ways that virtuous ones see situations which enable them to clearly perceive the demands of morality regarding others, distinguish them from less moral people.

    The less those considerations of what would be in their interest or would satisfy some craving distract them from looking at a situation, the more truly moral they become. Concerning the claim that Murdoch's view disregards phenomena of weakness of will, an answer is possible. One might assume that inattentiveness to others is related to a weak will in her account.

    The moral struggle must involve the will, at least to the extent that attention must be properly directed if it is to become a real form of seeing. Murdoch claims it is the function of the novel to develop this kind of attentiveness to others. It may well be that some problems related to weakness of will may alternatively be understood as failures of a consciousness that is not adequately, not comprehensively, engaged in acquiring a vision of others.

    It is a matter of coming to a sense of the others' life as a whole, of understanding actions and attitudes in relation to the others' understanding of what is good and whom they are. We all have had the experience of not being able to put a novel down. One way of interpreting this attitude is to say that one cannot be drawn away from the book, precisely because one is so thoroughly and deeply engaged with its characters. Perhaps there would be an analogous phenomenon when it comes to morals, of not being able to put others aside, so much does one's vision of others engage one's concern.

    So, on this view, weakness of will is just a superficial attention. Nonetheless, one of the most difficult points to grasp in Murdoch's account of moral virtue is the claim that the idea of the good is transcendental for knowledge. As we recall, Murdoch fills in, albeit without definition, the way in which we should understand love. Since we do have experience of the tragedy and triumphs of others, the concepts that make this experience possible must be shared. Fundamental in this context seems to be the idea of the good. Without such an idea, we cannot acquire knowledge of others.

    Hence, the good is a universal necessary condition for the possibility of such knowledge of others. Murdoch's attempt to find such a universal condition appears to be question-begging. It assumes that we have an experience that is knowledge of the relevant sort. But is it clear that our ideas of the tragedies and triumphs of others is knowledge? The experience of tragedy and triumph might, arguably, be more a function of an idea of beauty Kantian-like tied to certain, ultimately, subjective ideas of whom we are as ends, than an idea of a necessarily objective good.

    More about Analysis Of Iris Murdoch 's ' Morality And Religion

    In conclusion, Murdoch's transcendental argument seems unable to provide the metaphysical understanding of morality she requires. Antonaccio, M. Bagnoli, C. Ricciardi ed. Conradi, P. Iris Murdoch - A Life, W. Murdoch, I. Nussbaum, M. Plato , Complete Works , John M. Cooper ed. Plato's Republic, Sesonke, A. Rorty, R. In a dialogue with Bryan Magee about the relation between philosophy and literature, Murdoch makes the distinction between fantasy and imagination.

    The process of "purifying" this is the term Murdoch uses consciousness from selfish desire involves the change of perception through imagination. The process is normative and requires moral struggle. Like all novelists, Murdoch makes a distinction between a good character, which, if real we consider virtuous, and a good characterization of a fictional character, which is well presented regardless of its behavior.

    Good novelists ought to love all their characters no matter their behavior, Murdoch states.


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