Sunday, May 10, 2009

22 Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999)


Of course everyone knows Iris Murdoch as a novelist, but by education and profession she was a true Oxford / Cambridge philosopher. She was for instance the first one, who wrote an book on Sartre for an English speaking audience.

To show you her philosophical writings:
Sartre: Romantic Rationalist. 1953
The Sovereignty of Good. 1970
The Fire and The Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists. 1977
Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues. 1986
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. 1992.
Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature. 1997.

As you may see, attention for the Greeks and ethics. And what is more interesting, Iris Murdoch was a contemporary of Elizabeth Anscombe. Also an Oxford / Cambridge woman, also interested in Greek philosophy, also focused on ethics.

It is the 40s in Oxford, two brilliant female students, Anscombe and Murdoch. Both philosophy students and both attended Wittgenstein's seminars. Both close witnesses of the dominating philosophy on ethics then. And both responding in the same way.

Due to the dominance of empiricism philosophers like Betham and Mill had developed the idea of utility as base for moral values. G.E. Moore showed that this approach led to what he called "the naturalistic fallacy".

It means that people like Mill try to derive ethical conclusions form non-ethical premises or to define ethical notions in non-ethical terms. In other words: if something IS the case, you cant logically deduce from that what you OUGHT to do. Or when you define "good" with "pleasure" the question "Is pleasure good?" still seems relevant.

Because a duty ethics (Kant) wasn't acceptable, there developed theories which you can find under names as emotivism (Moore) and prescriptivism (Hare) which suggested that moral statements are no factual statements but expressions of emotions or prescriptions.

The quintessence of all these philosophical ideas was a tendency towards materialism, fundamental opposition against transcendental theories or idealism.

It is remarkable to see that both our women philosophers attacked these philosophical positions and pleaded for a virtue ethics, which means that the knowledge of "the Good" is an intrinsique given in the character of man.

For Iris Murdoch this implied deep attraction to, and understanding of, the philosophy of Plato. The project of founding morality not on changing human needs or wishes but on an immutable and absolute idea of goodness has been central to her thought.

In "The Sovereignty of Good" she writes: "To do philosophy is to explore one's own temperament, and yet at the same time to attempt to discover the truth. It seems to me that there is a void in presentday moral philosophy.

Areas peripheral to philosophy expand (psychology, political and social theory) or collapse (religion) without philosophy being able in the one case to encounter, and in the other case to rescue, the values involved.

A working philosophical psychology is needed which can at least attempt to connect modern psychological terminology with a terminology concerned with virtue.

(...)We need a moral philosophy in which the concept of love, so rarely mentioned now by philosophers, can once again be made central." -END QUOTE -

She gives a perfect description of the philosophical landscape of her time: "Kant believed in Reason and Hegel believed in History, and for both this was a form of a belief in an external reality.

Modern thinkers who believe in neither, but who remain within the tradition, are left with a denuded self whose only virtues are freedom, or at best sincerity, or, in the case of the British philosophers, an everyday reasonableness. (...)

The history of British philosophy since Moore represents intensively in miniature the special dilemmas of modern ethics. Empiricism, especially in the form given tuit by Russell, and later by Wittgenstein, thrust ethics almost out of philosophy. Moral judgments were not factual, or truthful, and had no place in the world of the Tractatus."

Ethical theory has affected society, and has reached as far as to the ordinary man, in the past, and there is no good reason to think that it cannot do so in the future. And even tho ethics seemed to be banned from the realm of (scientific) knowledge, Iris Murdoch opposed to that development.

Like Elizabeth Anscombe she tried to revive the idea that the good is based on the inner virtues of the individual, that these virtues can be know, virtues like honesty, modesty, courage, selfishness, love, justice.

When we look at the presentday financial crisis and its origins I think that the debate on ethics really need another good swing. If you would ask me, what the main theme of presentday ethical discourse is....I wouldnt know.

Are we utilitarians, are we convinced that we need inner virtues to be a good and rightious person? Iris Murdoch concludes thus : "The background to morals is properly some sort of mysticism, if by this is meant a non-dogmatic essentially unformulated faith in the reality of the Good, occasionally connected with experience..."

The Discussion

[13:26] herman Bergson: So much on Iris Murdoch..:-)
[13:26] herman Bergson: And Yes ChatNoir....a VERY GOOD question
[13:26] ChatNoir Talon: :)
[13:26] ChatNoir Talon: I looove ethics.. so glad we can talk about it
[13:27] herman Bergson: In the days of Ascombe and Murdoch it WAS a hot issue...not only in academic circles
[13:27] herman Bergson: But if you ask me what the ethical discourse of today is, I wouldnt know
[13:28] herman Bergson: if anyone of you does.....???!
[13:28] ChatNoir Talon: I argue there's little to none of it
[13:29] herman Bergson: Basicly it is about what is right and what is wrong....sounds simple
[13:29] AristotleVon Doobie: Am I to understand that Ms. Murdoch believed that folks are born good, (honest, modest, courageous, etc)?
[13:29] Daruma Boa: but ist the hardest
[13:29] Daruma Boa: it is i mean
[13:29] herman Bergson: I think , yes Aristotle..there is a positive element in it
[13:29] AristotleVon Doobie: bah
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:29] AristotleVon Doobie: :)
[13:29] ChatNoir Talon: Humbug! Lol
[13:30] Daruma Boa: humbug?
[13:30] herman Bergson: well..there you are...
[13:30] ChatNoir Talon: I was quoting Scrooge, from Christmas Carol.. but nevermind
[13:30] herman Bergson: My first thought is that our feeling of right and wrong is primarily decided by what is legal and what is illegal...
[13:30] AristotleVon Doobie: The only thing we are born knowing how to do is breathe and suckle
[13:31] ChatNoir Talon: I don't believe good or bad comes from some mystic place inside us... that's for sure
[13:31] herman Bergson: No Aristotle I disagree...
[13:31] herman Bergson: at least we also know how to avoid pain and to obtain pleasure
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: I think we learn that empirically
[13:31] oola Neruda: mom says...don't run into the street, don't do this ...don't do that...
[13:31] Daruma Boa: hihi
[13:31] herman Bergson: No Aristotle...
[13:32] hope63 Shepherd: not agree herman a baby learns about pain and plasure.. does not avoid it..
[13:32] herman Bergson: I think that the notion of pain is a real a priori for the organism
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: I have to disagree of course :)
[13:32] ChatNoir Talon: I agree... so is pleasure, I think
[13:33] hope63 Shepherd: a prioris of the organism is the result of the geneti8c st4ructure..
[13:33] herman Bergson: yes Hope...regards all animals..:-)
[13:33] Paula Dix: so the basis is psychologic?
[13:33] herman Bergson: Well ...I try to find a starting point for ethics....
[13:34] herman Bergson: In the days of Murdoch they were in the middle of a debate
[13:34] herman Bergson: presentday we seem to be in some desert
[13:34] hope63 Shepherd: well.. ethics without a society cannot exist.
[13:35] ChatNoir Talon: But so does art or philospohy really, Hope
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: the world is run amok, with the absence of ethical standards
[13:35] herman Bergson: could say that ethics is always defined in relation to the other...
[13:35] Daruma Boa: true
[13:35] hope63 Shepherd: the individual experienc can be qualified s "good" or "bad"..
[13:35] ChatNoir Talon: I thing utilitarism is the best thing currently around as far as ethics go
[13:35] hope63 Shepherd: or as useful and harmful..
[13:36] herman Bergson: I am still thinking about Pragmatism as well ChatNoir
[13:36] ChatNoir Talon: Because they can try to gap the external facts such as "pain" or "pleasure" and combine it with "suffering" and"happiness"
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: 'get what you can, and get it now, others be damned' seems to be the motto of our global enterprises
[13:36] hope63 Shepherd: but ethics as i understand it is necessarily in relation to others..
[13:36] ChatNoir Talon: Yes Ari... I think Ayn Rand would be glad
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes that sense a lot of people have exposed their standards..
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: In that regard ChatNoir I think she is deficient in her thinking
[13:37] herman Bergson: And look at the reactions on it....people get angry....
[13:37] herman Bergson: there seems to be a feeling...thou should not act like that
[13:37] ChatNoir Talon: Because it makes us sad
[13:37] herman Bergson: so..there is some ethical feeling alive in this world
[13:38] Paula Dix: wouldnt people just follow something like an "inconscient" ethics today?
[13:38] hope63 Shepherd: french revoution is based on they should not act like that..
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: Ms.. Rand failed to acknowledge that in order to survie well, society must survive well too
[13:38] Paula Dix: I mean, people are relating to each other, even if they dont think about how they do it
[13:39] hope63 Shepherd: ari the socialist.. mccarthy would have put you in jail ari..
[13:39] ChatNoir Talon: Hey socialism rocks! (In theory heheh)
[13:39] herman Bergson: yes fact this shows these the way the world reacts on this global crisis..
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, old joe...boy was he unethical
[13:39] herman Bergson: There is a feeling that people acted immmoral.....
[13:40] herman Bergson: for instance based on greed
[13:40] Paula Dix: a woman here gave back to bank some 1 million dollar that appeared on her account
[13:40] Paula Dix: turned into national news
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: no, socialism is coerced charity
[13:40] Daruma Boa: really paula?
[13:40] Paula Dix: she had to change bank, the people there started treating her as an idiot
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: omg
[13:40] herman Bergson: And yet...this idea of it so absured or obsolete?
[13:41] ChatNoir Talon: I think the problem with ethics is that everyone has different standards or anchors to measure and compare it to. For some it was history, nature, a feeling of "wrongness", laws, religion... it is only when we can all agree on a common marker that we can share and pursue ethics together
[13:41] Daruma Boa: well, unbelievable
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: and how could that common marker look like chat..
[13:41] herman Bergson: The common marker in the 40s and 50s in Oxford was the philosopical discourse
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: if we all alll born good, as Ms. Murcoch states then we all all ethical from the womb
[13:42] ChatNoir Talon: To me, its all measured in happiness, pleasure, pain and suffering... but that's just me
[13:42] herman Bergson: the link with history...Bentham and Mill..and Hume
[13:42] ChatNoir Talon: Yes
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes...but are we in a state of absolute subjectivism nowadays?
[13:43] herman Bergson: like epistemologically we are in a state of utter relativism?
[13:43] ChatNoir Talon: Not total, for most of these markers, murdering is wrong as wll as slavery
[13:43] ChatNoir Talon: I can't accept the notion of someone telling me having a slave is 0K because "it's alright in their culture"
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: you can murder if the state sanctions it, that seem ok to do
[13:43] hope63 Shepherd: depends how you define murder chat..
[13:44] Paula Dix: my psychiatrist friend says we are born totally egoistical, first shock is to learn world isnt ours, second is to learn rules
[13:44] Daruma Boa: right chat
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: capitol punishment, war etc
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:44] Paula Dix: third step is to learn to put yourself in other people place... most people dont do the third step
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: not to mention torture
[13:44] herman Bergson: I oppose to the word egoisticall
[13:44] herman Bergson: it is a value judgement related to a specific context...
[13:45] ChatNoir Talon: When you care about noone but yourself...
[13:45] herman Bergson: when you say we are born as an organism with an innate drive to selfpreservation I could agree
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: born as an individual organism..
[13:46] Paula Dix: yes, the idea is this i think, you act like all is for you, and mother reinforce the idea at first
[13:46] herman Bergson: yes Hope...
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: lol, ChatNoir ourselves is all we subjectively care about, it takes cerebral action to care about others
[13:46] ChatNoir Talon: Exactly.. which is the next step in maturity.. realizing you are no more important than the person next to you
[13:47] herman Bergson: Yes Aristotle..and thence to come to the pargmatic or utilitarian ethics
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: but this is what we lern ari,, at least we should..
[13:47] Paula Dix: exact, this is the key point for a good society? the maturity step?
[13:47] ChatNoir Talon: I'd say so
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: if I am right then goodness is not genetic
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: look at the killing yesterday in grmany.. this guy had cerebral actions..
[13:47] herman Bergson: THAT is a philosophical point Aristotle...
[13:48] herman Bergson: as Goodness might be genetic in the MIND....
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: no hope I think he succumbed to his ancient brain
[13:48] Paula Dix: hmmm maybe we can say that some brains are wired better to understand the others?
[13:48] Daruma Boa: yahoo wrote it was the internet^^
[13:48] ChatNoir Talon: I don't believe we are born knowing what's good or wrong... specially when its about the others
[13:48] hope63 Shepherd: that woud be n easy way out ar..
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: ahh, Paula, that could only mean the some are defective in wiring
[13:48] Paula Dix: lol yes Chat, like Herman said, we just go for pleasure at first
[13:49] hope63 Shepherd: if we put aside our organic needs.. what IS good..
[13:49] herman Bergson: But if all this is so clear....why did philosophers like Anscombe and Murdoch plead for recognition of VIRTUE in man
[13:49] Daruma Boa: humans use mostly the easest way.
[13:49] Daruma Boa: in learning
[13:49] Paula Dix: Ari, yes, i believe so, some people have wiring problems, like psicopaths
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: Pain and Pleasur are the twin teachers of life
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: I agree Paula
[13:49] Daruma Boa: humans in mean
[13:49] hope63 Shepherd: virtues were always called upon to serve a certain idea in a society..
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: I agree with that Hope
[13:50] ChatNoir Talon: Humans are animals. I think inherentyl we have no more idea of virtue, goodness, or badness as do any other primate
[13:50] ChatNoir Talon: But we LEARN what if "good" or "bad"
[13:50] herman Bergson: that isnt the quintessence sounds as if you say ...virtue was a trick to manipulate
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: yes ChatNoir primal beings with the power to reason
[13:51] ChatNoir Talon: it is only when we reason, that we can have an ethical self
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed
[13:51] ChatNoir Talon high fives Ari
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: way up high fives
[13:51] Paula Dix: would the problem start when we have to deal with bigger number of people?
[13:51] herman Bergson: due to the fact that we reason we are forced to ethics
[13:52] Paula Dix: I guess up to a family size we still can have some clear idea of things, but when its more, then its more and more difuse
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: we have to reason it out that it is good for us for society to prosper
[13:52] ChatNoir Talon: Ethcs is about the relationship between people.. if you starve youself to death nobody cares.. it is only when you affect your poor-old mother that it is a question of ethics
[13:53] herman Bergson: I wouldnt agree ChatNoir...
[13:53] herman Bergson: If you starv yourself to death I would interfer
[13:53] ChatNoir Talon: Yes, only if you KNEW about it
[13:53] herman Bergson: because I believe you are hurting yourself unwillingly
[13:54] hope63 Shepherd: don't do it chat.. it would hurt us all:)
[13:54] herman Bergson: why is a hunger strike effective?
[13:54] herman Bergson: if no one cares?
[13:54] ChatNoir Talon: You make them care
[13:54] Paula Dix: lol Chat, that start the problem... there are groups that think they can decide if you can or not starv yourself to death. Here suicide is a crime!!
[13:54] herman Bergson: if no one cares?
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: ahhh, but is that ethical t make it illegal, paula?
[13:55] ChatNoir Talon: It works because one has media access... if noone knew you're starving in your own locked room... then yeah, noone would care
[13:55] herman Bergson: Yes Paula..but is this reduced to just some group who has certain convictions?
[13:55] Paula Dix: Ari, i dont think so, i believe person owns integrally her body
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: :)) good, me too
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: of mine is a him
[13:55] ChatNoir Talon: Agreed
[13:55] Paula Dix: but then, if you have a psychological condition... :)))
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: his
[13:55] Paula Dix: lol
[13:56] ChatNoir Talon: Argh! The hour passed way to fast :( I have to go
[13:56] herman Bergson: Well...... if you say that ehtics start in relation with say that you have absolute saying about your life....
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: have to leave see you tuesday nice discussion and i do think there is a discussion going on in philosphy today about ethics
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye
[13:56] Ze Novikov: bb
[13:56] herman Bergson: Suppose I worked all my life to feed you, Paula....
[[13:57] herman Bergson: and then you say ..bye I kill myself
[13:57] Qwark Allen: was very nice discussion
[13:57] ChatNoir Talon: Yes, that's ethical because it affects YOU Herman
[13:57] herman Bergson: Is that justified?
[13:57] ChatNoir Talon: You would feel bad
[13:57] Qwark Allen: hope to continue it next day
[13:57] Clear Clarity: Even if suicide is a crime here, I never heard of someone that survived to be prosecuted
[13:57] Qwark Allen: cya friends
[13:57] Daruma Boa: bye q
[13:57] herman Bergson: Ok Qwark...
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: Qwarkster,,, bye
[13:57] hope63 Shepherd: by q
[13:57] Alarice Beaumont: bye qwark :.-)
[13:58] Paula Dix: Btw, Clear is my friend as you can say by the title :) and we are on the same room here on her FL house
[13:58] herman Bergson: But is moral responsability reduced to the given that I would feel bad?
[13:58] ChatNoir Talon: I wuld think so
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: they usually declare them psycological defective
[13:58] ChatNoir Talon: :)
[13:58] ChatNoir Talon: I have to run people... Thanks for the lecture Herman!
[13:58] ChatNoir Talon: Bye
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: bye ChatNoir
[13:58] Daruma Boa: bye chat
[13:58] Alarice Beaumont: bye Chat
[13:58] Ze Novikov: bb
[13:58] hope63 Shepherd: bye chat..
[13:59] herman Bergson: Ok....class is disintegrating....^_^
[13:59] Daruma Boa: ^^
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: yeah getting late, I have to run too
[13:59] herman Bergson: I think , we have alot to think about....
[13:59] Anne Charles: Thank you Professor -- good bye all.
[13:59] Daruma Boa: true. but everyday we have to think a lot
[13:59] herman Bergson: So thank you all for this good discussion
[14:00] Ze Novikov: bb everyone ty herman
[14:00] herman Bergson: By Ze

Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-03-15 17:51:37

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