NDPR Review: “Iris Murdoch, Philosopher: A Collection of Essays”

NDPR has just published a review — written by Megan J. Laverty (Teachers College, Columbia University) — of the 2012 essay collection Iris Murdoch, Philosopher: A Collection of Essays, edited by Justin Broackes (Oxford University Press). To access the whole review online, please click here.

Here is how it begins:

This collection is a milestone in the history of Murdoch scholarship. It seeks to establish “that Murdoch is of importance and interest to the same people as read the moral philosophy of Kant and Plato or Philippa Foot and John McDowell” (p. v). The volume stems from a conference (held in 2001) that brought together celebrated Murdoch scholars — including Maria Antonacio, Carla Bagnoli, A. E Denham, Lawrence Blum, Peter J. Conradi, Margaret Holland and Martha C. Nussbaum — and relative newcomers — including Justin Broackes (the volume’s editor and the conference’s organizer), Bridget Clarke, Roger Crisp, Julia Driver and Richard Moran. The contributors’ major publications on Murdoch are listed at the end of this review. Iris Murdoch, Philosopher comprises eleven original essays, an edited extract from Murdoch’s unpublished manuscript on Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, a personal vignette by John Bayley and a comprehensive introduction by Broackes.

The extract from Murdoch’s abandoned book-length manuscript on Heidegger is invaluable for Murdoch scholars. Until now the manuscript had been available only at the Murdoch archives at Kingston University, London. Murdoch is a lucid expositor of Heidegger’s ideas. In so doing she develops themes integral to her own philosophy including the character of perception, truth as an achievement and the relationship of philosophy and literature. The extract serves as the perfect companion piece to Murdoch’s other writings on Continental thinkers, including Jean-Paul Sartre (Sartre, Romantic Rationalist) and Jacques Derrida (Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, Chapter 7).

Broackes’ introduction is so thorough that it threatens to overshadow the essays it is meant to support. It offers a meticulously researched and detailed historical overview of Murdoch’s philosophical career that positions her arguments in relation to the philosophical debates of postwar Britain. Broackes usefully distills Murdoch’s ten “largest ideas for academic moral philosophy” (p. 8). Many of the ideas will be familiar to readers of Murdoch, including her anti-scientism (2), anti-reductionism about value (9), and anti-Humean psychology (3). Together, these provide the basis for a form of moral realism (1) that emphasizes moral perception, the reliance of moral perception on moral concepts, and the inevitability of moral disagreement (6). More surprising is Broackes’ identification of G. W. F. Hegel as the source of Murdoch’s realism (10) which is usually tied to the philosophers that she explicitly draws upon, most notably Plato and Simone Weil. Yet, Broackes provides detailed textual support for Murdoch’s study of idealism, esteem for Hegel and recognition of Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (1843) as one of only three philosophical texts to have greatly influenced her (p. 17, fn. 42). Broackes completes the introduction with a finely calibrated treatment of Murdoch’s scholarly output from her earliest papers of the 1950s to The Sovereignty of Good (1970). He acknowledges the importance of her Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals although he admits that its argument still proves elusive. Broackes is preparing a commentary on The Sovereignty of Good which is much anticipated.

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