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Title: Iris Murdoch's romantic Platonism
Author: Milligan, Tony
ISNI:       0000 0000 7770 0321
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2005
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This account of Iris Murdoch’s moral philosophy takes the form of a critique. It attempts to show the ways in which she falls foul of what she criticises. Murdoch is concerned about the influence of the romantic tradition upon our contemporary (post-war) accounts of morality. She charges contemporaries, such as Sartre and R. M. Hare with having mistakenly extended freedom in ways that make morality seem like a matter of free choice. Against this, her own most rigorous work (The Sovereignty of Good) advances three central claims: (1) an idea of moral perfection (an ideal Good) is built into our ways of thinking and speaking; (2) this idea of Good/perfection is not an unavoidable fiction but a reality principle, it helps to undermine the egocentricity that prevents us from doing justice to the reality of others; (3) this idea of a single, unitary Good pulls us towards Platonic metaphors. (We are like pilgrims, trying to move out of dark egocentricity and into the light of attention to others). My response to this is advanced in the following three parts: Part one sets out Murdoch’s position, complete with an account of the stylistic peculiarities of its exposition. (She believes that value-laden metaphors are unavoidable, and in some cases irreducible). Part Two flags up her similarity to what she attacks. Far from being a moral quietist, Murdoch is deeply critical of our everyday lack of moral ambition. (It is as if we are content to lurk about in the dark). She rejects everyday (‘bourgeois’) contentment in favour of the command ‘be ye therefore perfect’. Having flagged up this shared rejection of everyday contentment, I explore the way that Murdoch’s apparently diffuse charge of ‘romanticism’ is held together by the idea of erotic striving. Such romanticism is the general theoretical correlate of the wrong model of love, romantic love rather than the slow patient love that she wants us to emulate. On this account, avoiding romanticism requires us to meet the following conditions. Firstly, we must direct loving attention towards the contingent reality of persons without puritanically avoiding attention to messy detail. (We should not just ‘tag’ people symbolically, as one of these or one of those.) Secondly, our attention to the other should really be about them, it should not covertly redirect attention to the self. Thirdly, we should not allow our fascinating suffering to obscure the reality of death. (The realisation of our finitude is a crucial aspect of undermining egocentricity). Part Three consists of chapter-pairs which examine the central Murdochian metaphors of fallenness, eros, and the death of the self in an attempt to show that Murdoch falls foul of what she attacks.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: B Philosophy (General) ; PR English literature