Iris Murdoch – The Sovereignty of Good
it must be possible to do justice to both Socrates and the virtuous peasant. In such ‘musts’ as these lie the deepest springs and motives of philosophy.
We would like to know what, as moral agents, we have got to do because of logic, what we have got to do because of human nature, and what we can choose to do.
Good is indefinable because judgements of value depend upon the will and choice of the individual.
The inner or mental world is inevitably parasitic upon the outer world, it has ‘a parasitic and shadowy nature’. The definiteness of any thought process depends upon ‘the possibility of [its] being recognized, scrutinized and identified by observers from different points of view; this possibility is essential to any definite reality’. ‘The play of the mind, free of any expression in audible speech or visible action is a reality, as the play of shadows is a reality.
‘Thought cannot be thought, as opposed to day-dreaming or musing, unless it is directed towards a conclusion, whether in action or in judgement.’
We can be mistaken about what we think and feel: that is not in dispute, and indeed it is a strength of the behaviourist analysis that it so neatly accommodates this fact.
Philosophy in the past has played the game of science partly because it thought it was science.
Science can instruct morality at certain points and can change its direction, but it cannot contain morality, nor ergo moral philosophy.
Moral concepts do not move about within a hard world set up by science and logic.
Words may mislead us here since words are often stable while concepts alter; we have a different image of courage at forty from that which we had at twenty.
The argument for looking outward at Christ and not inward at Reason is that self is such a dazzling object that if one looks there one may see nothing else.
As Plato observes at the end of the Phaedrus, words themselves do not contain wisdom. Words said to particular individuals at particular times may occasion wisdom.
we can only understand others if we can to some extent share their contexts. (Often we cannot.)
Progress in understanding of a scheme of concepts often takes place as we listen to normative-descriptive talk in the presence of a common object.
A smart set of concepts may be a most efficient instrument of corruption.
There is only one culture, of which science, so interesting and so dangerous, is now an important part. But the most essential and fundamental aspect of culture is the study of literature, since this is an education in how to picture and understand human situ- ations.
I can only chose within the world I can see, in the moral sense of ‘see’…
Moral change and moral achievement are slow; we are not free in the sense of being able suddenly to alter ourselves since we cannot suddenly alter what we can see and ergo what we desire and are compelled by.
If I attend properly I will have no choices and this is the ultimate condition to be aimed at.
In particular situations ‘reality’ as that which is revealed to the patient eye of love is an idea entirely comprehensible to the ordinary person.
If the will is to be totally free the world it moves in must be devoid of normative characteristics, so that morality can reside entirely in the pointer of pure choice.
The task of attention goes on all the time and at apparently empty and everyday moments we are ‘looking’, making those little peering efforts of imagination which have such important cumulative results.
Prayer is properly not petition, but simply an attention to God which is a form of love.
I shall suggest that God was (or is) a single perfect transcendent non-representable and necessarily real object of attention
‘pure will’ can usually achieve little. It is small use telling oneself ‘Stop being in love, stop feeling resentment, be just. What is needed is a reorientation which will provide an energy of a different kind, from a different source.
The notion that ‘it all somehow must make sense’, or ‘there is a best decision here’ preserves from despair: the difficulty is how to entertain this consoling notion in a way which is not false.
The idea of perfection moves, and possibly changes, us (as artist, worker, agent) because it inspires love in the part of us that is most worthy. One cannot feel unmixed love for a mediocre moral standard any more than one can for the work of a mediocre artist.
The appreciation of beauty in art or nature is not only (for all its difficulties) the easiest available spiritual exercise; it is also a completely adequate entry into (and not just analogy of) the good life, since it is the checking of selfishness in the interest of seeing the real
But the greatest art is ‘impersonal’ because it shows us the world, our world and not another one, with a clarity which startles and delights us simply because we are not used to looking at the real world at all. Of course, too, artists are pattern-makers.
the realism (ability to perceive reality) required for goodness is a kind of intellectual ability to perceive what is true, which is automatically at the same time a suppression of self.
The only genuine way to be good is to be good ‘for nothing’ in the midst of a scene where every ‘natural’ thing, including one’s own mind, is subject to chance, that is, to necessity.
Good’ even as a fiction is not likely to inspire, or even be comprehensible to, more than a small number of mystically minded people who, being reluctant to surrender God’, fake up ‘Good’ in his image, so as to preserve some kind of hope.
If one does not believe in a personal God there is no ‘problem’ of evil, but there is the almost insuperable difficulty of looking properly at evil and human suffering.
And if quality of consciousness matters, then anything which alters consciousness in the direction of unselfishness, objectivity and realism is to be connected with virtue.
The surprise is a product of the fact that, as Plato pointed out, beauty is the only spiritual thing which we love by instinct.
The pointlessness of art is not the pointlessness of a game; it is the pointtessness of buman life itself, and form in art is properly the simulation of the self- contained aimlessness of the universe.
Good art shows us how difficult it is to be objective by showing us how differently the world looks to an objective viston.
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of all is to join this sense of absolute mortality not to the tragic but to the comic. Shallow and Silence. Stefan Trofimovich Verhovensky.
The τέχνη which Plato thought was most important was mathematics, because it was most rigorous and abstract.
My work is a progressive revelation of something which exists independently of me. Attention is rewarded by a knowledge of reality. Love of Russian leads me away from myself towards something alien to me, something which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal. The honesty and humility required of the student–not to pretend to know what one does not know– is the preparation for the honesty and humility of the scholar who does not even feel tempted to suppress the fact which damns his theory.
But apart from special contexts, studying is normally an exercise of virtue as well as of talent, and shows us a fundamental way in which virtue is related to the real world.
Good is a transcendent reality means that virtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is. It is an empirical fact about human nature that this attempt cannot be entirely successful.
Freedom, we find out, is not an inconsequential chucking of one’s weight about, it is the disciplined overcoming of self. Humility is not a peculiar habit of self-effacement, rather like having an inaudible vote, it is selfless respect for reality and one of the most difficult and central of all virtues.
The ordinary person does not, unless corrupted by philosophy, believe that he creates values by his choices.
(One might say that Chance is really a subdivision of Death. It is certainly our most effective memento mori.)
The humble man, because he sees himself as nothing, can see others as they are.