Iris Murdoch

Dublin, 1919 – Oxford, 1999

"Art and morality are, with certain provisos […] one. Their essence is the same. The essence of both of them is love. Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality."

Dame Jane Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin on July 25th, 1919, and is internationally acclaimed as one of the most prestigious novelists in English literature. In comparison, her philosophical work is scarcely known.

This can be explained by the fact that, as is common in such cases, one of the two fields tends to overshadow the other. It is also a fact that the disparity in the reception of her work has contributed to the idea that there is, in fact, a hiatus between the two, as if Murdoch were vocationally a novelist but professionally a philosopher, or, perhaps, a philosopher converted into novelist who at one point of her career relinquished her first choice. This is, however, a false impression. As a matter of fact, both professions were developed simultaneously and are intertwined, both chronologically and in matters of content. One of the matrices of her philosophy is the conviction in the philosophical relevance of literature and good art, and the confirmation of its common essence. The most defining trait in Murdoch’s novels are her lucid ability to introduce moral facts and problems.

Under the influence of Plato and Simone Weil, her phenomenalistic, realistic and particularistic conception of moral life and of Good burst into the Postwar English-speaking moral philosophical field in an original and transforming way. Instead of focusing on the concepts of will and choice, she opted for placing the concept of attention as the core concept in moral behavior, thus turning the metaphor of vision or moral perception into the productive nucleus of a philosophical conception that ranges from metaphysics to epistemology, and that places great importance in the faculty of imagination. She died on February 8th, 1999, in Oxford, the place where she studied, taught, wrote and lived most of her life.

Selected Works

1953, Sartre: Romantic Rationalist, London: Bowes & Bowes; reed. 1989, London: Penguin.

1970, The Sovereignty of Good, London: Chatto & Windus; reed. 1985, London: Ark Paperbacks, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

1977, The Fire and The Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, London: Oxford University Press.

1986, Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues, London: Chatto & Windus; reed. 1987, Harmondsworth: Penguin Ltd.

1992, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, London: Chatto & Windus; reed. 1993, New York: Penguin.

1997, Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, Peter Conradi (ed.), London: Chatto & Windus; reed. 1999, New York-London: Penguin.

Secondary Literature

BROAKES, Justin (ed.), 2012, Iris Murdoch, Philosopher: A Collection of Essays, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

LAURENZI, Elena & FUSTER, À. Lorena (eds.), 2013, Contra la aridez. La propuesta filosófica de Iris Murdoch, Daímon. Revista Internacional de Filosofía, nº 60.

LOVIBOND, Sabina, 2011, Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy, London-New York: Routledge.

NUSSBAUM, Martha, 2005, El conocimiento del amor. Ensayos sobre filosofía y literatura, Madrid: A. Machado Libros.

MAURI, Margarita (ed.), 2014, Ética y literatura. Cinco novelas de Iris Murdoch, Barcelona: Kit-Book.

MONTELEONE, Ester, 2012, Il bene, l’individuo, la virtù: la filosofia morale di Iris Murdoch, Rome: Armando.

ROWE, Anne y HORNER, Avril (eds.), 2010, Iris Mudoch and Morality, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.