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Geneviève Lloyd IRIS MURDOCH ON THE ETHICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF TRUTH It was on the basis of a correspondence theory of truth that Plato deemed literature, along with the other arts, inferior to philosophy. Whereas philosophy has access to the real, he thought, literature is confined to the production of appearances. Art copies copies of the real. So what it offers is "at three removes from reality and easy to produce without knowledge of the truth" {Republic, 599a). Plato's dismissal of the arts can be by-passed by denying that even the so-called representational arts are really concerned with truth. Artistic activity can be seen as in general concerned not with the discovery and communication of truth, but with the creation of beautiful objects. Art is then seen not as the production of inevitably inadequate representations of the real, but rather as the creation of self-contained objects. In a number of recent writings, Iris Murdoch has challenged this sundering of art from truth, attempting to mount a defense of art, and especially literature, against the Platonic attack, while yet taking seriously the Platonic preoccupation with truth.1 Construed without relation to truth, she points out, literature ceases to have moral force; it becomes "mere play." "The relation of art to truth and goodness must be the fundamental concern of any criticism of it." Beauty cannot be discussed "by itself" {The Fire and the Sun, p. 72). It is its concern with truth, she argues, that allows good art — especially good literature — to be seen as a mode of access to moral goodness. Truth is the key to understanding both what is good about good art and what is involved in moral goodness; and this link is particularly strong in the case of literature. In this article I will explore and attempt to clarify Murdoch's defense of the ethical significance of truth and its implications for the moral force of literature, in relation to the view of truth as a correspondence between mental representations and the real. It is difficult, we shall see, adequately to formulate the ethical significance of truth within the framework of that way of thinking about truth and knowledge. On the other hand, it is also very difficult completely to free ourselves of it. The model of knowledge as accurate representation of reality has a long philosophical history and it can seem so obvious as to be trivial. Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 62-75 0190-0031/82/0061-0062 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Genevieve Lloyd63 Murdoch's own philosophical formulations of the relations between truth and goodness conjure up that model, although as we shall see especially in the light of her treatment of the same theme in her novels, her insights are in fact more complex than can be captured in its terms. First let us consider Murdoch's philosophical formulation of the relationship between truth and goodness. In The Sovereignty of Good she attacks a picture of a "moral hero" which she extracts from contemporary moral philosophy. This picture , she suggests, is a fusion oftwo dominant strands in recent philosophy — the Wittgensteinian repudiation of the "inner life," which construes inner states of the self as the shadows, as it were, cast by public observable behavior; and the Kantian location of moral worth in the will. These two strands, she argues, have fused in a philosophical conception of the "moral man" which is strangely out of keeping with many of our everyday convictions about what is involved in being moral. On the philosopher's picture, our personal being resides in the movement of our overtly choosing will. The inner life of thought and perception drops out as morally irrelevant. The moral self shrinks to a will, acting in a wholly objective world. "Salvation by works is a conceptual necessity" (p. 15). Murdoch wants to get the "inner" back into the scene of morality; to emphasize the moral importance of perception, as distinct from the outer, publicly observable effects of the will. She offers a view ofmorality as a form of"realism": moral goodness is located in the struggle to set aside self-centered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 62-75
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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