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BOOK REVIEWS Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. By IRIS MURDOCH. Harmondsworth: Allen Lane; New York: Viking, 1992. $35.00. Dame Iris Murdoch is familiar to most people as a witty and en· gaging novelist whose twenty-four hooks of fiction can he read on a variety of levels. They are wonderful stories, hut the philosophically acute reader will also enjoy Murdoch's judgments, polemics, and inhouse jokes about philosophers and philosophical views. Comparatively few people are aware of Murdoch's previous scholarly studies: Sartre, Romantic Rationalist, The Sovereignty of the Good, The Fire and the Sun; and Acastos. Even so, those familiar with these hooks will recognize the profound impact she has had on debates within moral philosophy. She has been at the forefront of the move· ment that has rehabilitated the central importance of such notions as goodness, the Good, virtue, and the moral life as a journey. So it is not surprising that Murdoch has returned to the genre of philosophical argument to advance her views on the relationship between metaphysics and morals. But it is surprising that her argument exhibits neither the clarity of thought characteristic of the analytic philosophy in which she was trained nor the dramatic narrative of her novels. Indeed the hook reads like a collage of lecture notes, complete with extensive quotations from other people's thoughts with minimal com· mentary. Further, the chapter titles (e.g., " Fact and Value," " Schopenhauer ," " Consciousness and Thought-I," " Derrida and Struc· turalism," " Consciousness and Thought-II," "Notes on Will and Duty," " Axioms, Duties, Eros," " Void ") shed little light on the overall structure or argument of the hook. One cannot help hut have the impression that Murdoch spent less time crafting the argument of this hook than she does in crafting the story line and characters of her novels. This is not to say, of course, that there is not much to he learned from Murdoch's perspective. She is remarkably erudite, and her discussion of various themes, figures, and issues often yields fascinating insights. But the whole is considerably less than the sum of its often interesting parts. I have already suggested that this is partly because of the structure and style in which the hook is written. But the hook 687 688 BOOK REVIEWS is also disappointing, and perhaps more determinatively, because of the overall perspective she seeks to deploy and defend. Readers of Murdoch's work have heretofore often wondered about the relationship between her avowed Platonism and her interest in Christianity . Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals has the virtue of clarifying that relationship, hut the result is unpersuasive. At the heart of Murdoch's Platonism is her recasting of the allegory of the cave from The Republic. The moral life is an arduous struggle to ascend from the cave (represented, as in her earlier works, by " the fat, relentless ego ") by a dispossession of the self so that we can apprehend a little less imperfectly the perfect form of the Good. As Murdoch puts it, Plato assumes the internal relation of value, truth, cogmtion. Virtue (as compassion, humility, courage) involves a desire for and achievement of truth instead of falsehood, reality instead of appearance. Goodness involves truth.seeking knowledge and ipso facto a discipline of desire . ' Getting things right ', as in meticulous grammar or mathematics, is truth-seeking as virtue. Learning anything properly demands (virtuous ) attention. Here the idea of truth plays a crucial role (as it does also in Kant) and reality emerges as the object of truthful vision, and virtuous action as the product of such vision. This is a picture of the omnipresence of morality and evaluation in human life (p. 39). Such a depiction ought to resonate quite deeply with Christians, something not lost on Murdoch when she writes a few pages earlier: "There are innumerable points at which we have to detach ourselves, to change our orientation, to redirect our desire and refresh and purify our energy, to keep on looking in the right direction: to attend upon the grace that comes through faith " (p. 25) . But Murdoch's "grace" and her "truth-seeking as virtue," among other themes, involve something quite different from what Christians...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 687-689
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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