This is a welcome volume. The many footnotes of praise for Iris Murdoch’s philosophical work were for many years not matched by actual discussion of it. This collection, long incubated and containing essays by many well-known figures with a continuing interest in Murdoch’s work, is one of several recent signs of this imbalance’s being righted. Anyone interested in Murdoch’s philosophical thinking—spilling over into ways it informs her novels—will find plenty to engage him here. A ninety-two page introduction by Justin Broackes (...) gives us a carefully plotted historical context for appreciating Murdoch’s work, detailed summaries of her main philosophical writings, and also fertile, wide-ranging, and .. (shrink)
I distinguish, describe and explore two different conceptions of love that inform our lives. One conception found its classic philosophical articulation in Plato, the other its richest expressions in Christian thought. The latter has not had the same secure place in our philosophical traditon as the former. By trying to bring out what is distinctive in this second conception of love, centrally including its significance in revealing the fundamental value of human beings, I aim to show the importance of extending (...) our philosophical reflection to acknowledge it. (shrink)
In his later writings on ethics Foucault argues that rapport à soi – the relationship to oneself – is what gives meaning to our commitment to ‘moral behaviour’. In the absence of rapport à soi, Foucault believes, ethical adherence collapses into obedience to rules (‘an authoritarian structure’). I make a case, in broadly Levinasian terms, for saying that the call of ‘the other’ is fundamental to ethics. This prompts the question whether rapport à soi fashions an ethical subject who is (...) unduly self-concerned. Here we confront two apparently irreconcilable pictures of the source of moral demands. I describe one way of trying to reconcile them from a Foucaultian perspective, and I note the limitations in the attempt. I also try to clear away what I think to be a misunderstanding on Foucault’s part about what is at stake in the choice between these pictures. To clarify my critique of Foucault, I also relate it to a similar recent critique of virtue ethics by Thomas Hurka. (shrink)
The essay combines a specific and a more general theme. In attacking ‘the doctrine of the sanctity of human life’ Singer takes himself thereby to be opposing the conviction that human life has special value. I argue that this conviction goes deep in our lives in many ways that do not depend on what Singer identifies as central to that ‘doctrine’, and that his attack therefore misses its main target. I argue more generally that Singer’s own moral philosophy affords only (...) an impoverished and distorted sense of the value of human life and human beings. In purporting to dig below the supposedly illusion–ridden surface of our thinking about value, Singer in fact often leads us away from the robust terrain of our lived experience into rhetorical, and sometimes brutal, fantasy. (shrink)
Foucault's resistance to a universalist ethics, especially in his later writings, is well-known. Foucault thinks that ethical universalism presupposes a shared human essence, and that this presupposition makes it a straitjacket, an attempt to force people to conform to an externally imposed 'pattern'. Foucault's hostility may be warranted for one - perhaps the usual - conception of ethical universality. But there are other conceptions of ethical universality that are not vulnerable to Foucault's criticism, and that are ethically and culturally important. (...) I set out one such conception, and show why it matters. Paul Patton has argued that Foucault is best read as grounding his analyses of power in a 'conception of human being' traceable to Nietzsche. I explain why this does not amount to the ethical universalism that I sketch below. (shrink)
This book shows how our moral concepts are nourished by awe, reverence, and various forms of love. These ways of encountering the world and other human beings inform our sense of good and evil, of justice and injustice, of obligation, of fidelity and betrayal, and of many virtues and vices. In ways moral philosophy commonly misses, this book shows moral understanding is broadened and deepened by what is disclosed only in these forms of encounter.
Against moral philosophers' traditional preoccupation with ‘ought’ judgments, Bernard Williams has reminded us of the importance of locutions such as ‘I must’, ‘I have to’ and ‘I can't’. He develops an account of the ethical necessity and impossibility these locutions are able to mark. The account draws on his thesis that all reasons for action are ‘internal’. I sketch the account, and then try to show that it is insensitive to important aspects of how the concepts of ethical necessity and (...) impossibility inform our lives. (shrink)
I begin with a resume ofJ ackson's position. I shall follow this with some counter- examples; and end with a diagnosis of why the problems with Jackson's account arise. In objecting to Jackson's account I am not presupposing the truth of one or other particular account of akrasia. What I am supposing is that unless we recognize some kind of conflict of mind as engaged at the time of action, we are not speaking of akrasia. I hive argued that Jackson, (...) in supposedly giving an account of the akratic conflict between 'reason and desire', turns it into a temporal relation between states of a person which can obtain without a conflict of the relevant kind obtaining at all. The account therefore fails to clarify the nature of the conflict out of which an akratic action may arise. It does in fact seem that a Humean view of the relation between reason and desire is ill-fitted to recognition of the phenomenon of weakness of will. But Humeans have proved themselves most ingenious over two centuries. Perhaps they will yet manage to effect the fit. (shrink)