Did Iris Murdoch, in "The Sovereignty of Good" effectively discredit or even destroy non-Platonistic philosophical approaches, particularly Empiricist, Ontic – centered philosophies?

Thanks for the question. A few thoughts for your consideration….

1. I don’t think it was Murdoch’s intention to “discredit or destroy” the (rationalist, empiricist, volantarist, etc.) moral philosophies of her contemporaries. That really wasn’t her style IMO. Instead, I think she was just calling some basic assumptions of these modes of thinking into question — being skeptical of what we might describe as a scientism that rejects metaphysical and even multidimensional aspects of reality and consciousness. Murdoch mainly offers us an invitation to look at things more carefully, in order to see “things as they really are” with greater breadth and inclusivity.

2. Further, although Murdoch does rely heavily on Plato’s metaphors, they are really just a starting point for discussion rather than an endpoint; Plato’s cave, fire, and sun are merely a vocabulary of framing that permits her to expound more deeply on the nature of “the Good.” Plato’s terminology is a lever to help Murdoch accomplish some heavy lifting…not the object that is being lifted.

3. I think Murdoch intuited that something was amiss in contemporary assumptions regarding human rationality, human will, or a locus of consciousness fixated on the self (what we might call egoic consciousness) being able to adequately navigate moral complexity or fully comprehend or describe “the Good.” She further intuited that certain qualities of love were involved in both pursuit of that good, and in its apprehension and reification. And, perhaps most importantly, Murdoch intuited that, although “the Good” may sometimes seem ineffable or indefinable in purely rational terms, it is nevertheless discernible and obvious — and even reflexive — in the context of human relationships, choices and intentions when selfless love is in play.

4. Finally, Murdoch hints that the ego’s impedances to conceiving of and actualizing “the Good” may be the same barriers that rationalist/empiricist/volantarist philosophies encounter when navigating morality itself. I.e. that they are preoccupied with the fire in the cave, and have not yet ventured out into the sunlight — they are relying on false light to illuminate the indescribable.

I hope this was helpful.


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