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Existentialists and Mystics


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Table of Contents

Part 1 Prologue: literature and philosophy - a conversation with Bryan Magee. Part 2 Nostalgia for the particular, 1951-57: thinking and language; nostalgia for the particular; metaphysics and ethics; vision and choice in morality. Part 3 Encountering existentialism, 1950-59: the novelist as metaphysician; the existentialist hero; Sartre's "The Emotions - Outline of a Theory"; De Beauvoir's "The Ethics of Ambiguity"; the image of mind; the existentialist political myth; Hegel in modern dress; existentialist bite. Part 4 The need for theory. 1956-66: knowing the void; T.S. Eliot as a moralist; a house of theory; mass, might and myth; the darkness of practical reason. Part 5 Towards a practical mysticism, 1959-78: the sublime and the good; existentialists and mystics; salvation by words; art is the limitation of nature. Part 6 Can literature help cure the ills of philosophy? 1959-61: the sublime and the beautiful revisited against dryness. Part 7 Re-reading Plato, 1964-86: the idea of perfection; on "God" and "good"; the sovereignty of good over other concepts; the fire and the sun - why Plato banished the artists; art and Eros - a dialogue about art; above the gods - a dialogue about religion.

About the Author

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was born in Dublin and brought up in London. She studied philosophy at Cambridge and was a philosophy fellow at St. Anne's College for 20 years. She published her first novel in 1954 and was instantly recognized as a major talent. She went on to publish more than 26 novels, as well as works of philosophy, plays, and poetry.


Dame Iris Murdoch not only wrote many celebrated novels like Under the Net and A Fairly Honourable Defeat, she also taught philosophy for many years at Oxford University, where she is now professor emerita. The present book, intelligently organized and presented by editor Conradi, is a selection of Murdoch's occasional essays, book reviews, speeches, transcribed interviews and creative Platonic "dialogues." These are grouped into subjects like "Encountering Existentialism" (Murdoch was an early explicator of Sartre's existentialism to the British public), "Towards a Practical Mysticism" and "Re-Reading Plato." Murdoch was drawn to Plato via the tormented French philosopher Simone Weil, who wrote on the Greek philosopher. As in her novels, Murdoch's philosophical musing revels in disturbing implications as the basis for interest and achievement in art. She states, "Plato was notoriously hostile to art.... [T]he paradox is that Plato's work is great art in a sense which he does not theoretically recognise." A number of these essays read like speeches in some ideally intelligent parliament, in which the author expects to be interrupted by cries of "Hear, Hear!" For example, she asserts that T.S. Eliot did not like prose "except when it is used for didactic purposes," or that George Eliot, like Tolstoy, "displays that godlike capacity for so respecting and loving her characters as to make them exist as free and separate beings." Not a powerful original philosopher like Hannah Arendt or Leo Strauss, Murdoch is nevertheless a critic with considerable rhetorical punch. (Jan.)

Most readers think of Murdoch first as a novelist, but as this excellent anthology makes clear, she is an outstanding philosopher as well. After World War II, she established herself as an authority on existentialism, though she did not herself accept this doctrine, viewing it as stressing human autonomy to an undue degree. She locates a similar failing in much contemporary analytic moral philosophy. Instead, she thinks of values as objective: human beings contemplate them rather than create them. Her philosophy culminates in a nontheistic mysticism bearing strong affinities to Plato. The best introduction available to an important and unusual thinker; for all academic and most public libraries.‘David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., Ohio

"Brilliantly readable . . . Murdoch can make the most demanding questions of life accessible and exciting." -The Baltimore Sun

"Existentialists and Mystics desribes the intellectual journey of a lifetime. This book is Murdoch's key. Readers will find much here to stimulate, entertain and edify. No one conveys the beauty and excitement of philosophy better than Murdoch." -Hilary Spurling, Daily Telegraph

"Murdoch, a wondrous writer and a careful student of the history of thought, is endowed a rare talent for philosophical writing-she offers, in accessible prose, insight into some of the great questoins that have preoccupied thinkers for centuries." -San Diego Union

"Tight, graceful writing, and a pleasure to read . . . [Murdoch's moral theory] has a real claim to our attention." -Elijah Millgram, The Boston Review

"A perceptive investigation into the symbiotic relationship of philosophy and literature." -The Guardian

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