Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

"Seeing" Human Goodness: Iris Murdoch on Moral Virtue

Ana E Lita.

One recent advance in contemporary moral philosophy is Iris Murdoch' s unique understanding of the concept of the moral self that remedies the account of the others she associates with traditional ethics. This study demonstrates Murdoch’s contribution to the field of ethical theory through her account of the moral self as becoming suitably other-directed through the dual practices of aesthetic perception and ego "unselfing." She explains the process as analogous to art appreciation. Murdoch discounts the ego as the chief obstacle to seeing others clearly, and instead of emphasizing the rewards of virtue, she argues that it must express selfless love.

Murdoch claims that aesthetic perception of the good and the tragedy in others’ lives is itself virtue developing. The nature of moral virtue is not related to human interests or telos in life, instead its relation to human goodness and love is described to firmly place Murdoch among contemporary virtue ethicists. Murdoch's conception of virtue. is rigorous as it discounts benefit to self, the perfection of an ideal of self as an end-in-itself and, it advocates a concept of virtue which comes much closer to the holiness of the saint than to the excellence of a hero.

The study represents an extended analysis of Murdoch's process of obtaining aesthetic "seeing" through virtuous consciousness that leads to "unselfing" by acts of compassionate love. A chief advantage of this account is that it explains how the aesthetic "seeing" of the other (and the de-centering of the self that follows) is virtue-developing and can be profitably applied in our endeavor to ethically treat others as they really are.


Ana E Lita  (United States)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Division of Humanities, Fine Arts and Journalism
Lincoln University

Born in Romania. I have completed my doctoral studies at Bowling Green State University, Department of Philosophy, Ohio, USA, with the following areas of specialization: Ethics, Applied Ethics, and Aesthetics. After finishing my doctoral studies I accepted the tenure-track job at Lincoln University of Missouri.

  • Aesthetic perception
  • Moral change
Person as Subject
  • Iris Murdoch

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)