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Reading Response 3: The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts

The power of science increases every day in the modern world. Science becomes the source of truth and solutions to almost every kind of problems. However, science had changed the meaning of ethics to empty conception of the will. Gradually, people substituted morality with the moral relativism and reduced the notion of soul to the contents of the unconscious. With the development of science, such concepts like Good and Love were forgotten and became unpopular. Nevertheless, some philosophers have rejected scientific progress pointing to its limitations. In particular, a writer and philosopher, Iris Murdoch justified the concepts of moral philosophy in an article entitled The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts.

In her article, Iris Murdoch raises the question of being morally good in the world where God does not exist. She clearly points to Kant as a main contributor to humanistic perception of an individual. As it emerges, Emmanuel Kant treated humans as gods who were able to create values by themselves. Values were no longer inscribed by God but by human will, and that lead one to the assumption that there was no transcendent reality. Kantian utilitarianism together with such philosophies as behaviorism and existentialism influenced a modern outlook to the great degree. The advance of the science lead humanity to the view that humans are naturally selfish and that human life is self-enclosed and purposeless.

However, one might doubt this assumption. These views lead to a mechanistic understanding of a human being. If the psyche is nothing more than a machine, humans become robots. Just some creatures whose existence is nothing more than a range of simple interaction based on instincts. Life cannot be reduced to a human experience, which has nothing outside it because people have an inbuilt need to reach beyond themselves. If life is self-enclosed, and people are selfish, they do not need any moral. Tey do not need to make a choice between god and evil because good will mean something beneficial to themselves. In that case, there will be no need in morality and moral philosophy.

Iris Murdoch sees clearly the negative effects of the post-Kantian moral philosophy. She lists them all in her article. Though it may seem strange in terms of moral philosophy, she starts her article from the idea of metaphors. According to her, humanity rejected the metaphors as fundamental forms through which the human conscience works. The author considers it a great loss. She believes that metaphors are the integrate part of moral philosophy, although they can make no sense to scientists. Next, she speaks of the moral neutrality. Moral philosophy, full of metaphors, cannot be neutral. Comparing to neutral morality of behaviorists, it always takes sides. Furthermore, it expands the idea of morals to the question how people can make themselves better. It is the question Iris Murdoch tries to answer in her article.

Unfortunately, Kantian moral philosophy does not have an answer to this question. Kantian man is rational with no place for emotions. He draws a clear line between emotions and reason. According to Kant, emotions do not belong to the sphere of morality, and they are the only source of self-improvement. Kantian philosophy lacks the concept of beauty that gives a sense to the idea of experience and change of consciousness. Without that, Kantian followers cannot grasp the meaning of self-improvement and moral change.

According to Murdoch, it is easy to notice how beauty works in real life though. When one is angry, distressed or annoyed, the contemplation of a picturesque landscape can change the mood immediately. Paying attention to nature appears to be the most accessible way of moral change and getting rid of selfish obsession. Other ways are art and intellectual studies. As Murdoch poses it, “the enjoyment of art is training in the love of virtue” (2001). Art challenges both Kantian philosophy and that of romanticism. Good art shows people the pointlessness of their life, suffering without a thrill and death without a consolation. Good art can show the nature of morality and give a sense to many ideas that seem confusing to human beings. Furthermore, it gives one an insight of reality that is unnoticeable in the day routine. On the other hand, intellectual disciplines can also be an exercise in virtue and serve as introductory images to the spiritual life. Altogether, they increase human ability to forget the self and perceive justly.

Art and intellectual work introduce people to the perception of the final concept of this article that is a concept of good. They reveal the unifying power of the Good, one of its central properties. Murdoch argues that the concept of good is more important than the concept of will. Furthermore, good is the concept that has the top priority in the hierarchy of the concepts.

Another property of the Good is its indefinability. The reason good is difficult to understand is that it has many false doubles. Moreover, people usually alter this notion to suit their selfishness. For instance, students may persuade themselves that occasional cheating is not bad as it helps them to achieve good results. Another example is the husband cheating on his wife explaining that is it not bad because it does do her any harm. Murdoch introduces a metaphor of the sun to explain the concept of good. She is right about the human behavior in front of the sun. Being in the sun’s light people are able to see the order of the world. Nevertheless, more often they choose to look at false suns than the real one. As long as people will support utilitarianism, behaviorism, or existentialism, they will live in an illusion. The only way out is to strive for goodness in the attempt to see the world as it really is.

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