Iris Murdoch

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In “Morality and Religion,” as the title suggests, Iris Murdoch explores the relationship between being moral and religion's role in creating morality. She uses an inductive approach to explore the concept without actually making an argument about the two concepts. Murdoch seeks to explore how the two are interconnected. In keeping with the ideas of your research paper, which require that you define what comprises a functioning society and free will of the individual in relationship to that, I want you to answer the following question from your text about Murdoch’s essay:

Murdoch implies at the end of paragraph 3 that certain political complexities suggest there might be a need to have “clear rigid rules” of behavior in order to establish a morality. She implies that even clerics are viewing contemporary moral standards as flexible, perhaps alterable in some circumstances. How do you feel? Should morality follow the “rules” approach of the Ten Commandments? Or is there a more flexible, “realistic” alternative? Explain.

Quick answer:

Murdoch's exploration of the relationship between morality and religion defines the concepts of virtue and duty within a larger context of moral relativism. Murdoch sees the value of moral precepts in simplifying what it means to be "virtuous," but also recognizes that such simplification is at odds with modern notions of the self and religion.

Expert Answers

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Murdoch is responding in the third paragraph to issues around moral complexity, such as the difference between duty and virtue. Murdoch associates "duty" with "orderliness"; in a morally ambiguous world, rules are needed to preserve humans from self destruction. They provide a much-needed simplification. She talks about different moral "styles," which we must navigate between as we balance different obligations. They cause one to "have to choose between being two different kinds of person." Murdoch's discussion here of how the pursuit of virtue can lead to different "selves" is very compelling.

Tempting though it may be to use religious precepts or "duty" to simplify moral conduct, Murdoch argues that there should be "time off" from the demands of duty, but "no time off from the demands of good." She admits that the decline of religious absolutism in the West has resulted in an increase of happiness, albeit at the cost of moral certainty.

I can't speak to your own opinion of these matters, but Murdoch's writing here suggests a particular conception of the individual as someone who naturally tends to free thought. That is, the choice to embrace a moral code is an individual one; because it is a choice, even the decision to adhere to "rules" is a kind of moral relativism.

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