Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy

Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy

Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy

Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy


Iris Murdoch was one of the best-known philosophers and novelists of the post-war period. In this book, Sabina Lovibond explores the tangled issue of Murdoch's stance towards gender and feminism, drawing upon the evidence of her fiction, philosophy, and other public statements.

As well as analysing Murdoch's own attitudes, Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophyis also a critical enquiry into the way we picture intellectual, and especially philosophical, activity. Appealing to the idea of a 'social imaginary' within which Murdoch's work is located, Lovibond examines the sense of incongruity or dissonance that may still affect our image of a woman philosopher, even where egalitarian views officially hold sway.

The first thorough exploration of Murdoch and gender, Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy is a fresh contribution to debates in feminist philosophy and gender studies, and essential reading for anyone interested in Murdoch's literary and philosophical writing.


Iris Murdoch was one of the most celebrated women philosophers writing in English in the twentieth century. She was also a brilliant and prolific novelist, and it was in that guise that I first discovered her: as a teenager in the late 1960s I was grateful for admission to a glamorous fictional world which embraced London ‘proper’ (not just my native suburbia), the ancient universities, and a variety of weird erotic adventures. My enthusiasm cooled somewhat during the 1980s and 1990s, but eventually I began to develop a new kind of curiosity about Murdoch: the novels were still – or once again – an indulgence and the philosophical works still matter for reflection, but I found myself drawn increasingly into an attempt to get clear about certain implicit (and presumably not fully conscious) emotional investments disclosed in her writing. On the one hand, I became interested in her views on gender, feminism, and the participation of women in intellectual life (with special reference to philosophy): topics which Murdoch hardly ever addressed directly in an academic context, though they came up periodically in interviews. On the other, I was forced to confront in her writings a complex and ambivalent attitude to the goal of sexual equality which was intriguingly at variance with her official – progressive – stance. And I was spurred on by a conviction that in some respects, at least, this attitude was not merely idiosyncratic but issued from a shared habit of thought (or ‘social imaginary’) which has served as backdrop for the accession of women to learning in the world to which Murdoch and her implied readers belong. I believe, in other words, that Murdoch has much to teach us – in fact, more than she intentionally undertook to teach – about the possible psychological difficulty of this development for both men and women. That is what I hope to show in this book, which is itself motivated in part by a wish to serve the cause of sexual equality in education.

Since it draws upon both the philosophy and the fiction of Iris Murdoch (two genres which she herself, incidentally, regarded as radically distinct), my discussion may strike some readers as ‘interdisciplinary’, and I would certainly not take offence . . .

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