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2005-01-03

Finished reading the Wilson book today.

I am a bit puzzled by why I find these books on Iris so engaging. I'm also reading the Tarski biography by the Feferman's which I find much less gripping. (I was reading it when Barbara brought Wilson from the library, which I wasn't expecting, and found that I had to read Wilson before I could read a word more of the Tarski book.)

Wilson seemed to have had a good relationship with both Murdoch and Bayley while she was alive, but since Bayley published his books on Iris, and the film came out, he seems to think badly of him. I'm sure he's right that Iris would not have wished to be exposed in that way. She didn't want her life to be made into a story at all, it probably never occurred to her that her toilet in dementia would feature in such a story.

Anyway, Wilson's book has been a good and interesting read. It seems to me to be a good book, I think written at least partly from a desire to show the Iris whom he valued, and most especially to write about Iris without making a circus, or much at all, of the dementia.

At the beginning it for a while overturned my inclination to think of her positively. Mostly because of his account of both of them as habitual liars. (I'm not clear why I should find that so much more damning than, say, the promiscuity). But by the end of the book my overall sense was largely restored, and depite the doubts engendered in Wilson by the publications of Bayley, I still share the public sense of him as a devoted and loving partner.

I thought a bit about the her platonism, and perhaps will look again at her philosophical essays. I don't know how much of Plato she endorsed (and don't know a whole lot about Plato anyway), but part of it at least was her interest in {\it the good} and her belief in moral realism. Of course I think of myself as a positivist, and so I refuse to accept that the distinction between realism and the other thing is without substance. Well of course it depends on the philosopher, presumably no realist thinks that his doctrine is vacuous, and are they all wrong?

Iris seems to have thought moral realism the only alternative to relativism. I'm inclined often to doubt the dichotomies which philosophers throw up. I don't like either, and though I can't prevent a philosopher from defining or taking these terms as complementary and exhaustive, I would prefer to see a bit more distance between moral realism and relativism and to squeeze myself into the gap.

I have lately been a positivist with a growing interest in metaphysics, but this hasn't so far extended to my seeing the relevance of metaphysics to morals. Not that I have actually thought about moral philosophy since I started to play with metaphysics, so maybe that is just another stage in my positivistic conception of metaphysics.

When last I thought about it, I had in mind that the distinction between moral and other values might be marked by whether the value was personal, or whether it was felt to be universal. Whether, one would feel obliged to disagree with one who differed upon it or whether one could accept that others might unobjectionably differ.

The question then arises, on what basis could one (especially a positivist) argue the point? I suppose I should say that I am fond of Hume's distinction between ought and is, and in somthing like Moore's descriptivist fallacy.

All of this, you have to read in the context of my agnosticism about the semantics of natural languages. This means that none of it is about the meaning of moral concepts in ordinary languages, it is about how I would like moral language to work. I would like to be able to marshall arguments in favour of these positions, but the question of whether this is the way it really is, whether the concept of morals in ordinary language is that kind of concept, is not one which greatly interests me.

This doesn't feel at all plaonistic to me, but I hope it doesn't sound to relativistic either. Moral's I think are things that we {\it should} chose, but not things in which we could agree to differ (which is not to say that one should go to war over them).


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