Good Is Mysterious By Iris Murdoch: Reading and Meditation

September 19, 2020  • Todd Breyfogle

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“It is impossible to limit and foresee the ways in which virtue will be required of us.” Virtue, goodness, are elusive. We are frail, often selfish, divided in the objects of our concentration, scattered in our longings. And still the Good nags us, calls to us, follows us in the shadows of our travels and travails.

Iris Murdoch looks at our pursuit of virtue squarely: we try to dominate the world, to make it in our image, but we cannot; we try to perfect ourselves, to shape ourselves in the image of goodness, and we cannot. Our freedom, apparently, does not allow us to grasp virtue. “There are a few places where virtue plainly shines: great art, humble people who serve others.” The reading mind expects the list to go on. In fact, the list is solitary: humble people who serve others are great art, doing works of great art. “And can we, without improving ourselves, really see these things clearly?” We are to put ourselves at the feet of great art, of humble service, not in possession but surrender. The scattered intimations of Good call us to imitation; we become more virtuous by warming ourselves in the light of virtue. Let us pull back the nightshades of the soul; let us place ourselves in the light of virtue that, so warmed, the light may shine from us on others. 

Todd Breyfogle, Denver, Colorado

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