Thursday, February 7, 2008

Reflections: Getting Away With Murdoch

I had intended to be done with Iris Murdoch’s essay with my previous post. I had a new topic all picked out, and had even taken a few notes in anticipation of starting to write. But as I read the final ten pages of the Murdock piece I kept coming across passages that seemed essential; passages that struck a sympathetic chord with elements of my belief system. I didn’t want to return the book to the library without preserving these. So, here they are:

It is not simply that suppression of self is required before accurate vision can be obtained. The great artist sees his objects (and this is true whether they are sad, absurd, repulsive or even evil) in a light of justice and mercy. The direction of attention is, contrary to nature, outward, away from self which reduces all to a false unity, towards the great surprising variety of the world, and the ability so to direct attention is love.

Think of that one in terms of the command to love your enemy.

Freedom is not strictly the exercise of the will, but rather the experience of accurate vision which, when this becomes appropriate, occasions action. It is what lies behind and in between actions and prompts them that is important, and it is this area which should be purified. By the time the moment of choice has arrived the quality of attention has probably determined the nature of the act.

Think of that one in terms of the saying: The Truth shall set you free.

If the energy and violence of will, exerted on occasions of choice, seems less important than the quality of attention which determines our real attachments, how do we alter and purify that attention and make it more realistic? Is the via negativa of the will, its occasional ability to stop a bad move, the only or most considerable conscious power that we can exert?

I have never been convinced by the teaching of the Church that Quietism is wrong.

I think it is more than a verbal point to say that what should be aimed at is goodness, and not freedom or right action, although right action, and freedom in the sense of humility, are the natural products of attention to the Good.

Consider how humility, the ability to free oneself from the urge, the ego-driven compulsion, of competing to keep on top of Mr. Jones, would liberate the spirit.

Right action, together with the steady extension of the area of strict obligation, is a proper criterion of virtue.

Wrap your mind around the seeming paradox of obligation as freedom. If you are in need, and I pass you by, to what have I subordinated myself?

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