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The Importance of Attention in Morality: An Exploration of Iris Murdoch’s Philosophy

Silvia Panizza read

This thesis explores the role of attention in morality as presented by Iris Murdoch. The aim is to offer a clear and detailed understanding of Murdoch’s concept of attention, its metaphysical presuppositions and its implications for morality, and, if Murdoch’s view as developed here is found to be plausible, to suggest how attention can be considered to play an important role in morality. The moral concept of attention presented in this work involves particular epistemic attitudes and faculties that are meant to enable the subject to apprehend moral reality and thus achieve correct moral understanding and moral responses.

The thesis is divided into three parts. The first part (Chapters 1 and 2), clarifies Murdoch’s metaphysical picture on which the idea of attention is grounded. The metaphysics involves a dual commitment to value as both existing in reality and as a transcendental condition. While the two ideas appear incompatible, I suggest a framework against which Murdoch’s claim that an evaluat ive consciousness apprehends a value external to itself might be understood. The second part introduces Murdoch’s moral psychology, and explores how the faculties, attitudes and character traits related to attention are involved in moral understanding (Chapters 3 and 4). The two parts come together in Chapter 5, which focuses on how the exercise of attention can be understood as enabling moral perception. The last part (Chapters 6 and 7) continues the moral psychological exploration of attention, by focusing on the self, viewed both as interference and as indispensable means in attaining moral understanding.

The analysis of Murdoch’s thought is conducted through close readings of her work, discussions of the secondary literature, as well as by clarifying and developing key points through readings of Simone Weil, from whom Murdoch derives the idea of attention.

Ph.D. dissertation, University of East Anglia School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies Department of Philosophy, September 2015


— Iris Murdoch, “‘Waiting on God’: A Radio Talk on Simone Weil,” Iris Murdoch Review, (2017), pp. 9-16, preface by Justin Broackes, (BBC broadcast, Oct.18, 1951, 7.40 p.m. on the Third Programme)

— Simone Weil, Venice Saved, ed. & trans. by Silvia Panizza & Phillip Wilson,  Bloomsbury Academic, 2019


The Composition of Politics: Creativity in the Political Thought of Simone Weil and Albert Camus

John Randolph Leblanc read

Louisiana State University, PhD


Simone Weil, the Gita and the Upanisads

D.J. Jensen read

“This thesis is a study of the influence of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads on the religious and philosophical thought of Simone Weil. It will examine the major tenets of Weil’s thought in an attempt to determine where Weil was influenced by the teaching of these texts and where she rejected them. Chapter One will be a brief introduction to Weil’s relationship to the Gita and the Upanishads. Chapter Two will look at Weil’s cosmology paying particular attention to her concepts of decreation, necessity gravity, and grace. It will then look at the Indian notions of dharma, karma, and the Samkhya teachings found in the Gita in an attempt to determine where she was influenced by these concepts and where she rejected them. Chapter Three will look at Weil’s views on knowledge paying particular attention to her notions of reading, levels of reading, and levels of knowledge. It will then look at the teachings on knowledge in the Gita and the Upanishads in an attempt to determine their influence on Weil’s thought. Chapter Four will examine Weil’s soteriology, including her views on ‘actionless action’, detachment and affliction. It will then turn to these concepts in the Upanisads and Glta again looking for ways in which they influenced Weil. Chapter Five will draw together the preceding chapters, in an attempt to assess the overall influence of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads on Weil’s thought. It will conclude with suggestions for further study of Weil’s work.”

Unpublished Masters Thesis (University of Calgary), 1989

ht: University of Calgary Online Library (Simone Weil)