Book Review: The Ethics of Attention: Engaging the Real with Iris Murdoch and Simone Weil

Cathy Mason read

Excerpt: “‘Attention, Iris Murdoch tells us in ‘The Idea of Perfection’, is “the idea of a just and loving gaze directed upon an individual reality.’ (Murdoch 1999: 327). She takes this to be the characteristic and proper mark of moral agents, a claim that is both descriptive – a claim about what in fact characterises us as agents – and normative – a claim about how we should act, what we need to do more of in order to become better moral agents.

Silvia Caprioglio Panizza follows Murdoch in making both of these claims. Her new book The Ethics of Attention is an extended discussion of the role and importance of attention within our moral lives. Panizza here draws on the work of Murdoch and Simone Weil to explore the nature and moral importance of attention. This commonplace and recognisable activity, she suggests, is both essential for accessing moral truth and also morally significant in and of itself. Moreover, it is ‘fundamental to morality’ (16) in that many of the other things we care about morally (such as moral knowledge and moral motivation) are well-understood as depending on attention.'”

Cathy Mason is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Central European University.

Iris Murdoch and the Others: A Writer in Dialogue with Theology

Paul S. Fiddes read

The “others” examined by Fiddes are mainly those with whom Murdoch entered into explicit dialogue in her novels and philosophical writing-including Immanuel Kant, Simone Weil, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rudolph Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Don Cupitt, Donald Mackinnon, and Jacques Derrida. This “historic” dialogue is, however, placed within a wider dialogue between literature and theology being conducted by the author, and “others” are brought into relation with Murdoch in order to illuminate this more extensive conversation-notably the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and the feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva.

The book demonstrates that characteristic themes in Murdoch’s novels and philosophy-the love of the Good, the death of the ego, illusory consolations, the death of God, the modifying of the will by “waiting”, the sublime and the beautiful, and attention to other things and persons-all take on a greater meaning when placed in the context of her life-long conversation with theology. The exploration of this context is deepened in this volume by reference to annotations and notes that Murdoch made in a number of theological books in her personal library.

Paul S. Fiddes is Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Oxford and is Director of Research at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, UK.
Publisher: ‏ T&T Clark (December 2, 2021)

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 Saint & the Hero: Iris Murdoch & Simone Weil

Anne Rowe &  Pamela Osborn

Sofia de Melo Araujo & Fatima Vieira, eds., Iris Murdoch: Philosopher Meets Novelist (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2011), pp. 103-116.

Iris Murdoch and Simone Weil

Justin Broackes watch

Royal Institute of Philosophy

“Beholding and Being beheld: Simone Weil, Iris Murdoch, and the Ethics of Attention”

Mark Freeman

The Humanistic Psychologist, 43(2), 160–172