Before we get stuck into the detail we’ve chosen what we think is a key reading from each of our four women to get us warmed up. The idea for the first meeting is to get some background on each of our women and start to talk about the connections between their thought — it’s with this in mind that we’ve chosen the following pieces.

  • Anscombe: ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, Philosophy 33, No. 124 January 1958
  • Murdoch: Sovereignty of the Good, 1970
  • Foot: Natural Goodness, 2001
  • Midgley: The Myths We Live By, 2003


This is a lot to read — in the future we’ll only be setting a couple of chapters or articles for each meeting. You might want to share them out between your members, rather than all reading all. Or, here are suggestions for a more focussed selection:

  • Anscombe: ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’
    • Some helpful background here.
  • Murdoch: Sovereignty of the Good, 1970.
    • Focus on essay 1, ‘The Idea of Perfection’. The Routledge Great Minds edition (2014), includes this excellent foreword by Mary Midgley.
  • Foot: Natural Goodness, 2001
    • Focus on the Introduction and ch. 1 ‘A Fresh Start’. Also, here’s a two-page review by Mary Midgley
  • Midgley: The Myths We Live By, 2003.
    • Focus on chapters 1-3 and ch. 14, ‘Is reason sex-linked?’. Here’s a useful review by Jon Turney for the Guardian


And a few questions you might consider to get you started:

[A] Iris Murdoch describes the ‘hero of the contemporary novel’: ‘free, independent, lonely, rational, responsible, brave’. He is, she says, ‘the offspring of the age of science, confidently rational and yet increasingly aware of his own alienation from the material universe which his discoveries reveal’.

  1. What does she mean?
  2. Does this ‘hero’ appear as a target in the other women’s work?
  3. What are the other characteristics of this ‘hero’?
  4. How does he appear in philosophy, especially ethics and politics?
  5. Is the ‘hero’ necessarily male?

[B] Is there a positive account of

  1. human nature?
  2. action?
  3. imagination?
  4. science?

[C] In her memoir, Midgley tells an anecdote, which relates the story of a dinner party arranged for herself and Iris by their tutor, to celebrate their firsts:

“As a special treat she [invited] two highly distinguished contemporary sages — the historian A. L. Rowse and the Cambridge musicologist J. B. Trend. [T]hrough a long evening we listened attentively to their distinguished contemporary opinions.

Bright moonlight flooded down St Giles’s as the two of us eventually stumbled home to Somerville. ‘So finally,’ I asked, ‘what about it? Did we learn something new this evening?’ ‘Oh yes, I think so,’ declared Iris gazing up at the enormous moon. ‘I do think so … Trend is a good man and Rowse is a bad man.‘ At which exact, but grotesquely unfashionable, judgment we both fell about laughing.” (125-6)

  1. Can the terms ‘good man’ and ‘bad man’ be used to describe the ‘hero’?
  2. How does an account of human nature connect with the attribution of ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’?
  3. What kind of ethical theory would use these descriptions?
  4. Why was this ‘grotesquely unfashionable’ in Oxford in the 1940s? Is it still so?


Our Durham-based reading group will be meeting to discuss them on 24th June 2016, so if you’re setting up your own satellite aim to meet around then to keep us all in pace. Look at our FAQ for more guidance on how to run your meetings.

But no need to wait until June to start the conversation. Join in by tweeting to @parenthesis_in using the hashtag #InParenthesisRG. Or by leaving a comment below.


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