Iris Murdoch's genealogy of the modern self : retrieving consciousness beyond the linguistic turn.
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Jordan, Jessy E.G.
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In this dissertation I argue that Murdoch’s philosophical-ethical project is best understood as an anti-Enlightenment genealogical narrative. I maintain that her work consistently displays four fundamental features that typify genealogical accounts: 1) liberation (i.e., subversion) from a dominant philosophical picture; 2) restoration of a previous philosophical picture wrongly dismissed; 3) restoration of practices no longer intelligible on the dominant view; and 4) recovery of an alternative grammar at odds with the dominant philosophical discourse. The dominant philosophical picture Murdoch subverts is the eclipse of consciousness wrought by both the Anglo-analytic and Continental-existentialist traditions. Whether effaced by totalizing linguistic structures or identified with an empty choosing will, Murdoch argues that the forces present within her philosophical context are fundamentally hostile to an adequate conception of consciousness. Her genealogical project attempts to reassert the primacy of consciousness within this antagonistic climate by restoring a Platonic, erotic conception of consciousness. Additionally, Murdoch insists that consciousness is the fundamental form of moral being and that moral transformation, including the practices for that transformation, cannot be understood without a thick conception of consciousness. Murdoch’s account, therefore, refocuses our attention on important practices or techniques of moral purification rendered unintelligible on the dominant view. Finally, Murdoch recovers the Platonic metaphor of the Good, including the conceptual array in which the Good receives its meaning, in an attempt to develop an alternative grammar fit for the task of picturing the complexities and nuances of our ethical situation. I conclude by commenting on both the promising and problematic aspects of Murdoch’s legacy.