Puritanism and Truthfulness in Iris Murdoch's Ethics

Tony Milligan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


In what follows I want to suggest, and to some extent argue, that Iris Murdoch’s understanding of puritanism is central to her ethic and that it constrains, or gives shape to, her account of truthfulness. But this does not indicate that truthfulness is a derivative concept while puritanism is in some way a concept of a higher order. Murdoch is, after all, a conceptual holist. She adheres to the view that concepts all hang together albeit not in the manner of a closed and self-validating system. An understanding of truthfulness can be constrained by an understanding of puritanism and, at the same time actual truthfulness can still be a key Murdochian virtue alongside other virtues such as humility and moral courage. For Murdoch, these are important character traits for agents who attempt to rein in their egocentricity in the face of the importance of the other. The fact that Murdoch’s comments on these virtues tend to be unsystematic also need not indicate (as is sometimes suggested, notably by Alasdair MacIntyre) that Murdoch lacks a sufficiently clear and detailed attitude towards particular virtues and towards the very idea of virtue. It may just as readily be seen as a preference for the exploration of particular virtues in the light of richly-detailed narratives. In line with this preference, I will comment upon her understanding of truthfulness in the light of her attitude towards puritanism and truth in A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIris Murdoch Connected
EditorsMark Leuprecht
PublisherTennessee University Press
ISBN (Print)978-1621900566
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

Publication series

NameTennessee Studies in Literature


  • Iris Murdoch
  • Virtue
  • Truthfulness


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