The notion and value of literature and its relationship with philosophy has been contested for thousands of years: Plato’s ‘ancient quarrel’. What makes literature distinct from philosophy? What can literature do that philosophy can’t? Why might a philosopher choose also to write literature? And who decides – whose quarrel is it anyway? My research looks at this ‘ancient’ question through the lens of two hybrid novelist-philosophers of the twentieth century: Simone de Beauvoir and Iris Murdoch.
My work focuses mainly on their philosophical conception of literature and on the connections between that vision and their metaphysical and moral thinking more broadly. In exploring these ideas, I am particularly interested in:
(a) the metaphors they used as philosophers to communicate their ideas on literature;
(b) the reasons why they both held prose literature to be an especially valuable art form;
(c) what makes literary prose distinctive for them;
(d) how their knowledge and love of other languages played a part in shaping their philosophical ideas in this area.
‘Reflections on Murdoch’s Great Hall of Reflection’ presented at The Tenth International Iris Murdoch Conference: Place and Space, 24-26 June 2022