Valuing love and valuing the self in Iris Murdoch

Tony Milligan

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David Velleman’s influential analytic reworking of Iris Murdoch’s account of love is problematic. It proposes a rapprochement between Murdochian love and Kantian respect. Both are taken to be responses to, and recognitions of, personhood. I shall try to show that Velleman’s emphasis upon recognition (hence vision) is faithful to Murdoch, but his treatment of love as (i) a purely cognitive response; and (ii) a response which is oriented towards sheer personhood, departs from her position. Murdochian love is both cognitive and connative, it includes desire oriented towards particular others. The paper will go on to address a problem that Velleman’s reading of Murdoch obscures, the problem of recognizing self-worth without appealing to self-love. I will suggest a way in which Murdoch can manage to do so by attending to the importance of seeing ourselves in the light of another’s love.

Iris Murdoch figures repeatedly in contemporary discussions within the philosophy of love, and particularly in work by philosophers who write within the analytic tradition. However, there is a gulf between Murdoch’s own way of writing about love and the way in which love is treated in contemporary analytic debates. An added complication is that an influential analytic account of love set out by David Velleman over a decade ago claims to be broadly in line with Murdoch’s approach. This is an association that may not entirely help her case, given that Velleman’s position, while still a core reference point, is currently out of favour. What follows will nonetheless be broadly sympathetic to Velleman’s strategy of appealing to Murdoch while curtailing the role that love has to play by setting it alongside some other moral response or responses. But I will be less sympathetic towards Velleman’s way of reading Murdoch and his execution of this curtailing strategy. The final section of the paper will address a problem that Velleman’s reading of Murdoch helps to obscure, the problem of recognizing self-worth without appealing to self-love. I will suggest a way in which Murdoch’s commitment to (i) a self/other asymmetry that requires love to be directed outwards, towards others, can be sustained while allowing for (ii) a recognition of the value of the self that does not take the form of self-love or self respect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-122
Number of pages13
JournalConvivium: Revista de Filosofia
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: thanks go to Margarita Mauri who arranged for an
earlier version of this paper to be delivered at the Faculty of Philosophy, University
of Barcelona in 2011. I have incorporated several useful and improving
comments made by Margarita and colleagues.


  • love
  • self-respect
  • selfishness
  • Iris Murdoch


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