An from invitation to take part in a Reading Group, with Hannah Altorf, London!

This reading group will meet in London, but you might like to follow the readings or set up your own group!

But what has this got to do with gender? Rereading Iris Murdoch, The Fire and the Sun


The text for this reading group is Iris Murdoch’s The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists. The text was first delivered as the Romanes lecture in 1976 in Oxford and published in 1977. It has been republished in Existentialists and Mystics. Murdoch is eminently suited to read Plato. She not only knows his work inside out but also recognises in him a fellow philosopher and artist. The book is a passionate and timeless defence of art, with and against Plato.

This reading group aims at close text analysis. It will also consider the text in the larger framework of the project of In Parenthesis and the question of women in philosophy. The text offers various possibilities to do so. Most importantly, Plato’s banishment of the artists from his ideal state provides ample opportunity to consider the question who is in and who is out.

Suggested secondary reading

There are increasing resources on Murdoch’s philosophy, but there is not much (yet) on The Fire and the Sun. A good introduction to her work against the background of her contemporaries is J. Broackes’s long introduction in Iris Murdoch: Philosopher (OUP, 2012). A very thoughtful account of Murdoch’s reading of Plato is W. Bronzwaer, ‘Images of Plato in “The Fire and the Sun” and “Acastos”, in R. Todd (ed.) Encounters with Iris Murdoch (Free University Press, 1988). A good account of Murdoch’s Platonism is D. Tracy, ‘Iris Murdoch and the Many Faces of Platonism’ in M. Antonaccio and W. Schweiker (eds.), Iris Murdoch and the Search for Human Goodness (The University of Chicago Press, 1996). (More suggestions to follow in due course.)

1. 7 February 2018

Suggested reading pp. 1-32.
This first session can be used to familiarise oneself with Murdoch’s text and writing style. As with most of Murdoch’s writing, the book starts in media res. The reader is expected to know the issue at hand and to care about it as if it is comes from a contemporary. The main goal for this first week is to identify major concerns and to think about how to read this text.

Those interested in discussing issues of gender can look at Michèle le Doeuff’s suggestion that women have been accepted as commentators more than original thinkers (see ‘Long Hair, Short Ideas’). Where does this leave The Fire and the Sun?

2. 7 March 2018

Suggested reading pp. 32-89
This second reading group focuses on what Murdoch calls ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ and the role of art and beauty in it. Murdoch tries to reconcile art and beauty – with and later against Plato. There is an obvious shift in the text when Murdoch moves away from Plato’s thinking to her own position.
When thinking about gender one can ask who is in and who is out. Especially significant is here the image of the hall of reflection, which is repeated and changed in Murdoch last’ work, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992).

Venue: St. Mary’s University, Waldegrave Road, Strawberry Hill London TW1 4SX, room: F5 (with possible satellite groups elsewhere)

More information and registration: