Report on a week with the Quartet in the Bavarian Alps, by Ana.

“This summer we took the Quartet to the Bavarian Alps. The Philosophy Students’ Union at the University of Munich organised a retreat on one of the slopes surrounding Sonthofen for their annual Summer School. Our Quartet was one of four subjects that would be taught. The title: ‘Morality and Human Nature: A Study of the Moral Thought of Anscombe, Foot, Midgley, and Murdoch’. Over the course of a week, seven eager and smart students, all of MA or PhD level, joined me to mull over the thought of our women. The selection of texts had to be modest. MA students had just handed in their dissertations, and some respite was needed. Still, we spent some 18 designated hours poring over the what these women were saying, plus much discussion outside the classroom. I say ‘classroom’. It was a bar. Low ceiling, wooden panelled, and every morning sticky from the night before. Outside the wide windows a playground and a steeple which, because its church was set below us on the slope, stood like a handle stick. Inside we sat in our slippers, or bare-footed. A requirement from the hostel. I, like all other course instructors, gave a talk bare-footed too. It’s a strange experience. It makes the space feel like your bedroom, whilst everything else reminds you that it very much isn’t.

So we read Midgley’s insights on the part corrupt part self-serving relation between our conception of ourselves and our conception of the other animals. Always so sobering, even after many reads. We saw how clearly all our women position themselves against the fact/value distinction, and how each of them appeal to human nature to support a view for a tight connection between facts and values. We wondered, though, whether what they opposed and what they presented in its place were metaphysical doctrines or a conceptual or epistemic ones. We also noticed differences in their respective conceptions of human nature as well as in how it purportedly relates to morality. But morality too is something over which they seem to have different views. Or is is a difference in emphasis? Exploring the extent to which those different views are complementary to, or incompatible with, each other would be an exciting exercise. As would be to examine how they each conceives of the good.

As anyone who’s given the Quartet a modicum of attention knows, these women are an inspiring lot, they illuminate  corners of philosophical thought and question the orthodoxy, and they do it with good arguments, yes, but also with elegance and wit. It was a pleasure and a privilege to enter in conversation with them in the company of my sharp, dedicated students. I’m confident that we all learned a great deal from our women and from each other. And as we ended our last session, my heart was overflowing with gratitude to each for how generously they gave themselves to the group and received my instruction.

And so, after a week together we were ferried back to Munich on a punctual, clean, quiet train service. There we parted. But all, I dare say, a little changed from when we first met. I’m sure our women would be pleased about that.”

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