Baylor University, Texas, USA
Scott enjoys various degrees of familiarity with most of the women of our Quartet. The first to have crossed his path was Anscombe. As a reader of Wittgenstein, which Scott was, that was inevitable. But Scott is also a Christian, and Anscombe’s writings on faith, rationality, and our relationship to tradition also helped him think about how we think about those matters.
In Midgley Scott finds a kindred spirit with respect to her views about our relationship to the natural world. Scott concurs with Midgley that the natural world has a claim on us, and that how we engage with nature is directly related to our flourishing. We forget our connection to nature at our peril.
But the Quartet thinker with which Scott is most familiar by far is Murdoch. Scott has long been interested in the relation between philosophy and literature, and has done extensive work on it. He’s been preoccupied by questions like, What are the common aims of philosophical and literary works?, What is it that we’re doing when we interpret a text?, How do our philosophical and theological preconceptions and commitments influence our interpretation of texts and works of art in general?. Back some 25 or so years ago, Scott was advised by some teachers and friends, such as Stanley Hauerwas, at Duke University, and David Solomon, a friend of Foot’s, to look at Murdoch’s work. Scott found there a natural place where to understand the intersections between philosophy and literature.
Back then, that was not a heavily populated field amongst philosophers. And those there to be found tended not to pay much heed to Murdoch’s fiction. Literary scholars of Murdoch, by contrast, were more numerous, and they did pay attention to her philosophy. But Scott, a trained philosopher, thought that they did not display too fine an ear for it. Scott, a philosopher attending closely to the novels, found himself somewhat of a solitary figure. Much has changed since then, especially with philosophers looking to Murdoch’s novels for further elucidation of her philosophy, and both philosophers and literary scholars engaging in fruitful cross-pollination.
Murdoch’s influence in Scott’s intellectual make up has been greater in how he looks at philosophy than in how he looks at literature. Over time he has developed some dissatisfaction about how philosophers act and interact with texts and ideas, and he thinks this critical stance might have been engendered by Murdoch’s own discontent with the philosophical status quo.
Scott looks at the Quartet as a whole with admiration. They did not take for granted what the big figures of the establishment, such as Ayer and Hare, were asserting at the time. They questioned it, and dissented from it. They did this from within the tradition, and they did it whilst maintaining their own disagreements. Think of Anscombe’s devout Christianity, Murdoch’s most religious atheism, Foot explicit and articulate atheism, and Midgley’s functional approach to religion. Their relationship allowed for these differences, without the need to temper them down. All of this takes an array of virtues, intellectual as well as moral: courage, industriousness, humility, magnanimity. They stand as models to us all of how to engage with each other and with a common project despite marked disagreements.
Scott applauds the In Parenthesis project, aiming to bring the work of these women into the mainstream, and wishes it every success. In agreeing to leave us his thoughts on these women, he’s also part of it.