Silvia Panizza

Interest (Researcher)

Iris Murdoch


I encountered Iris Murdoch's work when I was working on my PhD thesis on silence and the experience of transcendence in Wittgenstein and J.M. Coetzee. Through reading both, the idea of attention, as a form of respect for reality, kept coming up, in an ethical form. That's how I discovered that there was a philosopher who talked about ethical attention as a central idea in her work, and decided to focus on that entirely. I abandoned the initial project and wrote a thesis on Murdoch and attention. I am not at the early stages of converting the thesis into a book. The idea of attention being so rich, it has taken me a few years after completing the thesis to see how far reaching its implications are. It will probably be a never ending project.

Through Murdoch I encountered Simone Weil and her yer more fiery spirit. When Murdoch seems kinder, Weil is fierce; when Murdoch tries to accommodate imperfection, Weil is uncompromising. I can see why Murdoch thought of Weil as a 'reminder of a standard'.

Probably my greatest concern, practically and philosophically, is what we (as human beings) are doing to non-human animals. The depth of their harm is truly, as one of Coetzee's characters shows, mind-boggling. So I have been helping myself to Murdoch's ideas to see whether a different kind of attention to animals could be a way in (one of many) to a less destructive coexistence.

Through Murdoch studies I came into contact with other scholars and the people affiliated with the Murdoch Society, which has been an enriching human experience. The atmosphere at these gatherings has been friendly, earnest, and kind, and I made friends. There is something about people interested in Murdoch.

I joined UCD in 2019, during the centenary of Murdoch's birth, and there was no better place to be. Thanks to the In Parenthesis group and the UCD Centre for Ethics in Public Life, it was possible to feel Murdoch's legacy in Dublin was alive again. I think this is a trend that will expand beyond the centenary. There seems to be a growing desire for a non-orthodox way of doing ethics which Murdoch offers. 


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