Clare Mac Cumhaill


Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe, Mary Midgley


I got interested in the Quartet in 2015, when I first met Mary Midgley and learnt about her wartime education and life more generally. The discovery of the existence of ‘Quartet’, a group of women friends who studied together during WW2, was startling – and I wanted to learn more. Rachael Wiseman, my collaborator and friend, had just published her brilliant Routledge Guidebook to Anscombe's Intention and even she didn’t know a whole lot about the Quartet. It was plain that this was an understudied story, and one that had the potential and power to reshape what we think about how British analytic philosophy is done, as well as its received history. Together, with the help of a British Academy small grant, we set up In Parenthesis, an openly collaborative research initiative to find out more. At first, we spent time in archives at Oxford trying to work out what was so special about the Wartime context. At the same time, we were reading the women’s work, for me, for the first time. The overlaps were striking - and the scope and depth of the philosophy they were offering (each different, of course, and much of it difficult, but we think emanating from a common frustration) vast. It was a liberation! 
In the course of the next couple of years, together with a new band of collaborators, including a gang of brilliant student volunteers, a number of reading groups sprang up both in the UK and abroad and in 2018, the Midgley Archive was established at Durham University Palace Green Archives. Part of the goal then, as now, was to explore too different ways of doing philosophy that might be beneficial interventions for those less than happy with the mainstream, or who feel it can be expanded -  and are the little spin-off projects that resulted and they are still ongoing.
I think for philosophers who like systematic philosophy (even if you are a professed Wittgensteinean), the joy of reading the Quartet together is that they really do offer a new philosophical system to move around in once the pieces of the jigsaw, drawn from their collective corpus, are fitted together (and that includes most of the main sub-disciplines of philosophy). But it’s not that easy. At least three were serious classicists and Murdoch was a novelist and a voracious reader of work in both French and German, most of it untranslated when she was reading. How much of their intellectual horizon we can reconstruct remains to be seen, but we are having a go…


With Rachael Wiseman, I'm writing a narrative philosophical history of the Quartet between the years 1937 and 1957.
This will be published in Spring 2022.

I've also written a couple exegetical pieces, below, a review of Mary Midgley's last work, as well as trying to bring Anscombe's philosophy of perception and action to bear on contemporary philosophy of perception in particular.

Depicting Human Form
Getting the Measure of Murdoch's Good

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