There are good reasons for Iris Murdoch to try her hand at writing philosophical dialogues. She is, after all, a retired Oxford philosophy tutor and the author of a dozen or so studies in ethics and aesthetics (as well as an early monograph on Sartre) that are highly regarded by the post-Fach crowd, who wish philosophy were less like science and more like poetry. And she has long appreciated the advantages of this classic form: in her first published novel, Under the Net (1954), she had the protagonist deflate the systematizing pretensions of a professional philosopher by writing a dialogue called “The Silencer” (those were the days of Wittgenstein, remember).

Among the genres available to philosophers, there is something uniquely forthright about the dialogue. It seems truly to mirror the process of philosophical discovery. Paul Valéry somewhere remarked that it...


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