Iris Murdoch’s new book, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals,1 is based on the 1982 Gifford lectures, the prestigious Scottish lecture series that was endowed, more than a hundred years ago, by the will of Lord Gifford. Adam Gifford (1820-87) prescribed in his will that the subject of the lectures should be natural theology, understood as containing within itself some account of the foundations of ethics. Gifford wanted his speakers to take up an empirical standpoint:

I wish the lecturers to treat their subject as a strictly natural science . . . just [like] astronomy or chemistry.

Here readers might be inclined to jeer (or wistfully groan) “but that was another country, and besides, ethics is dead”; for after Gifford came Nietzsche, and...


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