Date of Submission



The experience of being overwhelmed or speechless is very common, but it has insufficiently informed contemporary moral philosophy. My thesis seeks to redress this. Iris Murdoch wrote that 'art is the great clue to morals'. In tragic drama she saw a doomed but noble attempt to answer to the worst in life and in sublime experience an emblem of goodness: loving attention to the 'unutterably particular'. Form generally, artistic or intellectual, falters before both the awful (in tragic drama) and the wonderful (in the sublime), and these extremes reveal what might no less, but only less obviously, pertain in the everyday. Raimond Gaita acknowledges a mystery in the standard to which we are called both in remorse and in wonder at 'saintly love', but his allegiance to a particular view on the nature, operation and even, one might say, sovereignty of concepts in our inner lives (developed after Ludwig Wittgenstein) may limit his appreciation of the broader implications and possibility of this mystery. Christopher Cordner may better suggest them in, for one, his discussion of one's admiration for their beloved's beauty. Thus do I examine the philosophical work of Murdoch, Gaita and Cordner in connection with the themes of tragedy, the sublime and individuality. I then examine the view of concepts to which Gaita and Cordner generally subscribe.;I conclude with an extensive and philosophically alive reading of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov. This constitutes both an extension and application of my thought. The novel presents paradoxes (or 'outward nonsense') in its portrayal of both the despair possible before great suffering in this world and the deliverance that can follow from a sense of personal responsibility and a gratitude for the beauty of all creation. Simone Weil sees in such paradoxes opportunities to transcend reason in view of spiritual elevation and attraction to a higher truth. In the practical consideration of lesser evils, much contemporary moral philosophy seems reduced to, in Dostoevsky's words, an 'eccentric question on an impermissible theme'. This thesis opposes that orientation, following Murdoch, Gaita and Cordner in returning love to the centre of discussion about morality.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


305 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Included in

Philosophy Commons