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The Black Prince
Capsule reviews: Iris Murdoch, Wild Animal Rights, the Zoomer Question
by Iris Murdoch
Penguin Classics, 408 pp, $8.69
Sometimes when you say that a person is “better known” for something, it’s a verbal crutch, and what you really mean is just that the person in question has many talents. So it is with Iris Murdoch, a top-tier Platonist philosopher. One work called The Sovereignty of Good, a rigorous and original defense of a “moral reality external to ourselves,” is as deep and as clear as the best of C.S. Lewis. Murdoch also wrote novels: The Black Prince won the 1973 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and was shortlisted for the Booker. It holds up.
Formally a psychological thriller, unreliably narrated by an older writer in a jealous, symbiotic relationship with a younger writer (and the women in his family), The Black Prince is functionally about the relationship between love and art: whether being in love makes art better, whether it replaces the artistic instinct, and whether loves directed toward the wrong things make one’s art worse.
As in The Sovereignty of Good, Murdoch is interested in the hierarchies of virtues and experiences. Is it better to love truly and fully than it is to tell the truth (and is it possible to be truly in love if one is estranged from reality)?
It ends with a remarkable twist, and then another (which I didn’t understand on the first read-through) involving and invoking the muse. Can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Readers of this newsletter are disproportionately likely to have strong opinions, one way or the other, about “shrimp welfare.” For those not read in, the idea that the suffering of shrimp may be the most important moral issue of our time comes from a utilitarian view held in effective altruist circles, that measuring and minimizing pain and suffering is the most admirable thing one can do. It follows to many that shrimp, which appear to feel pain and exist in tremendous quantity, deserve our attention. It appears to follow, to some, that we should focus our resources on stopping shrimp from suffering not only in our diets but in the wild. And perhaps we should do the same for all wild animals, if such a thing becomes possible.
Martha Nussbaum brings her own philosophical approach to the question of animal welfare, oriented around her framework of “capabilities,” in a new book, “Justice for Animals.” As Clare Coffey describes in this review, Nussbaum’s idea of capabilities refers to
“the ability of sentient creatures to flourish in the specific form of life of their species — for the pigs to wallow and root and farrow, for the dolphins to swim long distances and play, for the ruminants to range freely in a herd, and so on. Underlying these differences are capabilities — goods — common to all: bodily integrity, health, mobility, and others.”
When it comes to the question, “Should we try and stop all predation in the animal world?” I’m with Coffey against Nussbaum, who thinks the answer is yes. The essay is a genuine engagement with different ways of thinking about our obligations to the animal kingdom. And it brings up potentially the most interesting conundrum for animal welfare: what do we do about the fact that plants are far more sentient than we give them credit for? (Aristotle’s vegetative soul may be due for a refresh.)
by Isaac Wilks
Use your one free American Affairs article to chew through Isaac’s latest, a comprehensive and heterodox accounting of distinctively Zoomer ills and their sociological effects. Chronic and iatrogenic illness, the iPhone shock, the marriage of burgeoning social consciousness and “strange inertia”: it’s all here.
by Michael W. Clune
The instant I got high on heroin, all I wanted was to get clean. I made lists, plans, left handwritten notes all over my apartment. “Don’t do Dope!” “My life matters!” “Get help!” And the instant the dope began to wear off, all I wanted was to get more. There’s nothing unique or special about my experience. Every addict confronts this betrayal by desire.
Lastly, two Substacks, one dear to my heart and one new. The first is a wonderful historical overview of the mail-order home. (I have the privilege of editing this newsletter, Construction Physics, for work.)
The other came across my feed basically at random. It’s about cancel culture. In a hidden footnote,recently promised never to link essays about, among other things, “liberalism” or “cancel culture.” Regress Studies makes no such promise, and instead commits to plugging good essays even when they are on beaten-to-death subjects such as these.