The Honorary Graduates

72nd Congregation (1969)

Jean Iris MURDOCH
Doctor of Letters honoris causa


Citation

The Public Orator Professor Leonard Kenneth Young, B.A., D.PHIL., wrote and delivered the following citation:

Some philosophers present their ideas in learned volumes, through which the dutiful amongst us struggle courageously; whilst in the east, in some mysterious fashion, whole schools of thinkers convey their teachings without saying anything at all. Miss Iris Murdoch has found a novel way of conveying her ideas, to our instruction and delight.

She was educated at Badminton School and then read classics at Oxford. After serving in H.M. Treasury during the war and with U.N.R.R.A. in London, Belgium and Austria, she studied for a year at Cambridge before returning to Oxford in 1948. There for fifteen years she was Fellow and Tutor in philosophy at St. Anne's College. I have it on good authority, from one fortunate to sit at her feet, that she possesses a keenly analytical mind and is meticulously uncompromising in the pursuit of truth: a judgment borne out by her papers in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Others, captivated by her work on Sartre, have described her as an existentialist.

It is said that everything flees at the touch of cold philosophy and a life time in its study would clip an angel's wings. This view is obviously shared by Miss Murdoch. In the early 'fifties she unshackled her imagination and allowed her genius to take flight. Over the past fifteen years she has produced twelve books which, like the rainbow whose mythological name she bears, have traced an iridescent arc across the literary firmament. It is not my purpose to stray into a literary discussion, the roles of orator and critic being necessarily separate; but I would remark in passing on the impact these books have made. At first, those nervous of seeing sandcastles made of their emotions may have sought flight from the enchanter, only to be caught under the net on being stopped by the bell. As a result, today she is acclaimed as one of the most outstanding of the contemporary English novelists.

Hong Kong is a place of different climates of ideas, many of which span the continents and traditions. It gives us pleasure to pause and honour one whose subject is so removed from our own, but whose portrayal of the human condition creates immediate understanding. I commend to you, for the degree of Doctor of Letters, Jean Iris Murdoch, regarded as a novelist by philosophers and as a philosopher by novelists, who in her work has merged if not resolved the age old problem of the body and the mind.


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