“Thus, virtue consists in searching for, seeing and knowing the goodness in others, and not in discovering the permanent truth of abstract values and norms. So, according to Murdoch, the modern philosophers’ focus on human will fails to dismantle selfishness, the central dilemma of moral life, which distorts the moral agent’s perception of others. As Murdoch’s moral psychology locates egoism directly at the image-creating processes of human consciousness, this process must be disrupted: “increasing awareness of the ‘goods’ and the attempt to attend to them purely, without self, brings with it an increasing unity and interdependence of the moral world” (1997, 375). Hence, virtue consists partially in the complex movement beyond the self, toward what Murdoch calls “virtuous consciousness,” and partially in the developed capacity for love. While Murdoch believes that virtue is the movement beyond the self, nonetheless life often shows that we constantly look after ourselves, day-dreaming in seeking consolation, for, “We are anxiety-ridden animals. Our minds are continually active, fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied, often falsifying veil which partially conceals the world” (1977, 369). Such fantasies about ourselves and the world around us, in Murdoch’s judgment, inflate the ego to the point of becoming a world unto itself preventing us from ever achieving the real knowledge of other people.
While Murdoch opposes idle fantasy she elevates creative imagination, for the faculty of imagination and our aesthetic sensibility help us to generate and rehearse possible situations in which the reality and uniqueness of others can be revealed. The disciplined, creative use of attention and imagination, as opposed to fantasy, becomes central to our aesthetic perception of others, disrupting fantasy-beliefs about them resulting in the transformation of consciousness. 1 Given these considerations, it is not surprising that Murdoch sees unselfishness as an acquired condition through knowledge of the good because, “Objectivity and unselfishness are not natural to human beings … In the moral life the enemy is the fat, relentless ego” (1997, 341-342). For Murdoch, the fundamental moral problem is to acquire clarity of vision as the condition of virtuous consciousness. Virtue comes then through a complex process called “unselfing.” 2 A shift occurs through knowledge of the good, from focusing on others’ outward conduct to cultivating one’s own inner life of virtuous consciousness, from choice to vision, from will to consciousness, from outward conduct to inward knowledge.”