Moral Values and the Idea of God

  • William Ritchie Sorley
1913 to 1915
University of Aberdeen

The subject of WR Sorley's Gifford Lectures is the relation between existence and goodness. Their aim is to make plausible a reversal of the order in which fact and value are normally related, making the world of value fundamental and seeking to establish on its basis the intelligibility of a world of fact. Thus, instead of beginning with science and drawing ethical or evaluative conclusions on the strength of its findings, Sorley bases the nature of ultimate reality on an investigation into value. This amounts to claiming that a knowledge of how reality is, can only be arrived at by asking first how ideally it ought to be.

Sorley identifies happiness, truth, beauty and goodness as the four fundamental values, and pays particular attention to the relation between these and persons. Other important themes discussed include the contrast between intrinsic and instrumental value, the nature if imagination, and pluralism versus monism.

The Human Situation

  • William McNeile Dixon
1935 to 1937
University of Glasgow

Delivered in Glasgow from 1935–1937, Dixon’s course of Gifford Lectures, entitled The Human Situation, explores the life of the human soul and contrasts a rationalist/scientific understanding of the world with Dixon’s own poetic/spiritualist understanding. Alongside Plotinus and Leibniz, he asserts that all nature is animate with endless congeries of monads that are ever in pursuit of becoming.

Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals

  • Iris Murdoch
1981 to 1982
University of Edinburgh

This book, a revised and expanded version of Murdoch’s 1982 Gifford Lectures, is an intriguing, scholarly, but sprawling work that proceeds reflectively through an enormous range of topics, including art and religion, morals and politics, Wittgenstein, metaphysics, deconstruction, Schopenhauer, imagination, and Martin Buber. What Murdoch presents here is not a systematic treatise, but what can be described as ‘a huge hall of reflection full of light and space and fresh air, in which ideas and intuitions can be unsystematically nurtured’.

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