The matched pair ‘love’ and ‘attention’ is familiar to most of us from the essays in Iris Murdoch's The Sovereignty of Good. Although she tells us in that book that there is, in her view, no God in the traditional sense of that term, she provides accounts of art, prayer and morality that are religious. ‘Morality’, she tells us, ‘has always been connected with religion and religion with mysticism’ (Murdoch, 1970, p. 74). The connection here is love and attention: ‘Virtue is au fond the same in the artist as in the good man in that it is a selfless attention to nature’ (ibid. p. 41). Art and morals are two aspects of the same struggle; both involve attending, a task of attention which goes on all the time, efforts of imagination which are important cumulatively (p. 43). ‘Prayer’, she says, ‘is properly not petition, but simply an attention to God which is a form of love’ (ibid. p. 55).
Murdoch freely acknowledges her indebtedness to Simone Weil and the writings of both, in turn, have influenced many others—amongst whom, recently, is Charles Taylor in his book Sources of the Self. For Taylor, too, moral and spiritual intuitions go together. We must ask what we love, what we attend to, in order to know who we are and what we should be. He insists that ‘orientation to the good is not … something we can engage in or abstain from at will, but a condition of our being selves with an identity’ (Taylor, 1989, p. 68).