The Oxfordshire Blue Placque society have unveiled commemorative blue placques at the former Oxford homes of two great Somervillian philosophers: Philippa Foot (1939, PPE) and Iris Murdoch (1938, Lit. Hum.).

Along with Mary Midgeley and Elizabeth Anscombe, Foot and Murdoch were members of the famed so-called ‘quartet’ of groundbreaking moral philosophers who met at Somerville. Working the wake of World War 2 and its horrors, the four drew on Aristotle in challenging the orthodoxy of non-cognitivism, the school of thought that moral statements cannot be true or false and therefore that there is no objective morality.

After meeting as students, Murdoch and Foot became close and even briefly shared a flat. Foot maintaned a lifelong association with Somerville, serving as our Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy from 1950-1969, Senior research fellow from 1969-1988, and Honorary Fellow from 1988-2010. In 1972, she moved in to a house owned by the college at 15 Walton Street, where she lived while dividing her time between the UK and USA. She died there in 2010. After tributes led by Foot’s student and immediate successor as Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy, Emeritus Professor Lesley Brown (1967, Lit. Hum.), the plaque was unveiled by Brown along with our Principal Jan Royall and Associate Professor Karen Margrethe Nielsen, our current Fellow in Philosophy and an expert in the same field of Aristotelian Ethics that Foot worked in.

Murdoch lived at a series of homes in Oxford. Her blue plaque is at 30 Charlbury Road, her final and favourite residence in the city where she spent the last decade of her life before her death in 1999 from Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to her academic research, Murdoch was a highly successful novelist. She won the Booker Prize in 1978 for her novel The Sea, The Sea, and it was at Charlbury Road that she completed her final novels, The Green Knight and Jackson’s Dilemma.

Murdoch’s biographer Peter Conradi and close friend of Murdoch and current resident of the house Audi Villiers Bayley (who became Murdoch’s husband John Bayley’s 2nd wife) led tributes before the unveiling.

“I am so glad to see all these people here and that people are still reading her,” said Villiers Bayley. 

“She was a remarkable woman.”

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