This book contains three essays, between 20-50 pages long each. All three largely cover the same ground, defending the notion of an absolute, universal, though not fully defineable presence - 'Good'. Murdoch's book is a defence of the idea that good exists as a necessary form of guidance for us in the world. She follows Plato and G.E Moore's realism with regards the notion of goodness, confronting challenges from Kant to Satre, from utilitarianism to behaviourism. No matter its indefineability, 'Good' is nevertheless a central form by which we orientate ourselves in the world, just as 'love' is. She opposes the idea of goodness as relative or self-created.
Murdoch explains "when plato wants to explain good he uses the image of the sun. The moral pilgrim emerges from the cave and begins to see the real world in the light of the sun, and last of all is able to look to the sun itself." (p90)
Good, like love, comes in many forms. these terms communicate a wide range of things, and perhaps, as Murdoch claims, they remain most pure when they are indefineable (for then they are not reduced, pigeon holed, argued over etc).
'Goodness' often communicates to us through art. Think of art that has really spoken to you, it always communicates an openess, an honesty that speaks about a condition of existence e.g. some aspect of our humanity is touched on. Self indulgent art doesn't open itself to us in the same way.
Perhaps the image that this text most imprinted upon my mind is "I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious to my surroundings, brooding perhaps to some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but the kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important." (p82). It is not through achieving self importance that one becomes at peace, satisfied in life, and all becomes good for them. It is precisely the opposite. It is when the 'I' loses its own asserted significance, and becomes a part of a greater whole.
A brilliant book, beautifully written. I recommend reading Martin Buber's 'Between Man and Man' after this, also in the Routledge Classics series.