She first encountered existentialist writings while working with refugees, and she drew deeply from her fascination with those experiences in her second novel, ''Flight From the Enchanter'' (1956).
Jean Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin on July 15, 1919, the only child of British and Irish parents.
When she was a year old her family moved to London, where her father, Wills John Hughes Murdoch, joined the civil service.
It was a particularly heady time for anyone concerned with the study and application of philosophical thought; new schools of philosophy were contending for primacy and often combative works were being produced to define these emerging disciplines.
Miss Murdoch had met Sartre, the most visible proponent of existentialism, while working with refugees in Belgium.
While it was balanced, it was not uncritical: Miss Murdoch felt that existentialism encouraged an almost hermetic focus on the self, ignoring the corrosive implications of such a perspective on society.
Her study paid special attention to Sartre's fiction.She spent much of her career quietly teaching and writing, away from lecture tours, prize committees and television appearances.Along with novels, she produced a half a dozen works on philosophy, several plays, critical writing on literature and modern ideas and poetry.After leaving the United Nations, Miss Murdoch took up further study in philosophy at Cambridge University, where she worked with Wittgenstein.While she expressed no lasting allegiance to his school of thought, she said her studies with him spurred her development as a writer. Anne's College at Oxford, where she remained for 15 years as a lecturer in philosophy.Existentialism, with its focus on individual will, appealed to her, but she found its emphasis on the primacy of the self disturbing.Her first published work, ''Sartre: Romantic Rationalist'' (1953), was a serious, clear explanation of existentialism and its place in contemporary thought.She graduated with honors in 1942 and immediately took a job with the Treasury.In 1944 she began working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which helped Europeans displaced by World War II.Her great pleasure in reading, and her early attempts to write stories led to the conviction, which she formed as a child, that she would become a writer.She attended boarding school in Bristol, and in 1938 entered Somerville College, a women's college at Oxford, where she studied the classics, ancient history and philosophy.