web analytics
24 Nov

The philosophy in Tristram Shandy

From ABC National Radio’s Philosopher’s Zone (2006) The philosophy in Tristram Shandy. “Tristram Shandy” is a novel that plays, not only with form (the unique handmarbled page, the typography, the fact the narrator digresses so much that he only completes the story of his birth in volume 3), but with philosophy, particularly that of Locke.

For a transcript of the programme and further information, please click here.
Further Reading and Listening

Glasgow University Library (2000) Book of the Month October 2000: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (online)

Karen Harvey (2014) “Nose to nose with Laurence Sterne and Tristram Shandy” OUP Blog (online)

BBC Radio 4: In Our Time (2014) Tristram Shandy (online). Featuring podcast with guests Judith Hawley, John Mullan and Mary Newbould and links to further information.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
17 Nov

Toleration in 18th century Ireland

"Tolerance" by Mary Mackay, East Side Gallery. Berlin. Mural depicting two faces angrily turned away from each other and the same two faces facing each other and smiling

This year, World Philosophy Day (17th November 2016) is celebrated immediately after International Day for Tolerance (16th November every year). The theme for World Philosophy Day 2016, therefore, is Tolerance.

In her message on World Philosophy Day 2016, Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova has this to say on tolerance and philosophy1:

Philosophy does not offer any ready-to-use solutions, but a perpetual quest to question the world and try to find a place in it. Along this road, tolerance is both a moral virtue and a practical tool for dialogue. It has nothing to do with the naive relativism that claims everything is equally valid; it is an individual imperative to listen, all the more striking because it is founded on a resolute commitment to defend the universal principles of dignity and freedom.

While an accurate description of the ideal of tolerance, it should be remembered that tolerance was not obviously a virtue in the past. It had to be argued for, and the acceptance of toleration waxed and waned over time. 

In the religious wars of 16th and 17th century Europe, toleration was generally a term of insult. The Thirty-Year War and the Eighty-Year War sought to establish right religion within Europe. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 saw all countries recognise the 1555 Peace of Augsburg in which each ruler would have the right to determine the religion of his own state while allowing other Christians to worship privately and (limitedly) in public. This had some strange ramifications in Ireland.
Read More

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
08 Nov

Eternal Vigilance

[F]rom the history of the early periods of this corporation, and a view of its charters and bye-laws, it appears that the Commons had, from the earliest periods, participated in the important right of election to that high trust ; and it was natural and just that the whole body of citizens, by themselves or their representatives, should have a share in electing those magistrates who were to govern them, as it was their birthright to be ruled only by laws which they had a share in enacting. The Aldermen, however, soon became jealous of this participation, encroached by degrees upon the Commons, and at length succeeded in engrossing to themselves the double privilege of eligibility and of election; of being the only body out of which, and by which the Lord Mayor could be chosen.

Nor is it strange that, in those times, a board consisting of so small a number as twenty-four members, with the advantages of a more united interest, and a longer continuance in office, should have prevailed, even contrary to so evident principles of natural justice and constitutional right, against the unsteady resistance of competitors so much less vigilant, so much more numerous, and, therefore, so much less united. It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.

“Election of Lord Mayor of Dublin,” speech before the Privy Council, July 10, 1790.
From Thomas Davis (ed) (1847) The Speeches of the Right Honorable John Philpot Curran, pp. 103-131 (archive.org). Quote is from p. 105.

John Philpott Curran was one of the best-known lawyers of his time. He had associations with the United Irishmen and defended Archibald Rowan Hamilton. The above quote is from one of his political speeches made on the occasion of a disputed election. The agreement of both Aldermen and the Common Council was required to elect a Lord Mayor but the aldermen disputed the validity of the Common Council’s rejection of their selection. Curran’s famous linking of liberty and vigilance was made while reviewing the background to the dispute as the extended quote above makes clear.

The last two sentences are the ones most commonly quoted and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1980, 15th ed, p. 397, footnote 8) gives them as the source of “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” .

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
05 Nov

Who called it a “Glorious Revolution”?

william-1688

On the 5th November 1688 William of Orange landed at Torbay, a key event in the “Glorious Revolution”. It has been said of the Glorious Revolution that it was not glorious and not a revolution. But who called it that in the first place?

The first history of the events which culminated in the crowning of William and Mary was written in 1689. The title called the change in ruler a revolution (“The history of the late revolution in England”). The first person recorded adding the adjective “Glorious” was a Whig radical, John Hampden Jr, who used the term while giving testimony to a committee of the House of Lords in the autumn of 1689. “When that term appeared again it was in 1706 in sermons by Bishop Gilbert Burnet (a friend and confidant of King William and Queen Mary) and nonconformist preachers.”1

<!–more–>

“People who used the epithet revealed how narrow and myopic was their perspective, for obviously ‘Glorious Revolution’ could apply only to England, not to Scotland or Ireland” 2. While this contention has merit when the bloodless coup in England is compared to the warfare in Ireland, the term was used by Anglo-Irish writers. The first use in print seems to be in Willam Molyneux’s Case of Ireland. (While I know I have read this in a book about Irish politics, I can’t find the reference. Any suggestions in the comments please!)

Ironically enough, the Case of Ireland makes an extended historical and philosophical argument for Ireland’s parliament making laws for Ireland without the interference of the parliament at Westminster. While arguing that the method of repaying the cost to England of suppressing rebellion should be left to the Irish parliament, Molyneux says “We have an Example of this in Point between England and Holland in the glorious revolution under King William the Third: Holland, in assisting England, expended 600000 Pounds, and the English Parliament fairly repaid them” 3

Another example comes from the non-juror Charles Leslie. He certainly read Molyneux’s Case, since he replied to it in Considerations of importance to Ireland in a letter to a member of Parliament there; upon occasion of Mr Molyneaux’s late book. In his 1708 A Letter from a Gentleman in Scotland to His Friend in England Leslie uses the term a number of times, including the following: “It is a principle of undoubted certainty, and on which the late glorious Revolution turn’d, That the Civil Constitution is founded upon contract” 4. The only other descriptor he uses for “revolution” is “happy” (once).

Probably more read was the use of the term (this time a fully initialised “Glorious Revolution”) in The Guardian no. 41 (1713), in which Steele defended Lady Charlotte, the daughter of the Earl of Nottingham and rebuked The Examiner for attacking her (a much more politically explosive issue than it sounds)5.

Between Leslie and Steele, the term had been used in “Faction Display’d” (1709), a satirical poem about (Steel’s printer and friend) Tonson and his Kit-Kat Club and in High-Church Display’d: Being a Compleat History of the Affair of Dr. Sacheverel, a pamphlet written by John Toland in 1711 (perhaps prompted by this satiric print?) Google Books shows that in 1710 Burnet used the phrase in two thanksgiving sermons, and in 1712 it was used by Abel Boyer in his History of Great Britain. The dissenters Thomas Ely in London, John Abernathy in Antrim and Nathaniel Weld in Dublin (whose son later attended Francis Hutcheson’s academy) all used the phrase in sermons in 1714.

In this time period, then, the phrase was used by Irish writers William Molyneux, John Toland, Charles Leslie, Richard Steele, John Abernathy and Nathaniel Weld: a high proportion of the examples in Google Books. It would be interesting to know if the apparent Irish link to the phrase is real or only a artifact. If there is a link, it peters out after 1714. The phrase (based on Google n-gram) only gained popularity in print after 1735. However, the first historian to use the phrase was also Anglo-Irish: “Walter Harris, whose history was published in 1749” (Walter Harris (1749) The History of the Life and Reign of William-Henry, Prince of Nassau and Orange, Dublin)6.

william-1688Featured Image: William of Orange landing in England, Romeyn de Hooge (detail). Wikimedia/Public Domain.

Further reading/resources

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: The Glorious Revolution (podcast)

References

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
25 Oct

John Todhunter’s Theory of the Beautiful

In Todhunter’s Theory of the Beautiful (1872), beauty is infinite loveliness, which we apprehend both by reason and by the enthusiasm of love. The recognition of beauty as being such depends on taste; there can be no criterion for it. The only approach to a definition is found in culture. (What culture is, is not defined.) Intrinsically, art that which affects us through lines, colours, sounds, or words is not the product of blind forces, but of reasonable ones, working, with mutual helpfulness, towards a reasonable aim. Beauty is the reconciliation of contradictions.

From What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Aylmer Maude, New York : Funk & Wagnalls (1904), p. 35. (archive.org).
Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
08 Oct

Defending Logic

Monument in the west aisle of the south transept dedicated to Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin.

Those who have spoken of Induction or of Example, as a distinct kind of Argument in a Logical point of view, have fallen into the common error of confounding Logical with Rhetorical distinctions, and have wandered from their subject as much as a writer on the orders of Architecture would do who should introduce the distinction between buildings of brick and of marble

In 1826 Richard Whately, future Archbishop of Dublin, published his Elements of Logic. Soon after its publication, the great wave of 19th century logical works began, from writers such as George Boole, Augustus De Morgan, Charles Sanders Peirce and Bernard Bolzano. While Whately’s work contained none of the innovations of these later works, it paved the way for them1
Read More

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
07 Oct

His Native Potatoes

NPG D12313; Edmund Burke ('Cincinnatus in retirement') by James Gillray, published by  Elizabeth d'Achery

by James Gillray, published by Elizabeth d’Achery, hand-coloured etching, published 23 August 1782
© National Portrait Gallery, London

For National Potato Day, a satirical portrait of Edmund Burke eating potatoes. The caption reads “Cincinnatus in retirement falsely supposed to represent Jesuit Padre driven back to his native potatoes. See Romanish Commonwealth.”
Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
24 Sep

Molyneux’s Treatise of Dioptrics

molyneux-dioptricks

molyneux-dioptricks-sig

William Molyneux’s Treatise of Dioptrics, 1692. This copy was given to Narcissus Marsh by Molyneux himself (as evidenced by Molyneux’s inscription, see left.) This 300 page book was the first English language book about optics. (For more on the Dioptrics of William Molyneux and his son, see “When an Eye is armed with a Telescope: The Dioptrics of William and Samuel Molyneux.” by Peter Abrahams.)

Among the other copies that Molyneux gave away was one sent to John Locke, which triggered a correspondence and a friendship that lasted until Molyneux’s death in 1698.

Source of images: Marsh’s Library on Facebook (Creative Commons).

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
04 Sep

Descartes vs Toland

Toland also argues that there is no benefit in making a distinction between what is inconsistent with reason and what merely appears to be inconsistent with reason, and then accepting that we may be required by divine revelation to believe what appears to be irrational. Toland’s answer to this is remarkably similar to Descartes’s: if we relax the criterion of what is credible to admit propositions that at least appear to be irrational, then there is no limit to what we may be invited or required to believe. […]

However in contrast to Descartes, Toland seems to establish reason not only as a criterion of what we can believe, but also as a criterion of what is possible for God.

Desmond M. Clarke (1997)”Toland on Faith and Reason” in Philip McGuinness, Alan Harrison and Richard Kearney (eds) John Toland’s Christianity not Mysterious: Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays, Dublin: Lilliput Press, pp. 293-301.
Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone
01 Sep

Steele’s Crisis

The debate between The Crisis and The Public Spirit of the Whigs exemplifies not only Swift’s personal animosity toward Steele, but, at a more profound level, the basic disagreement between Steele and his Tory antagonists about the meaning of 1688. For Steele, the authority of the monarch derived from the consent of the governed, and the people, acting jointly, had the right to replace the monarch when he or she seriously violated their safety or even interests. The difficulty of replacing the monarch acted as a restraint on civic disorder; the possibility of such replacement acted as a deterrent to monarchical excess. But for Tories no such right was structured into or implied by the constitution. The authority of the Crown derived from Divine approval as providentially manifested in history. If extraordinary circumstances required a violent intervention in order to ensure the safety of the nation (and especially of the Church), the revolution might be a lesser evil, but it did not flow from the inherent rights of citizens. For Steele, revolution principles were an important protection of civic order,; for Tories, Steele’s argument undermined the substance and continuity of monarchical rule and opened the way to radical excesses.

From Charles A. Knight (2009) A Political Biography of Richard Steele, London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. 135-6.

Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInGoogle+Print this pageEmail to someone