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14 Aug

Sophie Bryant advocating Boole’s Symbolic Language

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The value of a uniformization of notation was recognized by late-19th and early-20th centuries logicians, who not only remarked the wide variety of definitions and symbolizations for the most basic elements of logic, but complained about the confusing proliferation of notation systems. Venn divided the 33 forms into seven different general types. The authors whose notations are considered range from Leibniz to Boole and Hamilton, and from Charles Pierce and his students to Frege.[…] In 1888 Sophie Willock Bryant (1850-1922), in her article “On the Nature and Functions of a Complete Symbolic Language” – not unnaturally then – complained of the existence of too many competing logical notations and systems, and she advocated a return to Boole’s original system.

I. H. Anellis (2014) “Pierce’s Role in the History of Logic: Lingua Universalis and Calculus Ratiocinator” in Arnold Koslow and Arthur Buchsbaum (eds.) The Road to Universal Logic: Festschrift for the 50th Birthday of Jean-Yves Béziau, Volume 2, pp. 135-170.
Quote from p. 147.

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08 Aug

Francis Hutcheson: the Ulster Stoic

Against a dark background, a hand emerges from a flowing white cuff, holding a book: Cicero's 'De Finibus'
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That Stoicism was an influence on Francis Hutcheson is well known. He translated the lions share of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (his co-translator James Moor was responsible for two of the twelve books), which was published anonymously by Foulis in Glasgow in 17421 He told Thomas Drennan by letter than he hoped the translation would be a public good, and in the Preface he wrote to the work, he said the Meditations inspired “a constant inflexible charity, and good-will and compassion toward our fellows.”2

Francis Hutcheson

Portrait of Francis Hutcheson by Allan Ramsey, c. 1745
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Hutcheson said he “took the first hints of [his opinions] from some of the greatest Writers of Antiquity” in his Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725) and referenced Aurelius in An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections. Stoicism informs all his work. This is not surprising given the influence of Shaftesbury on Hutchesons moral theory: Shaftesbury was also influenced by Stoicism. Yet Hutcheson was not an uncritical adopter of Stoicism. It has been pointed out that Hutcheson was reticent about his debt to Stoicism, being most sympathetic towards them in the pseudonymous and very early work On Laughter. It may be that this was caution due to his immersion in an overwhelming Presbyterian environment. But it is also true that he had philosophical disagreements with classical Stoicism (and with Shaftesbury), though he did not draw attention to these differences. Perhaps his position is best illustrated by his choice of Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum (“On the ends of good and evil”) to hold in the portrait by Allan Ramsey (c. 1745 – see image at the top of the page.) Cicero’s De finibus both expounds Stoicism and criticises it3.

Hutcheson’s main concern seems to have been to establish that virtue was natural ie. that humans did not act solely from self-interest. This lead him to argue against thinkers such as Bernard Mandeville (who believed people had to be tricked into morality) and John Clarke (who believed self-love was the foundation of morality), and against many Calvinists. The Stoics believed that virtue was in accordance with nature, hence the “first hints” Hutcheson referred to. But Hutcheson found some Stoic beliefs implausible. For example, in the Essay, Hutcheson speaks of the “Vanity of some of the lower rate of Philosophers of the Stoick Sect, in boasting of an undisturbed Happiness and Serenity, independently even of the Deity, as well as of their Fellow-Creatures, wholly inconsistent with the Order of Nature.”4

This attitude was reflected in Hutcheson’s quiet alteration of his psychology away from the Stoic model. His psychology depends on two distinctions: self-love and benevolence, and on calm affections vs violent passions. Hutcheson’s analysis of the violent passions in the Essay follows that of the Stoics as described by Cicero (in Tusculanæ Disputationes) and is summarised in the following table: 5

If object is good and present, joy is felt. If object is good and absent desire is felt. If object is evil and present sorrow is felt, if object is evil and absent, fear is felt.

Cicero describes the Stoics as classifying the calm emotions in a similar way to the passions, with one exception: for the Stoics there is no calm emotion as regards a present evil. The correct Stoic attitude is indifference. As we saw above, Hutcheson forcefully rejected this. His classification of the calm emotions silently includes sorrow as a calm reaction to a present evil. Since (for both Stoics and Hutcheson) passions are to be avoided but calm emotions are not, this is a radical break6.

While Hutcheson disagreed with some aspects of Calvinism, others may have inspired this insight. Hutcheson, unlike some caricatures of Enlightenment moral philosophers, did not believe that human nature was purely good, or that it could achieve perfection by its own efforts7 Also, Hutcheson’s emphasis on public benevolence (a subject he believed neglected by other philosophers) had an effect8:

Hutcheson, putting forward a conception of human nature as naturally sociable and a conception of virtue as benevolence, could not possibly ban the public affection of sorrow arising upon the apprehension of misery in others from his table of the calm affections.

The concept of the moral sense had come from the moral philosophy of Shaftesbury, and Shaftesbury is closer to the classical Stoics in seeing reason as having a role in ethics though regulation of emotions and potentially correcting the moral sense. But Hutcheson rejects this, seeing reason’s function as determining means to arrive at ends, rather than in the selection of ends. This has the effect of making Hutcheson’s ethics more democratic. For Shaftesbury, the moral sense required extensive education and cultivation to work correctly, while for Hutcheson an ordinary person such as a “common Trader” could be virtuous. But while that does not mean goodness takes no effort, merely that it is effort available even to the poor. Hutcheson argues for the cultivation of virtuous habits that will allow the moral sense to assert itself9.

Hutcheson’s Stoicism is not focused entirely on analysis and improvement of the self, but calls explicitly for concern with the world around us, not merely for our own benefit but because we naturally care about others. As a natural result of this, Hutcheson’s philosophy does not stop with the analysis of psychology and morality, but also puts forward a political philosophy based on republican thinking. In this he combines the two sources that he obtained (probably) from Robert Molesworth: Shaftesbury’s moral sense and Harrington’s commonwealth.

Like Shaftesbury before him, Hutcheson agreed with the Stoics that philosophy was not merely theory but something to be actively lived10 It was this that led him to refuse to support Hume’s bid for a chair in philosophy: he did not believe Hume Would encourage virtue in others. Hume put the difference neatly: Hume himself was an anatomist, dissecting the human psyche, Hutcheson the painter commending virtue to the common man. It be untrue to say Hutcheson took no interest in the anatomy of virtue, but it is fair to say that its main interest to him was in depicting virtue more perfectly11.

This then, was the Ulster Stoic, Francis Hutcheson: seeking to be a better person without neglecting others, active and concerned about the world. His philosophy does not rule out sorrow in our lives but it is, Hutcheson believed, the route to “the surest Happiness of the Agent”12


26 Jul

Three Act Comedy: George Bernard Shaw.

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“You cannot have power for good without having power for evil too. Even mother’s milk nourishes murderers as well as heroes” – George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara.

The first act of George Bernard Shaw’s life started at 33 Synge Street, Dublin on 26th July 1856. Brought up in an outwardly orthodox but unconventional Irish Protestant family, he later declared he was “a freethinker before I knew how to think.” He left Ireland for London aged nineteen and remained there for the rest of his life, though was still concerned with Irish politics. (Iris Murdoch’s novel The Red and the Green mentions his writing circulating in Dublin in 1916.) After decades writing he finally achieved success as a playwright in the 1900s 1

Shaw has been called “one of the most gifted, influential, and well-known intellectuals to have lived”2. He wrote extensively on diverse areas in religion, philosophy, politics, economics, culture and society.
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15 Jun

Edmund Burke on Magna Carta

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The common law, as it then prevailed in England, was in a great measure composed of some remnants of the old Saxon customs, joined to the feudal institutions brought in at the Norman Conquest. And it is here to be observed, that the constitutions of Magna Charta are by no means a renewal of the laws of St. Edward, or the ancient Saxon laws, as our historians and lawwriters generally, though very groundlessly, assert. They bear no resemblance, in any particular, to the laws of St. Edward, or to any other collection of these ancient institutions. Indeed, how should they? The object of Magna Charta is the correction of the feudal policy, which was first introduced, at least in any regular form, at the Conquest, and did not subsist before it. It may be further observed, that in the preamble to the great charter it is stipulated that the barons shall hold the liberties there granted to them and their heirs, from the king and his heirs; which shows that the doctrine of an unalienable tenure was always uppermost in their minds. Their idea even of liberty was not (if I may use the expression) perfectly free; and they did not claim to possess their privileges upon any natural principle or independent bottom, but just as they held their lands from the king. […]
All these were marks of a real and grievous servitude. The great charter was made not to destroy the root, but to cut short the overgrown branches of the feudal service[.]

Edmund Burke An Essay towards an Abridgement of English History, written between 1757 and c. 1763. From Edmund Burke (1852) The Works and Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, in Eight Volumes, Vol. IV, London: F. & J. Rivington, pp. 358-9 (Google Books)
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22 May

From Ireland to Manchester: Eva Gore-Booth and women’s labour

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Some vague Utopia?

In his poem “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz”, Yeats called the work of Eva Gore-Booth a dream “of some vague Utopia”. It was, in fact, part of a wider campaign for the rights of working class people and for women that had been happening in Ireland for twenty years and in England, Wales and Scotland for longer.

In January 1907 James Larkin came to Belfast to act as general organiser for the National Union of Dock Labourers. He had previously been an organiser for the union in Liverpool, Preston and Glasgow and his aim was to unionise the unskilled workers of Belfast. That Summer he led the dockworkers in a strike to campaign for the right to organise and join trades unions, and for the rights of working class people. The strike grew into a movement, with women among the early participants. A thousand women walked out of Gallahers Tobaco in solidarity with seven co-workers sacked for attending a lunchtime meeting organised by Larkin. The strike spread to carters, coal heavers, boilermakers and most surprisingly of all, the Royal Irish Constabulary in Belfast. The Independent Orange Order even collected donations for the strikers on 12 July 19071.
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10 May

The Fate of Science

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It is easy for a scientist, in what is still a bourgeois democracy, to look with superior horror at what is happening to science under Fascism. But the fate of science in his own country is at the moment still hanging in the balance, and it depends on factors quite outside the scope of science itself. Unless the scientist is aware of these factors and knows how to use his weigh this position is simply that of the sheep awaiting his turn with the butcher.

J. D. Bernal (1939) The Social Function of Science.

Via @ColdWarScience

28 Apr

Of Dog-headed Men, Predestination and Universals

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Today is the feast of the “popular saint of doubtful history” Christopher1. In the Middle Ages (and later, as the featured image above from the 17th century shows) Christopher was depicted as having the head of a dog.

Pliny recorded the testimony of a Greek physician who claimed to have encountered a race of people with the heads of dogs who dressed in skins. The idea passed into popular legend. The Irish accounts of Christopher, the dog-head who converted to Christianity and was martyred by the Roman emperor Decius can be found in the 15th century manuscripts, the Leabhar Breac and the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum2. It was also referenced by Ratramnus, a monk of Corbie in Picardy, when asked for advice about dog-heads by a monk called Rimbert, who thought he might encounter them in a mission to Scandinavia.
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14 Apr

The Young King

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‘The land is free,’ said the young King,
‘and thou art no man’s slave.’

‘In war,’ answered the weaver, ‘the strong make slaves of the weak, and in peace the rich make slaves of the poor.
We must work to live, and they give us such mean wages that we die. We toil for them all day long, and they heap up gold in their coffers, and our children fade away before their time, and the faces of those we love become hard and evil.
We tread out the grapes, and another drinks the wine. We sow the corn, and our own board is empty.
We have chains, though no eye beholds them;
and are slaves, though men call us free.’

Oscar Wilde (1894/1987) “The Young King” in The Works of Oscar Wilde London:Galley Press, pp. 224–233. Quote from p. 227. Available on UCC Celt.
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10 Apr

A Slip of Poetry on an Economic Tree: the National Being

Page, with writing showing through from the other side, on which is sketched a female figure, bent and walking with one arm ut, surrounded by a halo of fire, and a smaller sketch of a seated girl.
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The 150th anniversary of the birth of George Russell (on 10 April 1867 in Lurgan) comes at an appropriate time. The major focus of Russell’s life was on developing Ireland, materially and culturally. A poet, he seemed an unlikely choice as organizer for the newly established co-operative movement in Ireland in 1897. Yet his indefatigable work vindicated Horace Plunkett’s choice.

In 1916, Russell dedicated his new book The National Being: Some Thoughts on an Irish Polity to Plunkett1:

A good many years ago you grafted a slip of poetry on your economic tree. I do not know if you expected a hybrid. This essay may not be economics in your sense of the word. It certainly is not poetry in my sense…In my philosophy of life, we are all responsible for the results of our actions and their effects on others. This book is a consequence of your grafting operation, and so I dedicate it to you.

This book comes closest to bringing together Russell’s myriad interests reflected in his various friendships: Yeats’ mysticism, Plunkett’s concern for the rural population, Connolly’s fight for the urban labourer and Bryant’s argument for a unified Irish identity. The bulk of the book deals with the practical problems that a new Irish state needs to solve.
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04 Apr

Isidore and the origins of the Irish

Manuscript image of Isidore
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Isidore of Seville, who died on 4th April 656AD, spans the classical and medieval worlds. Besides being bishop of Seville (from about 600 to his death), he also attempted to condense huge amounts of classical learning into his most famous work, the Etymologies. This huge reference work was very influential throughout the Middle Ages, and explains why Isidore was selected by Pope John Paul II as the patron of the internet. A good summary of Isidore’s life and of the Etymologies, including images from various manuscripts of the work, is available on the British Library website 1.

The importance of Isidore can be seen in the fact over a thousand manuscript copies of the Etymologies survive and it was one of the first printed books. Almost certainly available in all cultural centres by 800AD, it seems to have arrived particularly early in Ireland. The earliest fragments of the Etymologies is housed in St Gall (named for the disciple and companion of Saint Columbanus). Written in an Irish scribal hand, it may date back as far back as the mid seventh century. References in Irish texts show that the Etymologies was certainly known in Ireland by the late seventh century and by 700AD all but one of Isidore’s works had arrived in Ireland2.

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