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09 Nov

Epicurean Creation

The mechanical shock of the atoms being in his view the all-sufficient cause of things, he combats the notion that the constitution of nature has been in any way determined by intelligent design. The inter-action of the atoms throughout infinite time rendered all manner of combinations possible. Of these the fit ones persisted, while the unfit ones disappeared. “

John Tyndall references Lucretius the Epicurean (On The Nature on Things) in his famous Belfast Address (1874) in support of Darwinism and the superior authority of science over religious or non-rationalist explanations.

09 Nov

Berkeley’s Problem with Representative Realism

[T]he structure of the dialectic, both between Berkeley and his real-world opponents and between his fictitious characters Hylas and Philonous, is a debate about whether ‘the vulgar’ or ‘the mob’ or ‘the illiterate bulk’ have knowledge of familiar objects like apples, tables, and cherry trees, and if so how. Berkeley’s complaint against his opponents is that, on their theories, it cannot be proved that the gardener knows his cherry tree. He claims that his own theory does not have this defect: the philosopher who has grasped Berkeley’s arguments thereby comes to know that the gardener knows that his cherry tree exists.

Berkeley’s problem with representative realism – we don’t know if we know. From Kennypearce.net

15 Oct

Educating the Citizen Lord

Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1797)

Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1796.
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Lord Edward Fitzgerald was born 250 years ago, on the 15th October 1763, in Carton House, Co. Kildare, the fifth son of the Duke of Leinster. From his earliest days, Edward Fitzgerald was a child of the Enlightenment, and educated according to Enlightenment ideals.

One of the most influential thinkers on education in 18th century Ireland was John Locke. The earliest edition of his “Thoughts on Education” (1683) described itself as “Published at the request of several of the nobility of this kingdom”, and was reprinted three times from 1728-1738, and twice in the late 1770s. It provided a model for a gentleman’s education, and helped popularize the ideal of a paternalistic and educated gentry taking responsibility for improving their local area.

For Locke the goal of education was to instil “the Principle of Virtue”, that is the ability to subvert one’s immediate appetites and desires to the dictates of reason. The aim was to create people who obeyed reason over passion. 
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18 Sep

Incendiary: John Toland and the birth of the Irish Enlightenment

A book burning in London, 1643. (click for source)

A book burning in London, 1643. (Image  is figure 8 in “Incendiary texts”, referenced and linked below)

On 18th (some say 11th) September, 1697 the book “Christianity Not Mysterious” was burned in front of the Irish Parliament Buildings. This had been ordered by the Parliament who declared some days earlier that the heretical book “be publickly burnt by the hands of the common hangman” and the author “be taken into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms and…prosecuted”. Such burning of books by the hangman had been done in England since 1634 (ref), though letters from Molyneaux to Locke suggest it had not happened in Ireland before.

The book had already caused controversy. It was denounced when it was first published in 1696, the first edition anonymously and the second under Toland’s name. The book argues that “[T]here is nothing in the Gospel contrary to Reason, nor above it; and … no Christian Doctrine can be properly called a Mystery.” In other words, nothing in the Gospel can conflict with reason, the Gospel cannot transcend reason (so apparent conflicts with reason cannot be explained away as a mystery) and that no doctrine can at once be Christian and mysterious. The creation of mysteries within Christianity he attributed to innovations of competing sects.

This theory of the relationship between religion and reason went further than other supporters of reason such as Locke had dared. It was especially contentious in Ireland, since it undermined the position of the established Anglican Church over other churches. Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (of the Library) requested the Provost of Trinity College, Dr. Peter Browne, to write an answer to Toland’s book. Browne did so in his 1797 A Letter in answer to a book entitled Christianity not mysterious, condemning Toland as ‘an inveterate enemy of revealed religion’. Browne was later made the Bishop of Cork, due to Marsh’s influence, leading Toland to boast he had ‘made Browne a bishop’.
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12 Sep

The Weakness of William King

I impoverish my self with buying books but over Shoes over boots my head is in and an auction on foot who can stop his hand?

I am got here into books very foolishly, I bought Villalpandus in Large paper 3 vol. 4//. I bought Bsp Halls 4 Vols 111. 8s.three vol. of Musculus…and Sev//. other books, I confess my infirmity and [pro]mise to amend. “

Two quotes from Archbishop William King about his weakness for buying books, a trait that reputedly amused his friend Dean John Stearne and upset his collector of rents Henry Green, who had the job of “hindering” the book buying.

Both are from letters written by William King to John Stearne, Dean of St Patricks, after book auctions in London (1710 and 1713).

Source: An Irish Archbishop and his library [JSTOR, limited free access].

29 Aug

John Locke in Ireland

In 1692 John Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding was put on the curriculum of Trinity College Dublin by the provost St George Ashe. This was the first university to do so, unsurprising given the book was only published two years before.

The book was added on the recommendation of William Molyneux, founder of the Dublin Philosophical Society and first translator of Descartes’Meditations into English. In 1692 Molyneux made a flattering reference to Locke in the dedication of his own book, the Dioptrica Nova. He sent a copy to Locke, sparking a correspondence that only ended when Molyneux died. Molyneux was immortalised on a later edition of Locke’s Essay as the creator of Molyneux’s Problem.

When, in 1695, John Toland published his Christianity Not Mysterious, which applied Lockean ideas to religion, Locke was by then known well enough for the arguments refuting Toland to employ the same Lockean ideas. The Irish Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, described by David Berman, produced new theological positions, such as Theological Representationalism, and some important philosophers. “Without Locke’sEssay“, says Berman, “there would hardly have been a Berkeley, Hutcheson or Burke.” Much of Irish philosophy in this “Golden Age” rests on Lockean foundations, and Berkeley’s philosophy is rooted in disputes between different positions based on Locke.
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28 Aug

Augustine As Aeneas

In these and other particulars it can be seen that both the Aeneid and the Confessions approach a usual pattern and to one another. Aeneas in his flight from Troy has many shattering personal experiences, many a trial, and a visit to the underworld from which he emerges regenerated, with a clear vision of his destiny and the strength and confidence to fulfil it. Augustine, likewise, pictures himself as the Prodigal Son fleeing back to the Father (an important related motif in the Confessions), has equally shattering personal experiences and trials, ‘dies to his old self and puts on Christ in a mystic calling from which he emerges regenerated. There are differences of emphasis between the one work and the other – in particular the Confessions stress the ‘flight’ in terms of the Neo Platonic flight to the Fatherland and the way thither. But broadly speaking each is the story of Everyman in his journey through life.”

From “Virgil and Augustine: The Aeneid in the Confessions” by John Ó’Meara, in The Maynooth Review / Revieú Mhá Nuad , Vol. 13, (Dec., 1988), pp. 30-43 [available on JSTOR, limited free access]

The Irish philosopher John J. O’Meara on the parallels between Augustine’s Confessions and Virgil’s Aeneid. The Aeneid, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, recounts the tale of Aeneas, a Trojan who wandered the Mediterranean after the Fall of Troy. He eventually arrives in Italy where he became the ancestor of the Romans.
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26 Aug

The Dublin Strike

I am a literary man, a lover of ideas, but I have found few people in my life who would sacrifice anything for a principle. Yet in Dublin, when the masters issued that humiliating document, asking men – on penalty of dismissal – to swear never to join a trades union, thousands of men who had no connection with the Irish Transport Workers – many among them personally hostile to that organisation – refused to obey. They would not sign away their freedom, their right to choose their own heroes and their own ideas. Most of these men had no strike fund to fall back on. They had wives and children depending on them. Quietly and grimly they took through hunger the path to the Heavenly City. […] For all their tattered garments, I recognise in these obscure men a majesty of spirit. It is in these workers in the towns and in the men in the cabins in the country that the hope of Ireland lies.

William Russell (AE) puts the General Strike of 1913 firmly in the realm of rights and freedom: to associate, to have one’s own ideas, to follow one’s own ideals.

From ‘The Dublin Strike’ by George Russell. Section I. A Plea for the Workers’, a speech delivered in the Royal Albert Hall, London, 1 November 1913 to an audience of 12,000 persons.
Published by the Irish Worker Press, Liberty Hall, Dublin, 1913. [available on archive.org]

08 Aug

The Sixth Sense of Francis Hutcheson

If we may call every Determination of our Minds to receive Ideas independently on our Will and to have Perceptions of Pleasure and Pain, A SENSE, we shall find many otherSenses beside those commonly explained. Tho it is not easy to assign accurate Divisions on such Subjects, yet we may reduce them to the following classes….

In the 1st Class are the External Senses, universally known. In the 2d, the Pleasant Perceptions arising from regular, harmonious, uniform Objects; as also from Grandeur andNovelty. These we may call, after Mr. ADDISON, the Pleasures of the Imagination; or we may call the Power of receiving them, an Internal Sense. Whoever dislikes this Name may substitute another. 3. The next Class of Perceptions we may call a Publick Sense, viz ‘our Determination to be pleased with the Happiness of others, and to be uneasy at their Misery‘…

4. The fourth Class we may call the Moral Sense, by which ‘we perceive Virtue or Vice in ourselves or others’…

5. The fifth Class is a Sense of Honour, ‘which makes theApprobation, or Gratitude of others, for any good actions we have done, the necessary occasion of Pleasure’…”

From the Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (1728). This was written in Dublin, further refining the aesthetic and moral theories he had outlined in Inquiries into the Original of our Ideas of Virtue and Beauty.

Hutcheson outlines five classes of senses, the first of which includes all the physical senses (sight, sound etc), the second is aesthetic, the third the public sense, the fourth the moral senses and the fifth the sense of honour.

Hutcheson argued that, while ideas might never be innate, senses or faculties were. He argued for compassion, mutual aid and support of offspring as the natural state of humans, one that flowed from innate principles in human nature.

06 Aug

Daniel O’Connell and Free Speech

Daniel O'Connell [The O'Connell Centennial] (c) Library & Archives Canada/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Daniel O’Connell [The O’Connell Centennial]
(c) Library & Archives Canada/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Given his political philosophy, it is not surprising that Daniel O’Connell was a champion of free speech. The history of the eighteenth century in Ireland was a history of speech restricted, with all political writers from Molyneaux and Swift to Wolf Tone facing possible accusations of treason. Religious freedom was still being fought for.

O’Connell’s passion for free speech extended, as it should, to those he disagreed with. Not that he was necessarily entirely polite to them, if the following account by Wendell Phillips (1875) is to be believed:
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