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31 May

On the Origin of Evil

Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867) Wikimedia, Public Domain

Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867)
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Some books (like Hume’s Treatise) fall “stillborn from the press”, as Hume put it. A small number of those (eg. Hume’s Treatise) are rescued from oblivion by later readers. Other books have the opposite fate – they are widely read and discussed only to fall into obscurity. One such is De Origine Mali (1702), by William King, Archbishop of Dublin, later translated by Edmund Law as Essay on the Origin of Evil (1731).

“The most rigorous effort to construct a rational theodicy in this period appears in the closely related work of Leibniz and William King”(Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, p. 84) Both philosophers were answering Pierre Bayle, who had come to the conclusion that no solution was possible which reconciled the evil of the world and the existence of a perfectly good and all-powerful God (SEP). Their works were highly influential.

Both King and Leibniz argue that evil is privation, an absence of something rather than a positive force in itself.That, however, does not mean that suffering is merely apparent. The cosmos as a whole is imperfect (metaphysical evil), and natural evils (such as disease or natural disasters) and moral evils (sinful acts of humans) cause real suffering. They follow Descartes in claiming that this is a natural result of a cosmos that is not identical with God (the only entity that can be perfect.)
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29 May

Wilde Dreams of Utopia

Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of family life, although they existed in his day and community in a very marked form. ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ he said, when he was told that they wished to speak to him. When one of his followers asked leave to go and bury his father, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ was his terrible answer. He would allow no claim whatsoever to be made on personality.

Quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)

This essay is full of optimism for the future, and as Thomas Duddy says in A History of Irish Thought, this makes it poignant reading for modern readers. Oscar Wilde foresees a future socialist and individualist utopia of a rather idiosyncratic kind. Wilde rejects collectivism, seeing the abolition of private property and marriage as allowing the atomisation of society, allowing unfettered development of the individual.

27 May

philosophybites: Richard Bourke on Edmund Burke on Politics

This episode of philosophybites features Richard Bourke of Queen Mary, London University, putting Edmund Burke into his historical context and outlining his key ideas. More here including abstracts of articles by Richard Bourke on Edmund Burke.

Particularly interesting are his comments towards the end of the nine minutes on where Burke was shown empirically to be wrong, and on where Burke is relevant today.

26 May

Hegel on Eriugena

Scholastic philosophy is considered to begin with John Scotus Erigena who flourished about the year 860, and who must not be confused with the Duns Scotus of a later date. We do not quite know whether he belonged to Ireland or to Scotland, for Scotus points to Scotland, and Erigena to Ireland. With him true philosophy first begins, and his philosophy in the main coincides with the idealism of the Neo-Platonists. […]

Scotus was also the author of some original works, which are not without depth and penetration, upon nature and its various orders (De naturæ divisione), &c. Dr. Hjort, of Copenhagen, published an epitome of the writings of Scotus Erigena, in 1823. Scotus Erigena sets to work philosophically, expressing himself in the manner of the Neo-Platonists, and not freely, and as from himself, Thus in the method of expression adopted by Plato, and also by Aristotle, we are rejoiced to find a new conception, and on bringing it to the test of philosophy, to find it both correct and profound; but here everything is ready to hand, cut and dry. Yet, with Scotus, theology is not yet built on exegesis, and on the authority of the Church; the Church in many cases rejected his writings. Thus Scotus is reproached by a Lyons church council […] Scotus Erigena hence even said: “The true Philosophy is the true Religion, and the true Religion is the true Philosophy. The separation came later on. Scotus then made a beginning, but properly he does not belong to the scholastics

From Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Part Two. Philosophy of the Middle Ages. This second section covers The Scholastic Philosophy.

The entire lecture, including an unabridged version of the quote above is available here.

25 May

Theory about Theories

Marcus after the disaster reflects: ‘Would he go on working on his book? Perhaps it was a book which only a genius could write, and he was not a genius. It might be that what he wanted to say about love and about humanity was true but simply could not be expressed as a theory.’

What this suggests is not only that a truth may be uttered so that it is a lie, but that moral truth may be such as to evade any theoretical expression – perhaps with the consequence that all theoretical expression of it will be to some degree a lie. Iris Murdoch’s novels are philosophy: but they are philosophy which casts doubts on all philosophy including her own. […]

When I say that Iris Murdoch’s novels are philosophy, then, my claim has very little to do with the fact that her characters sometimes talk about Wittgenstein or quote Heidegger or Kant or go to dinner with Oxford philosophers, or that she makes philosophical jokes (‘There are some parts of London which are necessary and others which are contingent’).[…] What her novels systematically embody is a theory about theories, a theory which is to some degree against all theory – including itself. And if this does not entail that she had to be a novelist, it is at least clear that such a point of view could never have received adequate expression merely at the level of theory.

From Good for nothing by Alasdair MacIntyre in the LRB (£ to read full article).
A review of Iris Murdoch: Work for the Spirit by Elizabeth Dipple

24 May

Book : A History of Irish Thought

HistoryIrishThought

Description and contents (from Routledge)

By Thomas Duddy.

The first complete introduction to the subject ever published, A History of Irish Thought presents an inclusive survey of Irish thought and the history of Irish ideas against the backdrop of current political and social change in Ireland.

Contents

Preface Acknowledgements

1 Interpreting Marvels: The Irish Augustine

2 The Philosophy of Creation: John Scottus Eriugena
Eriugena, Peter of Ireland, Richard Fitzralph

3 Nature Observed: Robert Boyle, William Molyneux, and the New Learning
Robert Boyle, William Molyneux, Michael Moore

4 John Toland and the Ascendancy of Reason
    John Toland, Peter Browne, Edward Synge, Philip Skelton, William King, Robert Clayton

5 Wonderfully Mending the World: George Berkeley and Jonathan Swift
    George Berkeley, Jonathan Swift

6 Against the Selfish Philosophers: Francis Hutcheson, Edmund Burke, and James Usher
Francis Hutcheson, Edmund Burke, James Usher

7 Peripheral Visions (1): Irish Thought in the Nineteenth Century
Daniel O’Connell, George Ensor, William Thompson, Anna Doyle Wheeler, Henry MacCormac

8 Peripheral Visions (2): Irish Thought in the Nineteenth Century
John Elliot Cairnes, John Tyndall, Gerald Molloy, J.J. Murphy, G.G. Stokes, Benjamin Kidd, Frances Power Cobbe, William Rowan Hamilton, Oscar Wilde

9 Between Extremities: Irish Thought in the Twentieth Century
W.B. Yeats, J.O. Wisdom, M. O’C. Drury, Iris Murdoch, William Desmond, Philip Pettit

The book covers a wide range of philosophers and thinkers, many of whom have been largely forgotten. Clearly written and endlessly fascinating.

23 May

The Logicians Refuted

Read by Gregg Margarite. Written by Jonathan Swift (or Oliver Goldsmith, see note).

Very much in the tradition of Diogenes, who on hearing Plato had defined humans as “featherless bipeds”, presented him with a plucked chicken, the poet satirically punctures humanity’s supposed elevated status.

He explicitly argues against Aristotle and Smiglesius (1564 – 1618, Polish Jesuit philosopher, known for his 1618 Logica, commonly used as a textbook), and implicitly against those in his own time who presented reason as all important. The poet retorts that man is weak and erring, and instinct is a better guide. He makes a long list of man’s follies and foibles (including a dig at Sir Robert Walpole or “Bob”, who employed party-writers to write his praises). He claims animals avoid these errors (though his knowledge of beasts is not as accurate as that of man). He finally notes human similarity to apes, and that humans at court yet manage to out-ape the apes.

Full text of the poem.

Note: This video attributes the authorship of this work to Jonathan Swift, but it is also attributed to Oliver Goldsmith. Continue reading

22 May

Labour Rewarded But Only By Choice

As man’s knowledge increases, he looks beyond immediate into remote consequences. Sometimes this increased knowledge, sometimes accident, leads to a change of the circumstances surrounding him. These new circumstances give rise to new motives: i.e. to modification of the desire of happiness as supposed to rise from different sources. If Co-operative Industry tend more to human happiness than Competitive Industry, its supporters are confident it will be adopted when understood. On no other ground would they wish it be adopted.

William Thompson, Labour Rewarded (1827), p. 100.

Thompson on co-operative industry, and his hope for its voluntary adoption. Thompson was studied by Marx, but Thompson’s economic voluntarism is one of the major differences between them.

19 May

Bravo Yankee Oscar

If America did not always know what to make of Wilde, the country was in many ways the making of him as an artist. He returned to England richer in pocket and, more importantly, in experience. The tour marked a divide between what Wilde himself designated ‘the Oscar of the first period’ (‘the gentleman who wore long hair and carried a sunflower down Piccadilly’) and what was to come. In the following decade Wilde would assiduously cultivate the Oscar of the second period, publishing the stories and plays that made him famous. His fall, when it came, was colossal. When The Importance of Being Earnest opened to wild acclaim on 14 February 1895, its author was the toast of London society. Less than two months later, having lost a disastrous libel claim against the 9th Marquess of Queensberry for imputations of homosexual conduct, Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency and later sentenced to two years’ hard labour. The physical and moral devastation of the trial and its fallout shattered him. Three years after his release, Wilde died as an impoverished and ignominious exile in Paris.

From The Literary Review: Bravo Yankee Oscar : review of “In Declaring His Genius”

Justin Beplate reviews In Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America by Roy Morris Jr, “a lively account of Wilde’s rollicking tour through post-Civil War America, fleshing out the varied impressions of contemporary newspaper reports with fascinating digressions on the caste of characters Wilde met along the way.”

18 May

Roundup of Reviews for “Edmund Burke: Philosopher, politician, prophet” by Jesse Norman

Over the weekend there have been a number of reviews for this book.

In the Independent, it is reviewed by Jon Cruddas:

Burke (1729-1797) is celebrated as “both the greatest and most underrated political thinker of the past 300 years”. A hybrid of Protestant, Irish and Quaker ideals led him to fight against both Catholic and American oppression, and later in England against corporate power and an over-mighty state, while remaining a fierce opponent of the French Revolution and tyranny.

In The New Statesman, John Grey is reviewing.
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