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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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01 Aug

William Larminie: From Folklore to Philosophy

Humanities in the West_DrTomDuddy from School of Humanities on Vimeo.

Part of the “Humanities in the West” series of lectures.
Dr Thomas Duddy presents “From Folklore to Philosophy: The Life and Work of William Larminie of Castlebar” (video lecture, 45 minutes)

William Larminie was a poet and folklorist, who was born in Castlebar on 1st August 1849. He graduated from Trinity with a degree in classics and went to work in the India Office of the English civil service in London. He threw up his post in the early 1890s and moved to Bray. He published a volume of folklore and volumes of poetry which displayed his interest in Irish landscape and mythology.

His primary philosophical interest was in Eriugena, who Larminie described in one article as the “Irish Plato”. As well as writing articles, Laraminie translated the bulk of Eriugena’s text from Latin into English, leaving out the sections he thought would be of little interest to the modern reader.

Larminie died in Bray, Co. Wicklow on 19th January, 1900.