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22 Mar

Jesse Norman on Edmund Burke

From My Favourite Political Thinker series on Daily Politics. Giles Dilnot talks to Jesse Norman about Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who shaped the UK politics of today according to Norman. 

Source: BBC.

21 Mar

Fall in the House of Ussher

Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology–Ussher’s shared “house” if you will pardon my irresistible title pun. Today we rightly reject a cardinal premise of that methodology–belief in biblical inerrancy–and we recognize that this false assumption allowed such a great error in estimating the age of the earth. […]

The textbook writers do not know that attempts to establish a full chronology for all human history (not only to date the creation as a starting point) represented a major effort in seventeenth-century thought. These studies did not slavishly use the Bible, but tried to coordinate the records of all peoples. Moreover, the assumption of biblical inerrancy doesn’t give you an immediate and dogmatic answer–for many alternative readings and texts of the Bible exist, and you must struggle to a basis for choice among them. As a primary example, different datings for key events are given in the Septuagint (or Greek Bible, first translated by the Jewish community of Egypt in the third to second centuries B.C. and still used by the Eastern churches) and in the standard Hebrew Bible favored by the Western churches.

Stephen Jay Gould, “Fall in the House of Ussher.” Natural History 100 (November 1991): 12-21 (available online here)
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20 Mar

In Our Time: Bishop Berkeley

This In Our Time covers the life and philosophy of George Berkeley, one of the most important philosophers of the 18th century. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Peter Millican, Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford; Tom Stoneham, Professor of Philosophy at the University of York and Michela Massimi, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh.

The programme explores the influences on Berkeley, what his immaterialism entailed, how he never said esse est percipi, how Johnson’s famous refutation fails and how God is less central to his philosophy than Ronald A. Knox’s pair of Limericks would suggest.

In Our Time: Bishop Berkeley page, including further reading.

17 Mar

Patrick and a question of identity

Statue of St Patrick overlooking green fields and a rainbow

Image: starbeard /Flickr (CC BY)

Last year Vox Hiberionacum published two posts on the historical Patrick and the voicing of early Irish identity: one relating to classical and early medieval terms used by outsiders and a sequel on terms used in Patrick’s own writings. In brief, Patrick used the term Scotti, which had with negative connotations, but mainly to refer to the pagan Irish. The converts he referred to as Irish/Hibernae, including in the famous account of his dream where ‘the voice of the (not yet converted) Irish’ calls on him to return to Ireland, and in contexts referring to existing converts. Vox Hiberionacum points out the complexity of identity involved in both terms – the people referred to in both were of multiple backgrounds, classes and tribes. Some were not even born in Ireland. In his Letter to Coroticus protesting the killing and enslavement of Irish converts to Christianity by a British chieftain, Patrick writes

Indignum est illis Hiberionaci sumus
‘For them, it is a disgrace/shameful that we are from Ireland‘. 

Whether this is a slip or a rhetorical device, it is the first insular expression of an Irish ‘we’, and it includes not only the Irish born in Ireland but Patrick himself.

This complexity inherent in the term “Irish” brought to mind two of Ireland’s greatest philosophers. Johannes Scotus Eriugena adopted two names denoting his Irishness, plausibly because even by his time being an Irishman (Scotus) did not automatically mean born in Ireland (Eriugena). George Berkeley in several places in his Philosophical Commentaries writes, “we Irish” (“we Irish do not hold with this”, “We Irish think otherwise”). Yet he is often claimed as English. Both philosophers are enmeshed in the complexities of Irish identity.
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24 Feb

Wilde on Masks

give him a mask

Original Image: Steve Sawyer/ Flickr

I would say that the more objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the white streets of London, or seen the serving-men of rival houses bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. […]

[J]ust as it is because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything, so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature and temperament far more completely than do those strange and exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

From The Critic as Artist by Oscar Wilde.

Image source: Steve Sawyer

27 Jan

Edward Synge, friend and father

The Episcopal Throne in the ruined Cathedral of Elphin (c) Vox Hiberionacum, with permission

The Episcopal Throne in the ruined Cathedral of Elphin
(c) Vox Hiberionacum, with permission

Edward Synge was born around 1690 and died in Dublin on the 27th January, 1762. He was the son of the elder Edward Synge, who was himself involved in the philosophical debates of the time.

He was educated in Trinity College Dublin (M.A. in 1712 and D.D. in 1728) and after being chancellor of St. Patrick’s (1726), was successively bishop of Clonfert (1730), Cloyne (1731), Ferns (1733), and finally Elphin (1740 until his death).

Synge was close to Francis Hutcheson and appears to have been a member of the Molesworth Circle. He assisted Hutcheson in developing revising his work and Hutcheson himself acknowledged that Synge had devised the general scheme of “Inquiry into Beauty and Virtue” before Hutcheson. The connection seems to have continued after Hutcheson’s departure for Glasgow and until his death, since his son dedicated the posthumous collection of his father’s works to Synge 1. Letters from the 1760s from Edward Synge giving advice to the younger Hutcheson still exist.
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17 Jan

Rude Enlightenment

Admittedly, Swift was not an easy man with whom to get on with, aggravating his church superior, Archbishop William King of Dublin, himself a truculent steward prone to picking fights.

Arbuckle was an equally thorny character who made enemies easily. He found it necessary to leave the University of Glasgow in a hurry when, as a student, he was involved in an altercation concerning the election of the rector. He retreated to Dublin, where he fell into favor with Robert, Viscount Molesworth of Swords—himself described by one acquaintance as “waspish” and prone to anticlerical outbursts.

These traits helped Molesworth to remain close to that most volatile and barbed of personalities, the freethinker John Toland. He promulgated a kind of literary subterfuge that Swift mocked in a series of texts, notably An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, in which he mentioned Toland by name.

A selection of personality clashes in Enlightenment Dublin.

Quote from Michael Brown (2012) “The Biter Bitten: Ireland and the Rude Enlightenment” in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Volume 45, Number 3 (JSTOR)

To see just how rude it could get, see the post on James Arbuckle.

16 Jan

James Arbuckle and the Molesworth Circle

arbuckle

Frontispiece of “Hibericus’ Letters”

James Arbuckle was born in Belfast in 1700 and died in Dublin on 16th January 1742. An obituary in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal described him as

remarkable for his learning, political writings, and in some ingenious and witty pieces in the poetical way…a sincere friend, an agreeable companion.

There is evidence Arbuckle was childhood friends with John Smith and Thomas Drennan. He studied in the University of Glasgow, obtaining an MA in 1720, and studying for the ministry up to 1724. He was a poet, publishing a number of works including Snuff (1717), Epistle to the Right Hon. Thomas Earl of Hadington, on the Death of Joseph Addison, Esq. (1719) and, on the beauties of the Clyde, Glotta (1721). A 1719 letter in verse from poet Allan Ramsey to Arbuckle survives (see The Poems of Allan Ramsey, Vol.2, p. 375), as do verses addressed to Ramsey by “James Arbuckle” (The Poems of Allan Ramsey, Vol.1, p. clxxiii).

While at Glasgow he acted as an intermediary between the students, who wanted to restore their right to elect the rector, and the Viscount Molesworth, who lent his support to the students. He also may have assisted John Smith in writing A Short Account of the Late Treatment of the Students of the University of G[lasgo]w (1722), published in Dublin to drum up support for the Glasgow students. In 1722 Arbuckle was also involved in a Glasgow dispute over non-Subscribing ministers in Belfast, defending them from “allegations…derogatory to the Reverend Ministers” in representations made to the Synod of Ayr and Glasgow by Samuel Smith.
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