web analytics
28 Feb

Physics to Consciousness

[T]he passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from one to the other.”

John Tyndall on the hard problem of consciousness in the “Belfast Address”. Quoted by Galen Strawson in “Consciousness myth”Times Literary Supplement.

16 Feb

“John Tyndall Resurrected”, Wed 4 March 2015, 7pm, Royal Institute London.

On Wednesday 4th March 2015 at 7pm there will be special event to celebrate the launch of the first volume of Tyndall’s correspondence. Royal Institution historian Prof Frank James is to host an evening of expert talks on Tyndall’s early life, his relationship with the Ri and the future of collaborative humanities research. Free to Ri members, £12 standard admission, £8 concession.

Further information here, book here. John Tyndall’s showmanship in the Ri Christmas lectures is described here and the Tyndal Correspondance Project has its website here.

16 Feb

“An Evening with Wittgenstein” Thur 12 March 2015, 7.00pm ACF London (Free)

“An evening with Wittgenstein” sees the launch of the play-text Wittgenstein – The Crooked Roads, by Methuen-Bloomsbury Drama, together with a talk on the Wittgenstein family by Margaret Stonborough, Ludwig’s great niece, and the first showing of a filmed scene from the play.

Wittgenstein – The Crooked Roads was first staged in 19 April 2011 at the Riverside Studios, London, directed by Nick Blackburn and generously sponsored by both the ACF, London, and the American Philosophical Association. Written by William Lyons, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Trinity College, Dublin, the play spans Wittgensteins’ life, including his time in Ireland in 1948. (More detail on the play is available on IrishPlayography

Attendance is free; for more detail and to book see ACF London.

14 Feb

Thomas Drennan Remembered

I am the son of an honest man, a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and good will among men; a Protestant Dissenting minister, in the town of Belfast; whose spirit I am accustomed to look up, in every trying situation, as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven. He was the friend and associate of good, I may say, great men; of Abernethy, of Bruce, of Duchal, and of Hucheson; and his character of mild and tender benevolence is still remembered by many in the North of Ireland, and by not a few in this city.

I may be imprudent in mentioning, that he was, and that I glory to be, a Protestant Dissenter, […] one of that division of Protestants who regard no authority on earth, in matters of religion, save the words and the works of its author, and whose fundamental principle it is, that every person has a right, and in proportion to his abilities, is under an obligation, to judge for himself in matters of religion; a right, subservient to God alone, not a favour to be derived from the gratuitous lenity of government; a right, the resignation of which produces slavery on the one hand, persecution on the other.

Thomas Drennan (1696–14 Feb 1768) as described by his son William Drennan, in An Intended Defence in a Trial for Sedition, in the year 1794. William links his adherence to religious freedom and toleration to his father, and his father’s friends Francis Hutcheson, William Bruce, John Abernathy and John Duchal. The Latin footnote in the text is a further eulogy to Thomas Drennan.

12 Feb

The Evolution of Evolution: Darwin’s philosophical forebears

Mosaic portrait of Charles Darwin (c) Charis Tsevis/Flickr  (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Mosaic portrait of Charles Darwin
(c) Charis Tsevis/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Charles Darwin (born on 12th February, 1809) famously developed the idea of evolution by natural selection outlined in Origin of the Species (1859). Though still controversial, to some today it seems such an obvious idea it is surprising it took so long to emerge.

Evolutionary ideas had had a long pedigree, appearing as early as the Greek philosopher Anaximander. The problem with them all was there seemed to be only two possible mechanisms available to make creatures – deliberate design or blind chance. This was the great innovation of Darwin: not evolution but the theory of natural selection which gave a plausible account of how radical changes could appear by chance, yet appear designed.

That theory did not arise in a vacuum. Stephen J. Gould (1985) has written about the important insights Darwin obtained from Richard Owen (a vertebrate palaeontologist) and John Gould (an ornithologist) after they examined his Galapagos specimens.

Darwin also had intellectual forebears, most famously Lamarck, de Buffon, Lyell and Hutton. Even Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, had written on evolutionary theory. In addition he was influenced by more conceptual work outside biology and geology. This post (indebted to Gould, 1993) will concentrate on two streams which both happen to cross over in the work of an Irish philosopher.
Read More

05 Feb

Benevolent conspiracy

I should much desire that a society were instituted in this city having much of the secresy and somewhat of the ceremonial of Free-Masonry. … A benevolent conspiracy—A Plot for the People—No Whig Club—no party Title—The Brotherhood its name—the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End. Its general end Real Independence of Ireland, and republicanism its particular purpose. Its business, every means to accomplish these ends as the prejudices and bigotry of the Land we live in would permit. . . .

Extract from a letter sent by William Drennan to Samuel McTier, 21st May 1791 (Agnew, Drennan-McTier Letters, vol. 1, p. 357). A few months later the Society of United Irishmen was formed. William Drennan’s aim of “the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End” echoes the philosophy of Francis Hutcheson. Drennan’s father, Thomas Drennan was a close friend of Hutcheson and had been his assistant teaching in Dublin.

03 Feb

Iris Murdoch on Philosophy and Literature

Byran Magee discusses the areas in which philosophy and literature overlap with Iris Murdoch.

“Style and structure in philosophical writing are compared and contrasted with those in literature. The narrative abilities of Plato, Schopenhauer, and Kant are examined. Philosophy’s predilection for accepting only literature that supports its theories is discussed as a source of antagonism between the two disciplines.”

Many more of Magee’s interviews with contemporary philosophers are available here.