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31 Aug

The Poirot of Economics: William Robert Scott

Composite of Francis Hutcheson and Adam Smith (c) Irish Philosophy (CC)

William Robert Scott’s academic reputation rests on his economic history, particularly his mammoth three-volume work, The Constitution and Finance of English, Scottish and Irish Joint-Stock Companies (1910-12). However, before and after that work, William Robert Scott wrote on the history of philosophy, particularly on Francis Hutcheson and Adam Smith.

Scott was born in Omagh Co. Tyrone on 31st August 1868, to a family of millers and landowners descended from a Robert Scott (1698-1777) who settled in Ireland in the 1720s. Educated in Belfast and Rathfarnham in Dublin, Scott then studied in Trinity College Dublin, graduating BA (1889), MA (1891) and DLitt (1902). He was also a freelance teacher and writer in Dublin until his move to the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

There he became a Research Fellow, graduating DPhil (1900), acting as assistant to the Professor of Moral Philosophy (1896-1901) and as a lecturer in Political Economy (1899-1915). In 1915 he was appointed Adam Smith Professor of Political Economy in the University of Glasgow, remaining there until his death. Throughout his time in Scotland, Scott was also been involved in numerous committees. Made chairman of the mill in Omagh in 1897, he continued to supervise the family business in Tyrone. No wonder that on his death at University Gardens, Glasgow on 3rd April 1940, his university supervisor described Scott as “quite indefatigable”.

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24 Aug

Daniel O’Connell Summer School 28th and 29th August 2015, Cahersiveen and Derrynane Co. Kerry

The Daniel O’Connell Heritage Summer School will be held on the 28th and 29th of August 2015. The overall purpose of the School will be to examine aspects of the historical career of Daniel O’Connell as well as to consider the challenges of modern Ireland.

The School will be held over two days in Cahersiveen and Derrynane. The School is free and open to all though needs support so voluntary contributions or becoming a Friend of the Daniel O’Connell Summer School would be appreciated.

The brochure (pdf) is here, the programme of events here. This piece in the Irish Independent mentions the Summer School.

17 Aug

Swift’s Crater

A diagram showing the orbits of Mars' moons, Deimos and Phobos.

From Giberne’s “The story of the sun, moon, and stars” (1898) – Public Domain

On the 17th of August 1877, the search of American astronomer Asaph Hall was finally successful. He had doubted the conventional wisdom that Mars had no moon. Using the giant 26-inch refractor of the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., he searched close to the planet and discovered not one but two moons, travelling so close to the surface of Mars that until now they were lost in the planet’s glare. These were named Phobos and Deimos (see more about the moons on the NASA website).

This discovery had been anticipated by a fictional research organisation. In 1726, Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels, describing Gulliver’s visit to Balnibarbi and to Lagado, the island that floats above it where its rulers live. The intelligentsia of Lagado, though unhealthily engrossed in their studies, are advanced in astronomy: Read More

13 Aug

Truth above all things: G. G. Stokes

Sir George Gabriel Stokes, 1st Bt by George William De Saulles bronze medallion, 1899 NPG 2758 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir George Gabriel Stokes, 1st Bt
by George William De Saulles
bronze medallion, 1899 NPG 2758
© National Portrait Gallery, London

George Gabriel Stokes is one of three great mathematicians associated with Ireland in the 19th century. If Boole translated classical logic into algebra, while Rowan Hamilton used metaphysics as an inspiration for mathematics, Stokes took a third path. His mathematics was inspired by real life problems. As Lord Kelvin wrote in Stokes’ obituary, (memoirs, p. 317)

In pure mathematics he was recognised as a fruitful worker by the whole scientific world. But with Stokes, mathematics was the servant and assistant, not the master. His guiding star was natural philosophy. Sound, light, radiant heat, chemistry, were his fields of labour

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08 Aug

Hutcheson Day: Francis Hutcheson’s Thought

In February 1726 readers of the Dublin Weekly Journal (price 3-half-pence) were seeing something unusual, although they didn’t know it: Francis Hutcheson being sarcastic. In an unusually biting three part essay he lambasted a book called Private Vice, Publick Benefits. In that book the Dutch writer Mandeville argued that vice is necessary to keep a prosperous economy.

Mandeville said morality is, in essence, self-denial and runs counter to our nature. We have to be tricked into self-denial by our rulers. If they are too successful, and greed, vanity and the desire for luxury are stamped out, commerce will fail, followed by the nation: “neither the Friendly Qualities …nor the real Virtues he is capable of acquiring by Reason and Self-Denial, are the Foundation of Society; but that what we call Evil in this World.”

Hutcheson agrees with none of it. He points out “income not spent in one way will be spent in another and if not wasted in luxury will be devoted to useful prudent purposes.” He underlines mockingly that even robbery is a benefit under Mandeville’s scheme since it keeps locksmiths employed. He wonders at Mandeville’s dogmatism – Mandeville would deny even God could create a naturally good man. By the third part he adopts simple ridicule: “He has probably been struck with some old Fanatick Sermon upon self-denial in his youth, and can never get it out of his head since.”

From a talk given on Francis Hutcheson Day (8th August( 2015 at the Guildhall, Saintfield, Co. Down. Full text available on academia.edu.

Further Reading

Storify for Hutcheson Day 2015.

04 Aug

What has Hamilton to do with philosophy?

William Rowan Hamilton Wikimedia, Public Domain

William Rowan Hamilton
Wikimedia, Public Domain

[T]he visible world supposes an invisible world as its interpreter, and […] in the application of the mathematics themselves there must (if I may venture upon the word) be something meta-mathematical. Though the senses may make known the phenomena, and mathematical methods may arrange them, yet the craving of our nature is not satisfied till we trace in them the projection of ourselves, of that which is divine within us

From a lecture to astronomy students given by William Rowan Hamilton in 1833 (Graves, 1882-9, vol. 2, p. 68).

Hamilton differed from other mathematicians of his time in his focus on abstract mathematical laws, and in finding inspiration in idealist philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Samuel Taylor Coleridge,  as can be seen from the quote. “Hamilton often argued that certain metaphysical views were the primary motivation for his work in mathematics” (Attis, 2004).
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