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16 Nov

The Mindful Asking of Essential Questions

The charge of lack of progress can also be equivocal. If philosophy is the mindful asking of essential questions, perhaps there are never ready-made answers that can be encapsulated in univocal categories, hence packaged and transmitted through time, like mail handled through the post. […] No genuine philosopher can accept answers ready-made from others: this is simply the nature of the philosophical enterprise as a metaxological dialogue. This may seem to confirm the prejudice that philosophy is just sophisticated, not to say sophistical garrulousness. The deeper meaning is that each age and every individual must struggle, in the overdetermined ambiguity of the middle, to renew for itself a mindfulness of the essential questions. Nothing, not even scientific method, can stand proxy for this struggle.

William Desmond (1990) Philosophy and Its Others, Albany NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 31-2.
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31 Oct

Perspectives on Ireland and the Reformation

Luther stands in front of the church doors as his theses are nailed to it. A watching crowd has mixed reactions: friars leave angrily, one well-dressed man cheers, most look on in curiosity.

Luther sent his ninety-five theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg, on 31 October 1517. He may also have fixed them to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on that day, but there is no contemporary evidence of it. The first reference to the supposed nailing of the theses is in 1558 (twelve years after Luther’s death) from Philip Melanchthon, an ally of Luther who was not in Wittenberg in 1517. If the theses was fixed to the church door, a practice at the time, one would have expected in line with that practice that they would have been fixed by wax1

Very early in the history of Protestantism, history became important. Confronted with the question of “where was your church before Luther” a succession of scholars set out to establish that their church was not new, starting with Magdeburg Centuries (1559-1574) 2 Luther was not the first to call for reform in the Church, and forebears could be traced: Jan Hus and John Wycliffe. And before Wycliffe, at least according to John Foxe (born in 1517), an Irishman: Richard FitzRalph.
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25 Oct

Character of the Invisible

What if the beautiful itself be the expression of something behind this material world, some character of the Invisible of which the visible is the revelation?

John Todhunter (1872) The Theory of the Beautiful, p. 17. Quoted in Jane Elizabeth Wright (2002) “Todhunter, John” in Thomas Duddy (ed) The Dictionary of Irish Philosophers, Thoemmes, pp. 329-30.

Todhunter’s idealist aesthetics saw the beautiful as an expression of the “Kosmical Order”, of which the Sublime was another expression. The essence of beauty for Todhunter was harmony, and the emotion produced by it was love.

19 Oct

Test of toleration: Abernathy and Swift

Mural of two Celtic warriors in battle

John Abernathy was born on 19th October, 1680. Jonathan Swift sailed into his rest on 19th October, 1745. In the 1730s they locked horns over the issue of religious toleration.

In 1719, the Toleration Act was passed in the Irish Parliament. This confirmed that Irish Dissenters (protestants who were not members of the Established Church, the Church of Ireland) were free to practice their religion and to have their own schools. This act allowed Francis Hutcheson to run an academy in Dublin, for example. But there were still restrictions on dissenters in other spheres. A clause in the Act to prevent the further growth of popery (1704) laid down a requirement that all crown and municipal office holders should qualify themselves by taking communion in the established church. This was not altered by the 1719 Act. Since most dissenters refused to take communion as required the result had been the ousting of dissenters from civil and military office.

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20 Sep

In Our Time: Annie Besant

Melvyn Bragg and his guests; Lawrence Goldman (University of Oxford), David Stack (University of Reading) and Yasmin Khan (University of London); discuss the life of the prominent 19th-century social reformer Annie Besant (1 October, 1847 – 20 September 1933).

In 1893 Annie Besant wrote: “it has always been somewhat of a grievance to me that I was born in London, ‘within the sound of Bow Bells”, when three-quarters of my blood and all my heart are Irish”1.
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15 Sep

A New World

08 Sep

Onora O’Neill on Trust

UCD honored Onora O’Neill by awarding her the UCD Ulysses Medal, on 8th September 2017.

The video above is of a TED talk given by Onora O’Neill in June 2013 entitled “What we don’t understand about trust.” The talk explores misapprehensions about trust and points out that what we really want is more trustworthiness. A link to the talk including transcript is here.
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29 Aug

Locke: Key to Irish Philosophy

John Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding (London, 1690) is, without doubt, the most important external influence on Irish philosophy[…] Without Locke’s Essay there would hardly have been a Berkeley, Browne, Hutcheson, or Burke; at least, they could not have been the philosophers we know them to be. Apart perhaps from Molyneux, no Irish thinker entirely accepted Locke’s philosophy, or described himself as a follower of Locke. Indeed, the Hibernian contribution was in large measure to criticize creatively and reinterpret Locke’s diverse philosophical investigations.[…]

There are two main tendencies in Irish philosophy: one liberal, the other traditional. Molesworth and Shaftesbury follow squarely in the former. They represent the Enlightenment, especially in their sympathy for toleration and in their criticism of the priestly and dogmatic aspects of religion. Locke, as I shall try to show, was employed by both tendencies or movements, but most imaginatively by the forces of tradition.

David Berman (2005) Berkeley and Irish Philosophy, Continuum, pp. 80-1.

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14 Aug

Sophie Bryant advocating Boole’s Symbolic Language

The value of a uniformization of notation was recognized by late-19th and early-20th centuries logicians, who not only remarked the wide variety of definitions and symbolizations for the most basic elements of logic, but complained about the confusing proliferation of notation systems. Venn divided the 33 forms into seven different general types. The authors whose notations are considered range from Leibniz to Boole and Hamilton, and from Charles Pierce and his students to Frege.[…] In 1888 Sophie Willock Bryant (1850-1922), in her article “On the Nature and Functions of a Complete Symbolic Language” – not unnaturally then – complained of the existence of too many competing logical notations and systems, and she advocated a return to Boole’s original system.

I. H. Anellis (2014) “Pierce’s Role in the History of Logic: Lingua Universalis and Calculus Ratiocinator” in Arnold Koslow and Arthur Buchsbaum (eds.) The Road to Universal Logic: Festschrift for the 50th Birthday of Jean-Yves Béziau, Volume 2, pp. 135-170.
Quote from p. 147.

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08 Aug

Francis Hutcheson: the Ulster Stoic

Against a dark background, a hand emerges from a flowing white cuff, holding a book: Cicero's 'De Finibus'

That Stoicism was an influence on Francis Hutcheson is well known. He translated the lions share of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (his co-translator James Moor was responsible for two of the twelve books), which was published anonymously by Foulis in Glasgow in 17421 He told Thomas Drennan by letter than he hoped the translation would be a public good, and in the Preface he wrote to the work, he said the Meditations inspired “a constant inflexible charity, and good-will and compassion toward our fellows.”2
Hutcheson said he “took the first hints of [his opinions] from some of the greatest Writers of Antiquity” in his Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725) and referenced Aurelius in An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections. Stoicism informs all his work. This is not surprising given the influence of Shaftesbury on Hutchesons moral theory: Shaftesbury was also influenced by Stoicism.
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