web analytics
03 Nov

George Boole Bicentenary Links

Remembering Boole Day
With Boole, #Boole and @GeorgeBoole200 trending in Ireland and the world at various points yesterday, it’s no surprise there were a lot of links being shared. If 1 is the universe and 0 is nothing, this list is closer to 0 than 1: there is a lot more on @georgeboole200, @boole2school and @UCC.

The site GeorgeBoole.com was set up last year by UCC and contains a wide range of information about Boole and the development of boolean algebra. Do you know there is a crater on the Moon named after Boole? That and more here.
Read More

21 Oct

The Poor and Politics

Great pains have been taken to prevent the mass of mankind from interfering in political pursuits; force, and argument, and wit, and ridicule, and invective, have been used by the governing party, and with such success, that any of the lower, or even middle rank of society who engage in politics, have been, and are, considered not only as ridiculous, but in some degree culpable; even those who are called moral writers, employed their talents on the same side, so that at last it became an indisputed maxim that the poor were not to concern themselves in what related to the government of the country in which they lived, nevertheless it is an error of the most pernicious nature, as will appear from considering the subject. […]

Now on what foundation do these arrogant claims rest; it is not superior virtue, for in such hands power should be vested; on a fair comparison it will be found, that the aristocracy have not a superiority in that respect. Power, long continued in any mortal hands, has a tendency to corrupt; ans when that power is derived from birth or fortune, and held independent of the people, it is still more likely to be abused; it is not that they contribute more to the support of the state, for that is manifestly not the case. […]

It is not here intended to question the right of landed property; but merely to show, as if evident from these considerations, that even in a pecuniary view, the mass of the people are entitled to a share in the government as well as the rich.

From Thomas Russell (1796) A letter to the people of Ireland, on the present situation of the country, by Thomas Russell, -an United Irishman, Belfast.

Russell (21 November 1767-21 October 1803) was openly radical, as the above extract shows. The Dictionary of Irish Biography outlines his position – he “proclaimed the right of the poor to participate in politics…and believed that radical measures should be taken to alleviate inequalities between rich and poor. He was appalled by harsh conditions in textile mills and encouraged workers to form trade unions. Fervently opposed to the African slave trade, he denounced it repeatedly in his writings as one of the great evils of the age and refused to consume sugar or rum.”

Further Reading

James Quinn (2009) “Russell, Thomas”. in James McGuire, James Quinn (eds) Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

James Quinn (2002) “Thomas Russell: United Irishman.” History Ireland.

16 Oct

A Noble Woman: Lady Jane Wilde

Jane-Wilde

wildeswomenGuest Post: Eleanor Fitzsimons
Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons is published today 16th October 2015. It is to be launched on Tues 20th October at 6.30pm in the Gutter Bookshop, Cows Lane, Dublin. In the book Eleanor Fitzsimons explores the central role women played in Oscar Wilde’s life and career, from his sister Isola, who tragically died young, to his accomplished wife Constance and a coterie of other free-thinking writers, actors and artists. The first female influence on Oscar is the subject of this post: his mother, the nationalist and feminist writer Lady Jane ‘Speranza’ Wilde.


When Lady Jane Wilde learned that her son Oscar’s latest play had the provisional title ‘A Good Woman’, she wrote to express her disapproval: Read More

15 Oct

Sailing to Utopia: Oscar Wilde on Altruism and Anarchism

Gustave Dore. Dudley street, seven dials. Busy street scene with sets of shops which can be seen on the right. The shops are selling shoes which are lining up on the floor around the opening from under the ground. Children and their mothers are in front of them. This image was first published in 'London, a Pilgrimage' 1872, on p.158.

Seven Dials, by Gustav Dore (1872) Wikimedia, Public Domain

In Fortune Linsey McGoey asks Do today’s philanthropists hurt more than they help?. The article quotes Oscar Wilde:

In his essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Oscar Wilde berated the tendency of benefactors to use their charity as a bulwark against redistributive demands.

“The best among the poor,” Wilde wrote, “are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so … Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.”

Wilde’s essay covers much more ground than this, however, ranging from the purpose of living, the effects of contemporary capitalism, the possible results of mechanisation and the question McGoey cites as one of the biggest questions facing 19th-century philanthropy, the ironic possibility that “growing charity simply exacerbated economic inequality by thwarting demands for better wages and the right to unionize.”

To that question, Oscar Wilde gives an emphatic yes. Many people are truly concerned with poverty and are going as far as spoiling their lives in an attempt to relieve it. “But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.” Just as slave owners who were kind made slavery seem less horrible and therefore encouraged it to persist, altruists perpetuate the system that creates poverty.
Read More

16 Sep

Transition State

There are (thank God!) four hundred thousand Irish children in the National Schools. A few years, and they will be the People of Ireland—the farmers of its lands, the conductors of its traffic, the adepts in its arts. How utterly unlike that Ireland will be to the Ireland of the Penal Laws, of the Volunteers, of the Union, or of the Emancipation?

Well may Carleton say that we are in a transition state. The knowledge, the customs, the superstitions, the hopes of the People are entirely changing. There is neither use nor reason in lamenting what we must infallibly lose. […]
Much may be saved—the Gaelic language and the music of the past may be handed uncorrupted to the future; but whatever may be the substitutes, the Fairies and the Banshees, the Poor Scholar and the Ribbonman, the Orange Lodge, the Illicit Still, and the Faction Fight, are vanishing into history, and unless this generation paints them no other will know what they were.

The Irish Peasantry by Thomas Davis, first published in The Nation 12 July, 1845 (online at UCC Celt)

This review of the work of William Carleton is positive, despite Carleton’s opposition to Davis’ politics. The piece displays Davis’ belief in education as a force for positive change, his focus on recording history and past culture and his desire to save what could be saved of that culture. This is of a piece with the new nationalism he espoused, influenced by Herder and German romanticism, which was cultural rather than constitutional. Language was central: “A people without a language of its own is only half a nation” (Davis, Our National Language).

It also shows Davis’ shortcomings as a prophet. Though his idea of nationality was inclusive, open to all that wanted to identify with it, his romantic nationalism arguably increased faction fighting rather than mitigating it.

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”.

Read More

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.

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

Read More

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).
Read More

23 Jul

Boolean Expressions (exhibition), UCC’s Lewis Glucksmann Gallery, opens Friday, 24 July 2015 at 3pm

Mel Bochner, Study for Axion of Associations, 1973 (c) UCC, All Rights Reserved

Mel Bochner, Study for Axion of Associations, 1973
Image courtesy UCC. All rights reserved

Boolean Expressions: Contemporary art and mathematical data, a new exhibition investigating how artists have used logic and technology, at UCC’s Lewis Glucksman Gallery this Friday, July 24. It will be opened at 3pm by Lord David Putman. The exhibition, which runs until 8 November, is accompanied by an extensive programme of curated events, talks, art courses and workshops (see the brochure here.)

What is beauty? Irish philosophers have given many different answers. Berkeley suggested beauty was recognised by judgement and that a thing was “perfect in its kind when it answers the end for which it was made.” (Alciphron, p. 129). For Hutcheson, we have an innate sense that recognises beauty: where “there is Uniformity amidst Variety” (An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, I. II. § III). For Hutcheson, theorems could have beauty (I. III.), an idea that might have appealed to Boole.
Read More