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15 Sep

A New World

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Exterior view of Bernal Sphere. Art work: Rick Guidice, courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center

Interior view of Bernal Sphere including human powered flight. Art work: Rick Guidice, courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center

Agricultural modules in cutaway view (multiple toroids). Art work: Rick Guidice, courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center.

Cutaway view of Bernal Sphere. Art work: Rick Guidice, courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center

Artwork of a Bernal Sphere that could house 10,000 people, courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center. This method of building space colonies was proposed in Bernal’s 1929 The World, the Flesh & the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (Chapter 2: The World):

Imagine a spherical shell ten miles or so in diameter, made of the lightest materials and mostly hollow…The globe would fulfil all the functions by which our earth manages to support life. In default of a gravitational field it has, perforce, to keep its atmosphere and the greater portion of its life inside; but as all its nourishment comes in the form of energy through its outer surface it would be forced to resemble on the whole an enormously complicated single-celled plant.

More on Bernal Spheres here (NSS) and here (Space Anthropology).

08 Sep

Onora O’Neill on Trust

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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.

10 May

The Fate of Science

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It is easy for a scientist, in what is still a bourgeois democracy, to look with superior horror at what is happening to science under Fascism. But the fate of science in his own country is at the moment still hanging in the balance, and it depends on factors quite outside the scope of science itself. Unless the scientist is aware of these factors and knows how to use his weigh this position is simply that of the sheep awaiting his turn with the butcher.

J. D. Bernal (1939) The Social Function of Science.

Via @ColdWarScience

29 Dec

Testability by Deduction

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In the first chapter it was mentioned that the scholastic dictum, “Nihil est in intellectu quod nonpriusfuerit in sensu“, was too narrow; it is in fact equivalent to Hume’s criterion that for a word to have meaning it must denote something with instances.

It is now clear exactly why this is too narrow; there is no instance denoted by the word “gravitation”, and gravitation can be in the intellect even though it cannot be sensed. It is perhaps noteworthy that among early philosophers Berkeley, who was much against the use of words without a corresponding idea, concede that there was a legitimate use of words like “gravitation”.

In that chapter it was indicated that for the scientific outlook a concept must be capable of of being related to perception, directly or indirectly; it is now clear what is the precise way in which a concept is indirectly related to perception — it is by the mechanism of testability by deduction. We may also say that Ockham’s razor expresses this: entities that cannot be related to perception even indirectly are unnecessary and not to be introduced.

J. O. Wilson (2013) Foundations of Inference in Natural Science, London: Routledge, pp. 50-1. The original edition was published in 1952. The book outlines views of scientific inference developed since the end of World War I up to the 1950s (see PhilPapers).

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15 Jul

Reading the Rising: The Red and the Green

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An open book bearing Iris Murdoch's image.

Detail of Hughie O’Donoghue’s artwork “Red Books” (2013), John Paul II Library at Maynooth University

Iris Murdoch wrote only one historical novel, The Red and the Green1. It follows the events leading up to the 1916 Rising as they affect an Anglo-Irish extended family “in a complex story story of misunderstandings, failures of perception, and ultimate self-discovery” 2.

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27 May

The Wheel’s Annual Lecture 2016: Professor Philip Pettit, “Neo-liberal and Neo-republican Perspectives”

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Talk given at The Wheel’s Annual Lecture (Croke Park, Dublin) on 25th May 2016.

The theme of Prof. Pettit’s lecture was “Neo-liberal and Neo-republican Perspectives”. Neo-liberalism and neo-republicanism each make the ideal of freedom central in their vision of state and society. Neo-liberals argue in an all too familiar fashion that freedom requires an expanding market and a contracting state. But neo-republican thought offers a nice counterpoint to that ideology, casting people in the role of citizens rather than consumers. Drawing on a tradition with a central place in Irish history, it maintains that people can enjoy freedom, even freedom in marketplace relationships, only if their civic status ensures equal protection, empowerment and respect. According to this philosophy, people are free only if they each have standing enough to be able to look one another in the eye without reason for fear or deference.

09 May

Philosophy of Leisure

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Leisure, according to the ancients, is the proper state of man. Work is what is necessary for survival and a necessary condition for leisure. It is not an end in itself. Leisure is. It is the end, the goal, of human life.

Cyril Barrett (1989/2016) “Introduction” in Tom Winnifrith and Cyril Barrett (eds) Philosophy of Leisure, Palgrave McMillian, p. 1. (2016 reprint of 1989 original).

23 Apr

Shakespeare, aesthetics and morality

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So let us start by saying that Shakespeare is the greatest of all artists, and let our aesthetic grow to be the philosophical justification of this judgement. We may note that a similar method can, and in my view should, be used in moral philosophy. That is, if a moral philosophy does not give a satisfactory or sufficiently rich account of what we unphilosophically know to be goodness, then away with it.

Iris Murdoch (1959) “The Sublime and the Good”, Chicago Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 42-55. Quote from p. 42.

For the fourth centenary of  Shakespeare’s death, Iris Murdoch’s judgement of him as the greatest artist of all. Murdoch argues against Tolstoy that both aesthetics and morality have to start from the concrete, not from definitions which determine what is art, or what is good.

13 Apr

Beckett and Philosophy

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The theme of Beckett and philosophy can be approached in yet another way. Besides philosophers influencing Beckett, Beckett has also interested – even mesmerised – contemporary philosophers and critics, from Sartre, Lukacs, and Theodor Adorno, to Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, George Steiner,Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Wolfgang Iser, Slavoj Zizek, and many others. They have all been attracted to Beckett’s relentless vision of the world and our human place in it.They have sought to reflect on Beckett’s meaning from quite divergent points of view, seeking to recruit Beckett to one cause or other: from modernism to postmodernism, from structuralism to deconstruction.

Sartre, himself the author of existential plays such as Huis Clos (1946) saw himself as engaged with his fellow dramatist Beckett in a common cause of producing a drama that ‘decentralised the subject’. The Hungarian Marxist critic George Lukacs saw the Beckett’s work as exemplifying capitalist decadence and abstract bourgeois individualism. The German Jewish philosopher and critical theorist Theodor Adorno, however, strongly disagreed with Lukacs. Endgame in particular had a very powerful impact on Adorno, who saw in Beckett a kind of ‘organised meaninglessness’. For him, Beckett exposes the bankruptcy of philosophy ‘as the dreamlike dross of the experiential world and the poetic process shows itself as worn out.’ Beckett identifies the tedium of spirit of our late age.

Dermot Moran (2006) “Beckett and Philosophy”, in Christopher Murray (ed.), Samuel Beckett – One Hundred Years (Dublin: New Island Press), pp. 93–110. Quote from pp. 100-101.