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29 Dec

Testability by Deduction

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

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 Phillip Pettit, “Neo-liberal and Neo-republican Perspectives”

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

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

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

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.

01 Apr

Persistent Hallucination

Descartes was a recitalist, or formulist, of what he took, often mistakenly, to be true knowledge. He himself established nothing new, nor even a system of pursuing knowledge that was novel. You are fond of quoting his Cogito Ergo Sum. Read my works. He stole that. […] Descartes spent far too much time in bed subject to the persistent hallucination that he was thinking. You are not free from a similar disorder.

St Augustine to de Selby, on Descartes.
Flann O’Brien (1964) The Dalkey Archive, chapter 4.

And by the way, what “St Augustine” says is perfectly true.

14 Jan

Ideas about Berkeley

Berkeley, in his lifetime, was regarded as a disciple of Malebranche. Subsequently he came to be regarded as a Lockian. The new opinion was a natural growth. In the course of time British acquaintance with Malebranche sank, and the fame of Berkeley rose. National sentiment adopted him as the English philosopher in succession to Locke. It may therefore be in place here to mention the danger of over-estimating the degree to which the young Berkeley was anglicized.

There are two national sentiments to be considered, and to hold the balance is not easy. To speak of him, without qualification, as an English philosopher cannot be right. Leslie Stephen’s statement ‘Berkeley always considered himself an Englishman’, is misleading, if not mistaken. Berkeley was born and bred in Ireland. His education was entirely Irish. He speaks of himself as an Irishman several times in the Commonplace Book. Newton to him was ‘a philosopher of a neighbouring nation’. As with many his sentiments were necessarily mixed and his loyalties divided. But credit must go where it is due. Berkeley’s system in so far as it forms part of the heritage of international philosophy was complete before he set foot in England, and in England he wrote little or no philosophy.

The changing views of Berkeley’s influences and nationality. From A. A. Luce (1934) Berkeley and Malebranche, Oxford University Press, pp. 10-11. (archive.org)