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10 Oct

Anti-Philosophy Mindset

I would call it more an anti-philosophy mindset. People in general regard philosophy as being a bit airy-fairy, and about abstract things which, again, have nothing to do with the practical life of people.
Has it always been like that? The fact is that during the last few centuries most philosophers in Ireland have been Anglo-Irish. They felt they had the right to think freely about the world. They felt themselves part of the European scene, and the Catholics thought that the people who had the right to think freely about the world were Anglo-Irish and priests.
Since then, we have in universities quite a number of Catholic or post-Catholic philosophers, and they are simply ignored by the culture at large. If you look at the work of Irish philosophers — people like Richard Kearney, Philip Pettit, William Desmond — they are never noticed on the Irish scene, never reviewed, never discussed. So in that sense, Irish criticism is a very poor thing; it is confined to the real world, namely fiction.

Desmond Fennell, quoted in Unthinkable: Great Ideas for Now, by Joe Humphries, pp. 55-56 (available from Irish Times Books).

The book is based on the Unthinkable columns in the Irish Times, which started on World Philosophy Day 2013 “as a small gesture towards imagining a different future (p. 1). The column aims to gather great ideas from various thinkers to illustrate the range of alternative ways there are to looking at and approaching the world, a breadth (the Desmond Fennell quote would suggest) that is too often passed over in Ireland.

In tandem with the launch of the book, Joe Humphrys of Unthinkablechaired a debate asking “Are science and religion really in conflict?”. See this Irish Times page to read Joe’s summation in Socratic dialogue form, to hear the full debate or to listen to the Irish Times Off Topic podcast which includes a discussion involving me, Joe Humphreys, Hugh Linehan and Fionn Davenport on Philosophy and Irish Life.

The Unthinkable column continues weekly in the Irish Times.

17 Mar

Patrick and a question of identity

Statue of St Patrick overlooking green fields and a rainbow

Image: starbeard /Flickr (CC BY)

Last year Vox Hiberionacum published two posts on the historical Patrick and the voicing of early Irish identity: one relating to classical and early medieval terms used by outsiders and a sequel on terms used in Patrick’s own writings. In brief, Patrick used the term Scotti, which had with negative connotations, but mainly to refer to the pagan Irish. The converts he referred to as Irish/Hibernae, including in the famous account of his dream where ‘the voice of the (not yet converted) Irish’ calls on him to return to Ireland, and in contexts referring to existing converts. Vox Hiberionacum points out the complexity of identity involved in both terms – the people referred to in both were of multiple backgrounds, classes and tribes. Some were not even born in Ireland. In his Letter to Coroticus protesting the killing and enslavement of Irish converts to Christianity by a British chieftain, Patrick writes

Indignum est illis Hiberionaci sumus
‘For them, it is a disgrace/shameful that we are from Ireland‘. 

Whether this is a slip or a rhetorical device, it is the first insular expression of an Irish ‘we’, and it includes not only the Irish born in Ireland but Patrick himself.

This complexity inherent in the term “Irish” brought to mind two of Ireland’s greatest philosophers. Johannes Scotus Eriugena adopted two names denoting his Irishness, plausibly because even by his time being an Irishman (Scotus) did not automatically mean born in Ireland (Eriugena). George Berkeley in several places in his Philosophical Commentaries writes, “we Irish” (“we Irish do not hold with this”, “We Irish think otherwise”). Yet he is often claimed as English. Both philosophers are enmeshed in the complexities of Irish identity.
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13 May

Book: Dictionary of Irish Philosophers

Dictionary of Irish Philosophers

About (via Bloomsbury Publishing)

Since 1999 Thoemmes Press (now Thoemmes Continuum) has been engaged in a large-scale programme of biographical dictionaries of philosophy and related subjects. This volume on Irish philosophers follows the standard format of arranging entries alphabetically by thinker.
It includes two forms of entry: (1) entries reproduced from previous editions of Thoemmes encyclopedias of British philosophy and (2) wholly new entries on early (renaissance-period) and  modern (20th century) philosophers, together with some new entries on the intervening centuries.

My new bible! The hardback is going for £175, but I got a copy of the paperback secondhand for $14 including shipping (as of May 2013).

The book includes an introductory overview which summarises the history of Irish philosophy from the Irish Augustine up to the 21st century. It also explains the logic behind the inclusions. The idea for the dictionary in the first place stemmed from the difficulty surrounding the Irish entries in the British dictionaries. Thomas Duddy outlines the debate that went on regarding this Irish Dictionary, in which differing definitions of “Irish” clashed, he feeling birth in Ireland was a necessary criterion, another consulting editor M. A. Stewart feeling birth in Ireland was neither necessary (what of those born abroad who had their career in Ireland?) nor sufficient (someone born in Ireland but who had no connection thereafter). Thus the selection of entries involved compromise and excluded several philosophers with more tenuous connections.

 As with the Thoemmes Encyclopedias an inclusive definition of philosopher, including writers on philosophical subjects whose contribution was small, plus celebrated figures from other domains such as literature, science or mathematics, who had made philosophical contributions.

There are entries on “over 180 philosophers”, with no entries on any living person. The selection includes all the well-known names, medieval philosophers, forgotten scholastics and academics. Where works by the subject have been published a bibliography is included, along with further reading.

09 Apr

New Avatar

As you can see the avatar has been changed. The new image is of a salmon leaping so that it grasps its own tail.
The salmon was a symbol of wisdom and knowledge in Irish myth. The Fiannaidheacht (Fenian cycle of stories) include a tale where Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicised to Finn McCool) was set by his master, the druid Finnegas to catch the salmon of knowledge who lived in a pool on the Boyne. Whoever ate the salmon would gain all the world’s knowledge. Finn caught the fish and was set to cook it for his master. However Finn burned his thumb on the fish and instinctively put the thumb into his mouth, swallowing a tiny piece of fish, and gaining the knowledge.
The image is based on a drawing in a manuscript (Royal MS 13 B VIII, c. 1196-1223) in the British Library. The manuscript is a copy of Gerald of Wales’ Topography of Ireland (pdf), with other works of his, dedicated to King Henry II. There is a blog post here, including the original image of a salmon leaping.

06 Apr

Book: Berkeley and Irish Philosophy

image

Contents from Bloomsbury Publishing

Note on the Text

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Part I: Berkeley’s Philosophy

1. George Berkeley

2. On Missing the Wrong Target

Part II: The Golden Age of Irish Philosophy

3. Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment in Irish Philosophy

4.The Culmination and Causation of Irish Philosophy

5.Frances Hutcheson on Berkeley and the Molyneux Problem

6.The Impact of Irish Philosophy on the American Enlightenment

7. Irish Ideology and Philosophy

Part III: New Berkeley Letters and Berkeleiana

8. An Early Essay concerning Berkeley’s Immaterialism

9. Mrs Berkeley’s Annotations in An Account of the Life of Berkeley (1776)

10. Some New Bermuda Berkeleiana

11. The Good Bishop: New Letters

12. Becket and Berkeley

Index

Part 2 of this book was the one that piqued my interest in Irish Enlightenment philosophy. In these essays, Berman looks at the philosophical background Berkeley came from, including Toland and the reactions to him. He discusses the link between Berkeley and Francis Hutcheson in relation to their answers to the Molyneux problem. He also looks at the impact of golden age Irish philosophy on eighteenth-century American philosophy.

The other sections form a wide-ranging look at the achievements of George Berkeley and its broad scope.

17 Mar

Borges on Irish Philosophy

Borges

110 Borges [warholized]
(c) Gisela Giardino/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I was intrigued by these quotes from Jorge-Luis Borges in Richard Kearney’s Post-Nationalist Ireland.

My father introduced me to Berkeley’s philosophy at the age of ten. Before I was even able to read or write properly he taught me to think. He was a professor of psychology and every day after dinner he would give me a philosophy lesson. I remember very well how he first introduced me to Berkeley’s idealist metaphysics and particularly his doctrine that the material or empirical world is an invention of the creative mind: to be is to be perceived/esse est percipi. It was one day after a good lunch when my father took an orange in his hand and asked me: ‘What colour is this fruit?’ ‘Orange’, I replied. ‘Is this colour in the orange or in your perception of it?’ he continued: ‘And
the taste of the sweetness—is that in the orange itself or is it the sensation on your tongue that makes it sweet?’ This was a revelation to me: that the outside world is as we perceive or imagine it to be. It does not exist independently of our minds. From that day forth, I realised that reality and fiction were betrothed to each other, that even our ideas
are creative fictions.

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