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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)

12 Jan

Burke: no conservative?

Conservatives have either ignored Burke’s support for colonial rebellion, or maintained that his career was split between two phases: an early period of support for the ‘liberal’ cause of America and a later ‘conservative’ reaction to the Revolution in France. Burke certainly changed his opinions over the course of his career, but these shifts cannot be captured by presuming a contradiction between his support for American resistance and his aversion to the revolution in France. Representations of Burke as a renegade from early idealism are based on the dogmatic assumption that the American and French revolutions were fundamentally ‘the same’. Yet for Burke these two events were absolutely different, and in fact he had good reasons for insisting on their difference.

from Richard Bourke (2015) “Burke was no conservative” in Aeon Magazine (online).

06 Jan

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington: Feminist Republican

Prof Bryan Fanning (2015) “Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington: Feminist Republican”, UCD Youtube.

For more on Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, see Women’s Museum of Ireland: Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (includes links to other resources), the review of the 1999 “Hanna Sheehy Skeffington: a Life” by Margaret Ward on History Ireland, and Margaret Ward (on Hanna’s House) The Political Career of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington – Challenging Feminism and Republicanism (pdf).

04 Jan

“Too Gentle a Soul”: James Ussher

A historian, a scholar and a key figure in the religious debates of the 16th century, Ussher was born in Dublin (either on Nicholas St[1] or 57 High St[2] across from the old Christchurch Synod Hall) on the 4th January 1581 and baptised in the Church of Ireland St Nicholas Within. He was born into a prosperous merchant family, but one that was torn by the religious divisions of the time. Most of the Usshers conformed to the Church of Ireland, notably Henry Ussher, Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh from 1595 to 1613, who played an important role in the creation of Trinity College, Dublin in 1592. His mother remained Catholic; her brother was the famous historian Richard Stanyhurst (1547-1618), in later life a Jesuit priest [3].

James Ussher was one of the first to attend Trinity College Dublin, gaining his BA c. 1597 and MA in 1601. He was ordained by his uncle Henry Ussher in December 1601 and in 1602 took his first trip of many to England, in search of books for Trinity College Library. During his trips to London he made many antiquarian connections with figures such as Henry Savile and John Seldon. He graduated in Divinity in 1607, immediately becoming Professor of Theological Controversies. In 1613 he married Phoebe Challoner, daughter of the vice-provost of Trinity Luke Challoner, and published his first work, Gravissimae Quaestionis, de Christianarum ecclesiarum, in occidentis praesertim partibus, ab apostolicis temporibus, ad nostram usque aetatem, continua successione & statu, historica explicatio (London, 1613). This work gave an account of medieval heretical groups drawing on original sources; however it also had the polemical purpose of tracing the rise of the Anti-Christ in Roman Catholic church, and the identification of groups such as the Cathars as proto-protestants[4].

Ussher graduated DD in 1614 and became vice-chancellor of Trinity in 1615. He is also credited with playing a large part in the creation of the Church of Ireland’s first full Confession of Faith. These articles were an advance on the 39 Articles on which they were based, they allowed more accommodation of puritan ideas than the equivalent in the Church of England (for example, allowing more leeway on the question of bishops) and did not require subscription. Ussher became Bishop of Meath and Clonmacnoise in 1621 and finally was appointed Archbishop of Armagh by James I of England in 1625[5]. It should be noted that of the twenty-five bishops James I placed in the Church of Ireland in his lifetime, Ussher was the only one born in Ireland and educated at Trinity [6]

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23 Dec

Liberty, Control, Meaning

[Liberty is] the power that is in man to assume control of his existence, to give it a deliberate meaning, and to become fully engaged with it.

Edwin Rabbitte (1959) “Liberty, Personality, Morality”, Philosophical Studies, vol. 9, pp. 36-48. Quote from p. 43.

17 Dec

Philosophy’s Two-Way Movement

There is a two-way movement in philosophy, a movement towards the building of elaborate theories, and a move back again towards the consideration of simple and obvious facts. McTaggart says that time is unreal. Moore replies that he has just had his breakfast. Both these aspects of philosophy are necessary to it.

Iris Murdoch, “The Idea of Perfection”, in The Sovereignty of Good (Routledge Classics, p. 1)

08 Dec

Frozen in Time: the Edward Worth Library

The Edward Worth Library (c) Irish Philosophy (CC BY)

The Edward Worth Library
(c) Irish Philosophy (CC BY)

For most of the 20th century Dr Steevens’ Hospital was a working hospital housed in a hodgepodge of buildings. After its closure in 1987 the 19th and 20th century buildings were cleared away to reveal the original hospital, first opened in 1733 through the efforts of Griselda Steevens. An important player in the history of medicine in Ireland, it is now an administrative centre for the Health Service Executive. Except for a brief period in the late 1980s and early 1990s it has housed a beautifully preserved early 18th century collection of books: The Edward Worth Library.

Entrance to Dr Steeven's Hospital (c) Irish Philosophy

Entrance to Dr Steevens’ Hospital
(c) Irish Philosophy

The library is the only room in the building that still carries out the purpose for which it was designed. Edward Worth (1678-1733) was a trustee for Dr Steevens’ Hospital and left the institution £1,000 and his library, valued at £5,000. Anxious not to divert money from the care of poor patients, Edward Worth also provided for the set-up of the library. The executor paid £100 to fit out the room allocated to the library, receiving 1,000 books from John Worth’s collection in return (these were ultimately left by him to Trinity in 1742).
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04 Dec

That Speech that Professor Tyndall Made

The scientific naturalists, especially Huxley and Tyndall, were able to dominate the politics of science when they were at the height of their power in the 1870’s and 1880’s. They were able to challenge the scientific, and even the cultural, authority of the Anglican clergy. Through their lectures and writings they encouraged the Victorian public to question widely held beliefs about the nature of society, the place of humanity in nature, and the role of religion in a modern, industrialized world. As a result, the Belfast Address was seen as a momentous cultural event well beyond the 1870’s. Almost thirty years later it seemed to symbolize how scientific naturalism had turned the Victorian world upside down. The playwright George Bernard Shaw summed up its enduring significance in his Man and Superman (1903). “It’s a very queer world,” remarks Mrs. Whitefield, who is bewildered by the complicated behavior of the younger generation. “It used to be so straightforward and simple; and now nobody seems to think and feel as they ought. Nothing has been right since that speech that Professor Tyndall made at Belfast” (4.237).

Lightman, Bernard. “On Tyndall’s Belfast Address, 1874.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History, Dino Franco Felluga (ed). [online here]

30 Nov

In Our Time: Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most brilliant and shocking satires ever written in English – Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Masquerading as an attempt to end poverty in Ireland once and for all, a Modest Proposal is a short pamphlet that draws the reader into a scheme for economic and industrial horror.

Published anonymously but written by Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal lays bare the cruel presumptions, unchecked prejudice, the politics and the poverty of the 18th century, but it also reveals, perhaps more than anything else, the character and the mind of Swift himself.

With John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London; Judith Hawley, Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London and Ian McBride, Senior Lecturer in the History Department at King’s College London

The programme explains the background of the Proposal, including the confiscation of land, the growth of mathematical problem solving (referencing William Petty, surveyor of Ireland) and the conditions at the time.

23 Nov

Reading Hegel

I think many read Hegel much too innocently – this is especially true of those who want to make religious use of him. He is far more dialectically slippery and equivocal than they seem to realize or want to grant. That said, he is an essential thinker with whom one must come to terms. I’m afraid many of those who think they are beyond Hegel and dialectic are not quite where they claim to be. That is another reason why a recuperation of dialectic, both in its Hegelian and non-Hegelian forms is a continuing task. Dialectic is not univocal.

Does Hegel represent the end of metaphysics? No. Does Hegel stand for the consummation of the philosophical tradition? No. Does Hegel bring about the completion of dialectical thinking? No. Many anti-Hegelians answer yes to the above questions. I say no and engage the metaphysical tradition and dialectic differently.

[…] The reason I continue to teach Hegel is because the struggle with Hegel is worth it philosophically. I do see green readers fall under his bewitchment. I try to offer some philosophical inoculations against false conceptual enchantments. But what can one do when someone is infatuated? The spell will run its course. Or do we need to develop a need area of expertise for treating conceptual possession: philosophical exorcism?

Radical Orthodoxy: Between God and Metaphysics: An Interview with William Desmond