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16 Oct

The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About…

Statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Sq, Dublin © Eoin Gardiner on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Sq, Dublin
© Eoin Gardiner on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

…is not being talked about. Here is a roundup of links for Oscar Wilde’s 160th birthday.

With the release of a new play The Trials of Oscar Wilde the Independent asked Is Oscar Wilde’s reputation due for another reassessment? One of the authors is Merlin Holland, Wilde’s only grandchild.

An Oscar Wilde photograph from Ashford Castle is to go to auction, while a photograph of Harry Bushell, who may be been the fellow prisoner Wilde mentioned in letters, has been in the papers today. The photograph is just one item turned up by Prof Peter Stoneley, University of Reading, which will form part of a new exhibition, Oscar Wilde and Reading Gaol.
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03 Oct

Tyranny and Government

A democratic republic cannot be permanently maintained in any country, unless there prevail amongst the people much public spirit and intelligence; and even if it be maintained, civic virtues of the highest kind are required to prevent the existence of evils incidental to the abuse of power. In the republics of ancient Greece, oppression was practised by the dominant majority of the multitude, with as much recklessness as has ever been exhibited by the caprice of imperial tyranny. The republic of Rome was never free from faction.
[…]
These observations are made, not for the purpose of reconciling the reader to the maintenance of tyranny in any form; not for the purpose of deterring him from seeking the greatest possible perfectibility in political institutions; but in order to prevent him from being misled by mere names, and in order to convince him that much of evil must be expected under even the most perfect form of government that can be devised.”

From Principles of Government, Or Meditations in Exile, by William Smith O’Brien (p. 126, American Edition, 1857).

27 Sep

Aesthetics, Art and Wittgenstein: the life and work of Cyril Barrett

Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, National Gallery of Ireland (WikiCommons)

Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, National Gallery of Ireland (WikiCommons)

Much of Wittgenstein’s writing was, at one remove, about aesthetics: questions of meaning, perception and emergence of sense. Yet there was little available explicitly about his aesthetics until notes from his lectures given by him in 1938 were collected and published in 1966 as Wittgenstein’s Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief (Hagberg, SEP). The notes, taken by students Rush Rhees, Yorick Smythies, and James Taylor, together with notes on conversations about Freud and lectures on religious belief were edited by Cyril Barrett. Given the protective attitude Wittgenstein’s students had to his work and legacy, this was not a trivial task and the volume is probably his most enduring contribution to philosophy (eg see The Herald, The Times (paywall)).

What might surprise some is that this work was done by an Irish Jesuit. Born on 9th May 1925 in Dublin, Cyril Barrett graduated from UCD in 1947 with a first in Latin and History. Barrett entered the Society of Jesus in 1942 and was ordained in 1956. After teaching in various institutions he became one of the two founding members of the philosophy department in Warwick University in 1965, where he stayed until his retirement as reader in philosophy in 1992. After retirement he was a tutor in Oxford. He kept writing up to his last days in Milltown Dublin, where he died on 30th December 2003.

As well as Wittgenstein’s Lectures and Conversations, in 1990 Barrett published a commentary on Wittgenstein’s works, Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Belief. In this he argued that questions of value (ethics and religious belief) were of prime importance to Wittgenstein, and “intimately interwoven” in his thought.
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25 Sep

Catholic Scholasticism in Marsh’s Library

Title page from "Collegii Salmanticensis ... theologicus Angelici Doctoris Diui Thomae complectens", 1637 © Marsh's Library (CC)

Title page from “Collegii Salmanticensis … theologicus Angelici Doctoris Diui Thomae complectens”, 1637
© Marsh’s Library (CC)

This book, Collegii Salmanticensis … theologicus Angelici Doctoris Diui Thomae complectens published in Madrid in 1637, is a collection of commentaries on the theology of the “Angelic Doctor”, Thomas Aquinas.  It was originally owned by Narcissus Marsh and is now part of the Marsh’s Library collection. The first Irish Colleges were set up with the support of Irish Jesuit priest James Archer in Salamanca (where this book was written) and Madrid (where it was printed) during the late 16th century.

18 Sep

The Great Scottish Debate: Duns Scotus and Eriugena

Stained glass depicting monks battling demons

Debates over national dividing lines can get heated. Consider the 17th century discussions over the two philosophers John Duns Scotus and John Scottus Eriugena.

In 1620, a book by the bishop of Ossory David RotheBrigida thaumaturga, was published in Paris. It was on the surface an account of the life of St Brigid of Kildare, but that life is used as a metaphor by Rothe for the medieval mission of the Irish to Europe and of the mission of clergy to Ireland (a Catholic country under Protestant rule). The latter required financial security for Irish seminary students, which was their due (according to Rothe) given the huge contribution the Irish had made to France in the past, scholastically and religiously, including the work of John Scottus Eriugena.

Not the type of thing that would have the writer called a “devil”, one might think, but that was not all Rothe wrote. The work also targets Scottish scholar Thomas Dempster who claimed a large number of Irish saints and scholars for Scotland. As the historian Liam Chambers points out, this claim undermined Rothe’s argument for French aid for the Irish and left the Irish Counter-Reformation without native saints. Roth systematically rebutts Dempster’s claims, even going so far as to say all described as “Scotia” or Scots in the Middle Ages are Irish.
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02 Sep

Old Library, New Name: Russell Library, Maynooth University

St Joseph's House, Maynooth © Bart Busschots on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

St Joseph’s House, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth
© Bart Busschots on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Maynooth University is the new name for the third-level institution located in the North Kildare town. Though formally established as an autonomous university in 1997, the university’s history stems from the establishment of the Royal College of St. Patrick on 5th June 1795 by Act of Parliament. Maynooth University has its origins in the seminary set up on the Duke of Leinster’s lands in 1795, St. Patrick’s College. It was intended “for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion” and, one assumes, in the hope of stemming ideas coming from Revolutionary France.

The seminary was first housed in the house built by the Duke’s steward, John Stoyte, with the lay students in Riverside House (until 1814. Lay students were not admitted again until 1966). Stoyte House was extended soon after by architect Michael Stapleton by adding two symmetrical wings, each with an archway to the grounds beyond (the Long Corridor). The other two sides of the square were completed in 1809 (New House) and 1824 (Humanity House/Dunboyne House), in a similar style to Stoyte House.
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28 Aug

Hutcheson Redux? Against Empathy.

Cartons labelled "empathy" stacked on shelves.

Empathy in a carton
(c) Geoff Jones/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In the current Boston Review, Paul Bloom has a discussion piece, Against Empathy. He opens by referencing Adam Smith…

The word “empathy” is used in many ways, but here I am adopting its most common meaning, which corresponds to what eighteenth-century philosophers such as Adam Smith called “sympathy.” It refers to the process of experiencing the world as others do, or at least as you think they do. To empathize with someone is to put yourself in her shoes, to feel her pain. Some researchers also use the term to encompass the more coldblooded process of assessing what other people are thinking, their motivations, their plans, what they believe. This is sometimes called “cognitive,” as opposed to “emotional,” empathy.

Paul Bloom identifies issues with empathy – that we are more likely to feel empathetic towards people like us or people who are attractive; that empathy leads us to focus on individual cases but ignore mass suffering. He argues that empathy is not the only thing that can motivate helping, compassion can too. Read More

21 Aug

‘Archives and afterlife’ – The 7th Annual Iris Murdoch Conference, 12th-13th September

Celebrating ten years since the opening of the Iris Murdoch Archives and the inauguration of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies, the Seventh International Conference on Iris Murdoch will showcase published and on-going research that has been informed by material in our archives.

Venue: John Galsworthy building, Penrhyn Road campus, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE

Price: £65-£150

Click here for more information and to book.

21 Aug

Sense and Sensibilia

I have found these sense-data and sensibilia. I have not made them. I do not know how to make them. I have not brought them together. […]
What holds them together? Why not ask first, “What separated them? What broke them up?” And the answer is, of course, “My analysis separated them and broke them up.” What holds them together? Why, they are together.[…]
What holds them together? Why, nothing. What holds them together? Why, everything. Canst thou lose the bonds of Orion? What holds together the sense-data of the apple? They are together. That is the way the apple is made; that is the way God made it grow.

From Sense without Matter (1954), pp 62-3.

This book outlines Luce’s version of Berkeley’s thought, which is similar but not identical, and uses the terms current rather than those used by Berkeley. As with Berkeley, Luce is attacking the philosophical (rather than common sense) view of matter. In this section he deals with the objection that sense-data such as the taste, smell, feel and appearance of an apple always appear together, so must be linked by matter.

11 Aug

Robert Boyle’s To-Do List for Future Scientists

Boyle wish 1

Boyle Papers 8, fol. 208, The Royal Society. Via Anna Marie Roos, © The Royal Society (with permission).

Boyle wish 2

Boyle Papers 8, fol. 209, The Royal Society. Via Anna Marie Roos, © The Royal Society (with permission).

The two pictures above are a to-do list for future scientists written by Robert Boyle in his own beautiful hand. Click to see the originals on Anna Marie Roos’ blog post, together with a list of to-dos for future scientists compiled by scientists of today. She notes that, “As part of a charter granted by King Charles II, the Society charged itself, in that delightfully immodest manner characteristic of the Restoration, to ‘extend not only the boundaries of the Empire, but also the very arts and sciences.’ So, the list Boyle left us was all about boundary breaking, and a successful list it was.”

The “desiderata” are:

The Prolongation of Life.
The Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as new Teeth, new Hair colour’d as in youth.
The Art of Flying.
The Art of Continuing long under water, and exercising functions freely there.
The Cure of Wounds at a Distance.
The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation.
The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions.
The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only.
The Acceleration of the Production of things out of Seed.
The Transmutation of Metalls.
The makeing of Glass Malleable.
The Transmutation of Species in Mineralls, Animals, and Vegetables.
The Liquid Alkaest and Other dissolving Menstruums.
The making of Parabolicall and Hyperbolicall Glasses.
The making Armor light and extremely hard.
The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes.
The use of Pendulums at Sea and in Journeys, and the Application of it to watches.
Potent Druggs to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams, etc.
A Ship to saile with All Winds, and A Ship not to be Sunk.
Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men.
Pleasing Dreams and physicall Exercises exemplify’d by the Egyptian Electuary and by the Fungus mentioned by the French Author.
Great Strength and Agility of Body exemplify’d by that of Frantick Epileptick and Hystericall persons.
A perpetuall Light.
Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing.