web analytics
16 Jun

Nothingness of Bloomsday

It is fitting, then, that every 16 June the Irish should commemorate a day on which nothing much happened. Like many modernist works, Ulysses revolves on a botched revelation or bungled epiphany, as Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus finally meet to no momentous effect. Nothingness is a traditional topic of Irish writing, all the way from the negative theology of the great medieval schoolman John Scottus Eriugena to the vision of hell of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. It is true that nothing, like something, happens anywhere, but it tends to happen more in a down-at-heel colony (‘an afterthought of Europe’, Joyce scornfully called it) than it does on Wall Street or in Whitehall. Riba’s parental home strikes him as ‘more and more Irish’ precisely because nothing ever happens there. It is full of ghosts, as indeed Dublinesque is as a whole. Ireland, too, is haunted by a history which is dead but won’t lie down.

Quoted from “Irishness is for other people”, LRB. A review by Terry Eagleton of Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey

15 Jun

In Memoriam: Thomas Duddy

Thomas Duddy, philosopher, teacher and poet, died on this day last year (15th June, 2012), aged 62.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that Dr Tom Duddy is something of a patron saint of this site. His Dictionary of Irish Philosophers (2004) is used both for selection and information purposes. Within its pages are many forgotten thinkers, some deservedly, some rewarding a second look. His History of Irish Thought(2002), described as “strikingly original and sorely needed” by Terry Eagleton, is a wonderful survey of Irish thought and thinkers from the 7th to the 20th century. He also edited two important anthologies of Irish writing on philosophical questions, Irish Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (2002) and The Irish Response to Darwinism (2003).

Born in Ramolin near Shrule, Co Mayo, he studied English and philosophy in University College Galway (now National University of Ireland, Galway). His graduate studies in philosophy focused on philosophy of mind, publishing Mind, Self and Interiority, “a critique of the indiscriminate anti-Cartesianism of contemporary philosophy of mind” in 1995. As well as his work in Irish philosophy, he also wrote on the question of morality and the environment, and on the visual arts. He was senior lecturer in the department of philosophy at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
Read More

13 Jun

Yeats: Self and anti-self

The 13th of June is Yeats Day, the anniversary of Yeats’ birth. Best known as a poet, Yeats had philosophic interests. He admired idealism, and was well known for reading neoPlatonists such as Plotinus. In his essay Bishop Berkeley, he extols the imagination that underlay philosophy from Spinoza to Hegel.

Yeats was not a pure idealist (a term that to him evoked Kant, rather than Berkeley who was “idealist and realist alike”.) Yeats also rejected “the new naturalism that leaves man helpless before the contents of his own mind”, quoting Nietzsche’s Zarathustra “Am I a barrel of memories to give you my reasons?” (Bishop Berkeley).

As mentioned previously, Yeats and Wilde knew each other and Wilde made a strong impression on Yeats. In The Parting of the Veil (1922) Yeats tells of Wilde’s attempts to copy (wear a mask) opposite to the natural self or the natural world.

By 1918 in Arnica Silentia Lunare Yeats has developed his view and says,

The other self, the anti-self or the antithetical self, as one may choose to name it, comes but to those who are no longer deceived, whose passion is reality.

Read More

12 Jun

Wilde About Yeats

After meeting with Oscar Wilde, Yeats defines the term “Cruel Irony”. Courtesy Annie West (AnnieWest.com)

After meeting with Oscar Wilde, Yeats defines the term “Cruel Irony”. Courtesy Annie West (AnnieWest.com)

Tomorrow is Yeats Day, marking the birth of William Butler Yeats (13th June 1865). (Thanks to Annie West for permission to use the picture above. Her website, chock full of pictures of the incidents of his life Yeats would prefer to forget, is here).

Yeats Day is relevant to this blog because William Butler Yeats had philosophic interests (and is listed in DIP), which went beyond his habit of reading Plotinus to dutchesses. He developed a philosophic system regarding the self and anti-self, and these reflections on the self have parallels to Wilde’s thought (hence the picture above). The occasions Yeats met Wilde made a strong impression on him.
Read More

07 Jun

We Are Double

When one returns to the first home, one’s eyes have been doubled and one sees the same thing differently. One sees the home in a doubled way, in a redoubled way. There is no simple univocal home ever more. Again the great task is to find a way of being-at-home in this not being-at-home. I think this is coincident with the metaphysical destiny of being human. We are native to the world/we are strangers in the world. We are at home with being/we can never be completely at home with being. We are double.

William Desmond on the experience of returning to Ireland after seven years in the US.

From Perplexity and Ultimacy (1995), pp. 19-20

06 Jun

Irish Student notebook from 1722

Maynooth Notebook

I wish my lecture notes looked this good!  This notebook relating to philosophy studies is from the Irish College in Salamanca. It is signed by Richardus Lincolne [Richard Lincoln] and dated 1722. Lincoln went on to become the Archbishop of Dublin.

The diagram on the right hand page is a Tree of Porphyry: a series of definitions outlined in diagrammatic form. A more modern version of the diagram is here; more on Porphyry’s tree (“The Earliest Metaphorical Tree of Knowledge”) here.

From Irish Students in Europe: celebrating 350 years of scholarship through the collections of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and NUI Maynooth, a small exhibition of notebooks (17th and 18th century; one each from Paris, Louvain, Glasgow, Salamanca and Seville, all from the Maynooth archives) and secondary literature relating to Irish students in Europe. The exhibition is on in the John Paul II Library in Maynooth and is open to the 21st June.

05 Jun

Toland: Irishman abroad

In any case, there was undeniably a pervasive and powerful continental influence in the forming of Toland’s deism. Crucial to his development as a thinker were his long sojourns in the Netherlands and Germany; starting with his stay in Leiden in 1692-3. Still more pivotally formative were the years 1699-1702, when he spent much time, in part as a diplomatic messenger, in both those countries[…]

Toland was not as facile and unoriginal as many detractors alleged. Indeed his more significant writings, such as his “Letters to Serena”, “Adeisdaemon”, “Origines Judicae”, and his astounding quasi-theological project, the “Nazarenus” (1718), in which he seeks to dechristianize Christianity and remodel it as a republican civic religion designed only to teach the common people morality, demonstrate his original, creative side and some depth. Moreover, he had an exceptionally strong consciousness of the public sphere and the need, on republican grounds, not just for an ‘entire library of conscience’ but a robustly constructed civic religion based on a ‘purified Christianity’ (i.e. dechristianized civic religion) which would provide political society with ‘rules for virtue and religion’. His contribution to the development of the Radical Enlightenment was in fact rather substantial.

From Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, by Jonathan I. Israel. The first paragraph is taken from page 610, the second from page 613. Double quotes replace the italics in the original text.

04 Jun

A Regency Era argument for votes for women

In 1824 James Mill (utilitarian, colleague of Jeremy Bentham and father of John Stuart Mill) wrote an article On Government for the Encyclopedia Britannica. In it he argued that individuals whose interests were represented by another would not be inconvenienced by being denied a vote. In this category he included children (represented by their parents) and women

the interest of almost all of whom is involved either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands

The following year William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler jointly authored An Appeal Of One Half Of The Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men” (published under Thompson’s name). Anna Doyle Wheeler and William Thompson both knew Bentham and were interested in utilitarianism. An Appeal expresses dismay at the cavalier treatment Mill gives to women’s interests and systematically demolishes Mill’s argument in On Government by appealing to the same utilitarian principles that Mill uses.
Read More

03 Jun

Ought Tolstoy Have Been Cured?

There is an amusing but I think significant story which Ernest Jones records about Freud. At the time when the relations between Freud and Jung were almost at breaking point, Jung was still secretary of the psycho-analytical association. He sent Jones an announcement of the next meeting but made an error in the date, so that if Jones had not had other information he would have missed the meeting entirely. Jones knowing Freud’s interest in these slips of the pen and tongue showed the letter to him. But Freud was neither interested nor amused. No gentleman, he said, ought to have an unconscious like that.

Ought? Ought? Ought? What is that ought doing there on the lips of a psycho-analyst? Of course, we like Freud all the better for this human touch. You see, however much we may exclude oughtness from our theories, we cannot get it out of our lives. Ought-ness is as much an original datum of consciousness as the starry vault above. Both should continue to fill us with constant amazement. “

Quote from The Danger of Words, by Maurice O’Connor Drury. In this essay, “Madness and Religion”, Drury reflects on some patients he has treated. In the past some with similar experiences became religious leaders or writers such as Leo Tolstoy. Would it have been right to have cured Leo Tolstoy? Is that a question a psychiatrist should ask?

Drury reflects on this philosophical and ethical dilemma, arguing that defining religion as “racial psychosis” ignores the ethical aspect.

Also note the echo of Kant in the last two lines.

31 May

On the Origin of Evil

Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867) Wikimedia, Public Domain

Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867)
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Some books (like Hume’s Treatise) fall “stillborn from the press”, as Hume put it. A small number of those (eg. Hume’s Treatise) are rescued from oblivion by later readers. Other books have the opposite fate – they are widely read and discussed only to fall into obscurity. One such is De Origine Mali (1702), by William King, Archbishop of Dublin, later translated by Edmund Law as Essay on the Origin of Evil (1731).

“The most rigorous effort to construct a rational theodicy in this period appears in the closely related work of Leibniz and William King”(Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, p. 84) Both philosophers were answering Pierre Bayle, who had come to the conclusion that no solution was possible which reconciled the evil of the world and the existence of a perfectly good and all-powerful God (SEP). Their works were highly influential.

Both King and Leibniz argue that evil is privation, an absence of something rather than a positive force in itself.That, however, does not mean that suffering is merely apparent. The cosmos as a whole is imperfect (metaphysical evil), and natural evils (such as disease or natural disasters) and moral evils (sinful acts of humans) cause real suffering. They follow Descartes in claiming that this is a natural result of a cosmos that is not identical with God (the only entity that can be perfect.)
Read More