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27 Apr

Hutcheson: the Reality of We

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By correctly appreciating Hutcheson’s own project, Mautner is able to show clearly what has eluded so many Hutcheson (and Hume) scholars of a less historical bent: while Hobbes and Mandeville may be the most often named antagonists, the real opponent is that particularly bleak culture of orthodox Scottish Calvinism, a faith that makes a mockery of human free will, that emphasizes the utter corruption of human nature, and that celebrates a theodicy in which humans are held accountable to a standard of moral conduct that is acknowledged to be impossible for us to meet.

David Fate Norton has reminded us that Hutcheson, Hume, and their like-minded colleagues aligned themselves as defenders of the “reality” of ‘We.’ By this they meant that ethical egoism and psychological egoism are both false. Ethical egoism is false because to reduce virtue to self-interest is a mean-spirited mockery of the nobility of virtue. And psychological egoism is false because we can in fact act upon benevolent, non-egoistic motives. Hence, it is possible for human beings truly to be morally virtuous. Thus, virtue is “real.”

Thomas Mautner. Francis Hutcheson: Two Texts on Human Nature reviewed by Mark H. Waymack (pdf)  (originally in Hume Studies , Volume XX, No 2 (November, 1994), pp. 296-297)

Waymack’s review suggests that the main importance of the book is its outline of what Hutcheson believes a moral theory should do. The extract above highlights Hutcheson’s moral project: against both virtue seen as self-interest and the pessimistic belief that people will always act in a self-interested way.

26 Apr

Representation

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Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.


Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3rd November, 1774 (Full text available from University of Chicago).

A man who would not have approved by government by kite-flying, focus group and opinion poll. The whole piece is short and worth reading. The quote in context:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

26 Apr

In Our Time: Edmund Burke

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In Our Time: Edmund Burke,
from 3 June 2010. Melvyn Bragg and his guests Karen O’Brien, Richard Bourke and John Keane discuss the work of the eighteenth-century philosopher, politician and writer Edmund Burke.

The broadcast can be listened to from this page which has additional information on Burke, or downloaded from iTunes.

25 Apr

Richard FitzRalph: crime, murder and tribalism

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[FitzRalph] singled out two faults for special denunciation, and it would appear that he had identified them in the course of a year’s close scrutiny of his flock and its mores — firstly, the civil war ‘inter Anglicos et Hibernicos’ and secondly, general theft and dishonesty. In the former case he pointed out to his hearers, most of whom we can presume were ‘Anglici’, that both rival communities in Ireland were under the impression that it was lawful not merely to rob and plunder those of the opposing community, but also to kill them, and he issued a stem warning that to kill was always gravely sinful except in self-defence. Only an officer of the law, acting in accordance with the prescriptions of that law, had such power. […]

In the same vein as his rejection of injury to life and limb by private persons in the name of loyalty to the Crown, he also condemned injury to property on the same pretext: theft, rapine, and plunder were always sinful, according to FitzRalph and the only adequate form of penitence for such a sin was proper and full restitution. This is a theme which he had frequently mentioned in his Avignon sermons, and he was to return to it again and again, sometimes in exhaustive detail, in the course of his work in Ireland. He was obviously capable of a shrewd appreciation of the manner in which racial dissension could be made the pretext for self-interest and greed, above all in the name of professed loyalty to the king and allegedly justifiable opposition to his unfaithful Irish rebels.

A description of Richard FitzRalph’s sermon denouncing murder and criminal behaviour, and the tribalism which saw it as no murder or crime  if undertaken against the “other side”. The sermon was preached in Drogheda, 25th March 1349.

Quoted from Richard FitzRalph in Oxford, Avignon and Armagh, Katherine Walsh (1981), pages 285-286.

24 Apr

Who is John Toland

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In a recent biography, Alan Harrison notes that Toland was christened a Catholic with the name Janus Junius. Toland himself was the origin of this assertion as reported by des Maizeaux; but Harrison suggests it is more likely he was christened Seán Eoin. Both these names occur in Irish and derive from different forms of John: Seán from the Norman-French Jehan and Eoin from the Latin Johannes. While distinguishable in Irish, the two names become identical in English: John John. Harrison concludes accordingly that Janus Junius ‘may be an elaborate verbal joke on Toland’s part, echoing the anglicized version of his own name and at the same time indicating qualities he considered important in his personality: Janus the two-faced god (very much a trickster symbol incidentally) indicating his propensity for looking at things in more than one way and for his sayings to be capable of more than a simple literal interpretation; and Junius recalling the name of Junius Brutus, the reputed founder of the Roman Republic which in terms of political philosophy, was Toland’s ideal period’.

Richard Kearney writing on John Toland.
Postnationalist Ireland (1997). Chapter 10: “John Toland; An Irish Philosopher?” p. 131.

23 Apr

Oxford University General Philosophy: Nicolas Malebranche and George Berkeley

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One of a series of lectures on General Philosophy delivered by Peter Millican to first-year philosophy students at the University of Oxford. This section (2.5) focuses on Malebranche (SEP), a lesser-known French Philosopher, his ideas on idealism and the influence they had on George Berkeley.

Source: Oxford University

21 Apr

Burke as Don Quixote

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Edmund Burke caricature Don Quixote

As noted previously, there was criticism of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution. Thomas Paine in his “Rights of Man” condemns the book. “It is difficult not to believe that Mr. Burke is sorry, extremely sorry”, says Paine, “that arbitrary power, the power of the Pope, and the Bastille are pulled down”. Paine is unimpressed with Burke’s lament for the age of chivalry, and says, “in the rhapsody of his imagination, he has discovered a world of windmills, and his sorrows are, that there are no Quixotes to attack them.”

Paine’s criticisms are illustrated in the caricature above (from the Library of Congress). Burke is depicted riding a donkey whose head is human and adorned with the papal crown. In his part as Don Quixote Burke is armoured and bears a shield labelled “Shield of Aristocracy and Despotism”, bearing illustrations of torture, death, and the Bastille. Tied to his saddle is a copy of his “Reflections”, and the door he is emerging from is “Dodsley Bookseller” the publisher of the book.
Continue reading

19 Apr

Wittgenstein’s Pupil

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Maurice O’Connor Drury (called ‘Con Drury’ by his friends) was born in Exeter in 1907, of Irish parentage. He attended the Grammar School of that city and then went in 1925 to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took the Moral Science Tripos. In 1929, Drury met Ludwig Wittgenstein, a newly appointed lecturer in philosophy at Trinity College. Wittgenstein had taken up a fellowship in that College following strenuous efforts by Frank Ramsey, Bertrand Russell and Maynard Keynes to bring him back to philosophy from self-imposed obscurity as a primary school teacher in remote mountain villages in Lower Austria. Drury and Wittgenstein met at a meeting of the Moral Science Club, in C.D. Broad’s rooms. There began a friendship between student and teacher that was to last through the many vicissitudes of their lives until the philosopher’s death from cancer in 1951 in the home of a medical friend of Drury’s.

Wittgenstein’s ‘Pupil’: The Writings of Maurice O’Connor Drury from UL’s Minerva, an open-source philosophy journal. This essay covers MOC Drury’s writings about Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein’s thought and his own reading of that thought.

18 Apr

The Inishowen Oracle

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John Toland may have felt apprehensive when he landed in Dublin in the summer of 1697. Aged twenty-seven, his recently published book Christianity not Mysterious had already got him into trouble in England. The premise of the book was that the original message of Christianity was easily understood and accessible to human reason but had been usurped and turned into gibberish in divinity schools to serve the interest of an emergent priestly class.

Toland, referring to himself in the third person, humorously described the reception he encountered on his arrival in an appendix to subsequent editions of the book.

“Mr Toland was scarcely arriv’d in that country when he found himself warmly attack’d from the Pulpit, which at the beginning could not but startle the People, who until then were equal Strangers to him and his Book, yet they became, in a little time, so well accustomed to this Subject that it was as much expected of the course as if it had been prescribed in the Rubrick. This occasioned a Noble Lord to give it for a reason why he frequented not the church as formerly, that instead of his saviour Jesus Christ, one John Toland was all the discourse there.”

[…]John Toland was born in Ardagh, near Ballyliffen in the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal, in 1670. Schooled locally, he converted to Protestantism in his teens. His enemies were to later claim that he was the son of a Catholic priest, an accusation which Jonathan Swift was happy to broadcast. It was Swift who gave Toland that title The Great Oracle of the Anti-Christians in his 1708 satirical That the Abolishing of CHRISTIANITY in ENGLAND, May, as Things now Stand, be attended with some Inconveniences.

From Tom Wall’s The Inishowen Oracle in the Dublin Review of Books