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23 May

The Logicians Refuted

Read by Gregg Margarite. Written by Jonathan Swift (or Oliver Goldsmith, see note).

Very much in the tradition of Diogenes, who on hearing Plato had defined humans as “featherless bipeds”, presented him with a plucked chicken, the poet satirically punctures humanity’s supposed elevated status.

He explicitly argues against Aristotle and Smiglesius (1564 – 1618, Polish Jesuit philosopher, known for his 1618 Logica, commonly used as a textbook), and implicitly against those in his own time who presented reason as all important. The poet retorts that man is weak and erring, and instinct is a better guide. He makes a long list of man’s follies and foibles (including a dig at Sir Robert Walpole or “Bob”, who employed party-writers to write his praises). He claims animals avoid these errors (though his knowledge of beasts is not as accurate as that of man). He finally notes human similarity to apes, and that humans at court yet manage to out-ape the apes.

Full text of the poem.

Note: This video attributes the authorship of this work to Jonathan Swift, but it is also attributed to Oliver Goldsmith. Continue reading

22 May

Labour Rewarded But Only By Choice

As man’s knowledge increases, he looks beyond immediate into remote consequences. Sometimes this increased knowledge, sometimes accident, leads to a change of the circumstances surrounding him. These new circumstances give rise to new motives: i.e. to modification of the desire of happiness as supposed to rise from different sources. If Co-operative Industry tend more to human happiness than Competitive Industry, its supporters are confident it will be adopted when understood. On no other ground would they wish it be adopted.

William Thompson, Labour Rewarded (1827), p. 100.

Thompson on co-operative industry, and his hope for its voluntary adoption. Thompson was studied by Marx, but Thompson’s economic voluntarism is one of the major differences between them.

19 May

Bravo Yankee Oscar

If America did not always know what to make of Wilde, the country was in many ways the making of him as an artist. He returned to England richer in pocket and, more importantly, in experience. The tour marked a divide between what Wilde himself designated ‘the Oscar of the first period’ (‘the gentleman who wore long hair and carried a sunflower down Piccadilly’) and what was to come. In the following decade Wilde would assiduously cultivate the Oscar of the second period, publishing the stories and plays that made him famous. His fall, when it came, was colossal. When The Importance of Being Earnest opened to wild acclaim on 14 February 1895, its author was the toast of London society. Less than two months later, having lost a disastrous libel claim against the 9th Marquess of Queensberry for imputations of homosexual conduct, Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency and later sentenced to two years’ hard labour. The physical and moral devastation of the trial and its fallout shattered him. Three years after his release, Wilde died as an impoverished and ignominious exile in Paris.

From The Literary Review: Bravo Yankee Oscar : review of “In Declaring His Genius”

Justin Beplate reviews In Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America by Roy Morris Jr, “a lively account of Wilde’s rollicking tour through post-Civil War America, fleshing out the varied impressions of contemporary newspaper reports with fascinating digressions on the caste of characters Wilde met along the way.”

18 May

Roundup of Reviews for “Edmund Burke: Philosopher, politician, prophet” by Jesse Norman

Over the weekend there have been a number of reviews for this book.

In the Independent, it is reviewed by Jon Cruddas:

Burke (1729-1797) is celebrated as “both the greatest and most underrated political thinker of the past 300 years”. A hybrid of Protestant, Irish and Quaker ideals led him to fight against both Catholic and American oppression, and later in England against corporate power and an over-mighty state, while remaining a fierce opponent of the French Revolution and tyranny.

In The New Statesman, John Grey is reviewing.
Read More

17 May

NewBooksInPhilosophy: Philip Pettit, “On The People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy”

17 May

Swift and the Postboy

Swift and the PostboyFrom the British Library, dated 3 February 1806. A ( probably apocryphal) tale of cheek rewarded!

The picture shows the postboy dressed in Swift’s dressing gown seated in Swift’s chair, as Swift bows to him. The text below the picture says:

A Gentleman employed a Post Boy to carry a present of a Turbot to Dean Swift, who seldom gave the bringer any thing for his Trouble, the Boy knowing this delivered it in an awkward & careless manner which discomposed the Doctor, who thereupon determined to teach him good Manners: “sit down in my Chair” said he “and suppose yourself to be the Dean and I will represent you” – on which the Dean delivered the Turbot and Message with great Politeness, – “well done” said the Boy “you are a very civil Fellow, here is five shillings for you and pray give my Compliments to your Master” – the Dean took the Hint, smil’d at the Joke, and rewarded him with half a Guinea.

 

16 May

If Laws Are Their Enemies, They Will Be Enemies to Laws

Surely the state of Ireland ought for ever to teach parties moderation in their victories. People crushed by law have no hopes but for power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous more or less.

Edmund Burke, Letter to Charles Fox, 8 Oct. 1777 (Corr., II, 387.), twenty-one years before 1798.

15 May

A Giant Among Men: Daniel O’Connell

 Alarmed at the progress of a Giant of their own Creation

Alarmed at the progress of a Giant of their own Creation.
© National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The satirical picture above (1831) from the National Portrait Gallery London depicts Daniel O’Connell approaching the Irish Channel, with Anglesey (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland) and Stanley (Chief Secretary of Ireland) attempting to restrain him by a large document headed PROCLAMATION. O’Connell holds a paper on which is written “Repeal of the Union”, in his other hand a paper bearing “Agitation within the letter of the law”.The implication is that O’Connell “is a monster produced by human machinations” (more details available from the British Museum).

Depicting O’Connell as Frankenstein’s Monster is appropriate, philosophically speaking: the DoIP notes that in his early life O’Connell had been “receptive to the leading radical philosophies of the day, including the revolutionary humanism and egalitarianism of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft” (p. 255). These two philosophers were, of course, the parents of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

O’Connell was for a time a deist after being converted by his reading of Paine’s Age of Reason. He rejected it after a decade as a “miserable philosophy” and returned to Catholicism. He remained radical however, seeking Catholic Emancipation from the Penal Laws (successfully, in 1829), and then repeal of the 1801 Act of Union. He insisted however that “no political change whatsoever is worth the shedding of a single drop of human blood”.

Read More

14 May

Beckett the Nietzschean Hedonist

[Beckett] deftly suppressed his philosophical reading in public statements. We don’t know why. According to David Addyman and Matthew Feldman between 1930 and 1938 he wrote 266 Folios of five hundred sides of variously typed and handwritten recto and verso notebook pages on philosophy taken from four sources. […] For this reason it is not unlikely that Beckett was not always sketching a generalized philosophical theme but had a specific one in mind.

Thomas Dilworth and Christopher Langlois think so. They propose that when Hamm remembers visiting a ‘madman’ in some anomalous visit, a recollection occurring halfway through ‘Endgame’ that draws attention to both memory and its defaults as well as the strategic location of the occurrence in the text as a whole, the ‘madman’ is to be identified as Nietzsche. […]

They conclude that, as with allusions to Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ in the characters Pozzo and Lucky of ‘Godot’, Beckett ‘… is repeating the strategy of referring through dramatized imagery to a famous philosophical text in order to emphasise a pervasive theme in the play’. Jean-Michel Rabaté notes that Beckett’s relationship to philosophy is purposively playful. At times it works as shorthand, a gesture towards some idea that may or may not be a central concern, at other times it illustrates some more general feature, such as the structure of dramatic reality in the use of the sorites found also in ‘Endgame’.

Was Beckett a philosopher? (He is not in The IP Bible). Richard Marshall in 3:AM Magazine outlines parallels between Nietzsche and Beckett. In this extract he argues that Beckett systematically uses philosophy in his work.

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.