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26 Apr

In Our Time: Edmund Burke

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

[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

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

21 Apr

Burke as Don Quixote

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

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

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

16 Apr

philosophy bites: Philip Pettit on Republicanism

16 Apr

Spirit of Swift – spirit of Molyneux

I am now to address a free people. Ages have passed away , and this is the first moment in which you could be distinguished by that appelation. I have spoken on the subject of your liberty so often, that I have nothing to add, and have only to admire by what heaven-directed steps you have proceeded, until the whole faculty of the nation is braced up to the act of her own deliverance. I found Ireland on her knees – I watched over her with an eternal solicitude, and have traced her progress from injuries to arms, and from arms to Liberty. Spirit of Swift – spirit of Molyneaux – your genius has prevailed – Ireland is now a nation – in that new character I hail her; and bowing to her august presence, I say, Esto perpetua.

Printed version of the speech of Henry Grattan, 16th April 1782 in the event of the Irish Parliament gaining legislative independence. (It’s likely the invocation of William Molyneux and Jonathan Swift was not in the original spoken version.) Eighteen years later “Grattan’s Parliament” ended with the Act of Union.

(Biography of Henry Grattan, information on politics and administration in Ireland 1770-1815, via UCC. )

15 Apr

Into the Arms of an Unholy Revolutionism

Burke’s hatred of the French revolutionaries was not, at root, reactionary. He opposed them not so much because he disagreed with their political views, though he certainly did, but because he thought those views spelt the death of political society as such. For Burke, the French revolution was an assault on the very conditions of possibility of political culture, a kind of transcendental error, because in destroying, as he saw it, the institutions of civil society, it did away with the very medium by which political power is tempered and rendered tolerable.

Burke’s conservative colleagues were quick enough to endorse this criticism when it came to France, but hardly when it concerned the miserable colony on their own doorstep. His animus against autocrats was indeed in one sense conservative: he feared that they would breed mass disaffection, and so threaten the status quo. The British, by failing to extend the blessings of the Whig settlement to their Irish colonials, were obtusely driving this traditionalist religious nation into the arms of an unholy revolutionism, just as they did with their American dependents. If Burke did not approve of Irish republicanism, he saw precisely how the British were responsible for creating it.

Terry Eagleton, Saving Burke from the Tories
Magazine article from New Statesman (1996), Vol. 126, No. 4341