web analytics
12 Apr

The High Priest of Satire

Keeping an eye out for a more prosperous living, he began work on the satire A Tale of a Tub, in which he poured contempt on the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the practice of selling worthless pardons. […] In Swift’s opinion, the Puritans were little better — they destroyed sacred statues, and were “mad with spleen, and spite, and contradiction”. Many people believed that Swift was attacking Christianity, rather than religious abuses.

[…] Eventually, in April, 1713, he was offered the deanery of St Patrick’s in Dublin, which was in the gift of his friend, the Duke of Ormonde. Commenting on Swift’s promotion, William King, Archbishop of Dublin, said: “A dean could do less mischief than a bishop.”

[…] Dubliners coldly received Swift on the day of his installation, in June 1713. They shouted abuse in the street and posted notes on the cathedral door, taunting him for his criticism of the Church: “I was horribly melancholy while they were installing me, but it begins to wear off, and change to dullness.”

Jonathan Swift was offered the deanery of St Patricks 300 years ago today. It wasn’t his first choice. Neither was he popular at his installation – a situation that changed radically after the Drapier Letters.

From The Irish Examiner, The Reluctant Irishman who became the High Priest of Satire

12 Apr

The first mention of the Irish in the annals of philosophy

A 17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagius Wikimedia, Public Domain

A 17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagius
Wikimedia, Public Domain

This from Vox Hiberionacum, in a post outlining the bad opinion the classical world had of the Irish:

Perhaps the most appropriate example is that of St. Jerome. Writing against an apparently British opponent Pelagius in the early fifth century, he found it most suitable to insult him using scotti subtext; stolidissimus et scotorum pultibus proagravatus, ‘most stupid and heavily weighed down/pregnant with Irish porridge‘ (Jerome CCL 74 Praef. in Jerem., Lib. I and III). Not only was he engaging in the late antiquity equivalent of calling him fat and stupid (‘Yes, Pelagius, your bum DOES look big in that…’) he also found room for a double insult by labelling the bodily excess as tainted with Irish origins/characteristics.

Pelagius had been acclaimed for his piety and learning, but fell foul of Jerome, Augustine and others while opposing the idea of predestination. They understood him as saying that divine aid was not required to perform good works, that human reason was capable of providing implicit knowledge of God and as denying original sin. For Pelagius, sin was a matter of custom and habit rather than an inherent part of fallen human nature. Pelagius was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage.
Read More

11 Apr

Berkeley: Irish archetype?

Philosophical Lecture

Philosophical Lecturer (1829) – detail
© Trustees of the British Museum

This section from a satirical print from 1829 is held in the British Museum, who describe it as follows:

The lecturer, wearing breeches and top-boots, stands on the edge of his platform gesticulating to an audience of men and women who register amusement, horror, or stupidity: ‘It’s all a farce! I tell you it’s all a farce—there are no clouds, no mountains, no trees, no water—I’ve proved it, it’s nothing, depend on it—nothing—bona fide nothing’. Behind him is a terrestrial globe on a table, and on the wall a paper: ‘Bishop Berkley’.

Philosophical Lecturer © Trustees of the British Museum

This print is one of four vignettes. Another is called “Irish Character”, the third, called ‘March of Intellect’, features an Irish accent (being corrected) and the fourth is a picnic where all have brought legs of mutton. It seems plausible that the set is a set of satires of the Irish.

This is interesting in light of the discussion about Irishness in Richard Kearney’s “Post-Nationalist Ireland”. Kearney reports a claim that Berkeley can’t be Irish since he is included in books as an English philosopher. (That, despite Berkeley’s famous use of “we Irish” in his writing.) It certainly appears that eighty years after his death, Berkeley wasn’t English yet…

10 Apr

Johannes Scottus Erigena

Searching for material on John Scotus Eriugena, I was surprised to learn Pope Benedict XVI had made an address about him on 10th June 2009. It’s a solid summary in 2 minutes; the text is available for those who prefer it.

Today I would like to speak of a noteworthy thinker of the Christian West: John Scotus Erigena, whose origins are nonetheless obscure. He certainly came from Ireland, where he was born at the beginning of the ninth century, but we do not know when he left his Island to cross the Channel and thus fully enter that cultural world which was coming into being around the Carolingians, and in particular around Charles the Bald, in ninth-century France. Just as we are not certain of the date of his birth, likewise we do not know the year of his death but, according to the experts, it must have been in about the year 870.

09 Apr

Iris Murdoch on the Good, God and religion

Murdoch’s negative view of prevailing moral discourse may thus be summed up in four points:

1. The Utilitarian definition of moral goodness is inadequate, even as qualified by J.S. Mill or by Richard Hare (Antonaccio 1996, 84-95), because of lack of substance in that conception of the Good. This inadequacy was only partly remedied by G.E. Moore’s indefinability condition.

2. Murdoch alleged that a natural consequence of ‘Oxford philosophers’ not recognising the Good as real was an undue emphasis on ‘ordinary language’ analysis or on ‘language games’ played within the court rules of a Kantian morally autonomous will or freedom of choice.

3. She considered Gilbert Ryle’s (1949} behaviourist picture of the mind unreal and unhelpful in understanding or advancing moral life.

4. ‘Oxford philosophy’ had failed to develop a defensible theory of moral motivation; she asked: if the moral quality of an action depended on choice, should not what prepares a person to make that choice be important? (1970, 53). For Murdoch it was the quality of consciousness (Vision) that does and should determine the choice. A discriminating Vision of the Good is achieved by attending.

From Joseph Malikail, “Iris Murdoch on the Good, God and Religion”, Minerva, Vol 4 (online).

09 Apr

New Avatar

As you can see the avatar has been changed. The new image is of a salmon leaping so that it grasps its own tail.
The salmon was a symbol of wisdom and knowledge in Irish myth. The Fiannaidheacht (Fenian cycle of stories) include a tale where Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicised to Finn McCool) was set by his master, the druid Finnegas to catch the salmon of knowledge who lived in a pool on the Boyne. Whoever ate the salmon would gain all the world’s knowledge. Finn caught the fish and was set to cook it for his master. However Finn burned his thumb on the fish and instinctively put the thumb into his mouth, swallowing a tiny piece of fish, and gaining the knowledge.
The image is based on a drawing in a manuscript (Royal MS 13 B VIII, c. 1196-1223) in the British Library. The manuscript is a copy of Gerald of Wales’ Topography of Ireland (pdf), with other works of his, dedicated to King Henry II. There is a blog post here, including the original image of a salmon leaping.

08 Apr

Francis Hutcheson’s ill-fated Sermon

Ulster Presbyterianism, at this time, was embroiled in controversy. Believers who were reluctant to subscribe to the ‘man-made’ doctrinal formulations of the Westminster Confession of Faith were clashing with those for whom the Confession embraced all that was sound and crucial in Reformed theology. These ‘Non-subscribing’ presbyterians were to become known as ‘New Light’ believers. They generally put less stress on the ‘biblical’ dogma of ‘sinful human nature’ and more emphasis on the broad human imperative to lead a good and charitable life. Into this theological row stepped the young Francis Hutcheson, fresh from Glasgow. We know that he deputised, one wet and cold Sunday, for his father in the Armagh church. (Mr Hutcheson senior, a sufferer from arthritis, did not wish to risk a soaking) The rain cleared and the father decided to risk a short walk in the direction of the meeting house in order to meet with his son on his return journey. However he met up, first of all, with one gloomy-looking member of the congregation, who said to him….

Your silly loon, Frank, has fashed a’ the congregation wi’ his idle cackle, for he has been babbling this ‘oor about the good and benevolent God, and that the souls o’ the heathen
themsel’s will gang to heaven, if they follow the licht o’ their ain consciences. Not a word does the daft boy ken nor say aboot the gude auld comfortable doctrines o’ election, reprobation, original sin and faith…

An early ill-fated sermon of Francis Hutcheson.

Excerpt from an article on the life of Francis Hutcheson, written by Philip Orr, a local historian and expert on Francis Hutcheson. It was published in the Down Survey in the year 2000 by the Down County Museum

07 Apr

philosophy bites: Philip Pettit on Consequentialism

07 Apr

Richard FitzRalph: Law and Dominion

Born in Dundalk around 1300 to an Anglo-Norman family, Richard FitzRalph was educated in Oxford and became chancellor of the University in 1332. His tenure was turbulent and lasted only two years, directly leading to his first visit to Avignon. His contribution to debates there on the beatific vision made him a prominent figure in the papal court. A successful ecclesiastical career both in England and in Ireland followed.

He became archbishop of Armagh in 1347. He was known for great preaching ability and care of his flock. His sermons that survive show keen awareness of social tensions and economic problems. His major focus was on two issues: the war (overt and covert) between the English and Irish elements, and the general prevalence of theft and dishonesty. He denounced the tendency to view theft against “the other side” as a minor issue and defended the cause of the weak (Walsh, p. 258):

[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.

Read More

06 Apr

Book: Berkeley and Irish Philosophy

image

Contents from Bloomsbury Publishing

Note on the Text

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Part I: Berkeley’s Philosophy

1. George Berkeley

2. On Missing the Wrong Target

Part II: The Golden Age of Irish Philosophy

3. Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment in Irish Philosophy

4.The Culmination and Causation of Irish Philosophy

5.Frances Hutcheson on Berkeley and the Molyneux Problem

6.The Impact of Irish Philosophy on the American Enlightenment

7. Irish Ideology and Philosophy

Part III: New Berkeley Letters and Berkeleiana

8. An Early Essay concerning Berkeley’s Immaterialism

9. Mrs Berkeley’s Annotations in An Account of the Life of Berkeley (1776)

10. Some New Bermuda Berkeleiana

11. The Good Bishop: New Letters

12. Becket and Berkeley

Index

Part 2 of this book was the one that piqued my interest in Irish Enlightenment philosophy. In these essays, Berman looks at the philosophical background Berkeley came from, including Toland and the reactions to him. He discusses the link between Berkeley and Francis Hutcheson in relation to their answers to the Molyneux problem. He also looks at the impact of golden age Irish philosophy on eighteenth-century American philosophy.

The other sections form a wide-ranging look at the achievements of George Berkeley and its broad scope.