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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.
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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

14 Apr

Pettit: Two Extreme Responses to Financial Crisis

There are two extreme responses that the financial crisis and its aftermath have provoked. One is to say that all will be well if our governments stop trying to anticipate and deflect the movements of the tiger by propping up and bailing out the bodies that they judge too big to fail. This approach, exemplified in the stance of the Tea Party in the United States, amounts to pre‐emptive surrender in face of the profit‐seeking ventures of credit and capital. It gives government the task of law and order and calls for the abdication of the state in the sphere of production, commerce and employment.

This first response would downsize and marginalize government, letting the market rule unimpeded in the financial and material economy. The second radical response would recommend the very opposite. It would support a rejection of dependence on the sort of beast that the international financial system constitutes. Where the first approach would give the tiger free range, this would simply kill the animal. Those attracted to the response complain that that so long as the tiger survives, we all live at its mercy. They recommend that we should reject dependency on impersonal market forces and reclaim our status as a democratic people, our standing as rulers of our individual and collective lives.

Because they are simple, these two responses have a natural attraction at a time of extreme crisis. It is comforting to think that all will be well if we can only liberate the power of the market or if we can only re‐assert our will as a people. But because the responses are simplistic, we should back away from each.

Philip Pettit (2011) “Republican Reflections on the 15-M Movement“, Books and Ideas.net.

13 Apr

A connection to Swift: Handel’s Messiah

Handels Messiah was first performed in Dublin on 13th April, 1742. The video above shows the Messiah being performed as close to the original spot as possible in 2012, 270 years later (and the 21st time the recreation had been done). All that remains of the original location is the white arch on the right that can be seen in the background. (It’s next door to the George Frederic Handel Hotel, if you are looking for the spot.) It was a performance that received mixed reactions from Irish philosophers.

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