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25 Oct

John Todhunter’s Theory of the Beautiful

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In Todhunter’s Theory of the Beautiful (1872), beauty is infinite loveliness, which we apprehend both by reason and by the enthusiasm of love. The recognition of beauty as being such depends on taste; there can be no criterion for it. The only approach to a definition is found in culture. (What culture is, is not defined.) Intrinsically, art that which affects us through lines, colours, sounds, or words is not the product of blind forces, but of reasonable ones, working, with mutual helpfulness, towards a reasonable aim. Beauty is the reconciliation of contradictions.

From What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Aylmer Maude, New York : Funk & Wagnalls (1904), p. 35. (archive.org).
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08 Oct

Defending Logic

Monument in the west aisle of the south transept dedicated to Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin.
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Those who have spoken of Induction or of Example, as a distinct kind of Argument in a Logical point of view, have fallen into the common error of confounding Logical with Rhetorical distinctions, and have wandered from their subject as much as a writer on the orders of Architecture would do who should introduce the distinction between buildings of brick and of marble

In 1826 Richard Whately, future Archbishop of Dublin, published his Elements of Logic. Soon after its publication, the great wave of 19th century logical works began, from writers such as George Boole, Augustus De Morgan, Charles Sanders Peirce and Bernard Bolzano. While Whately’s work contained none of the innovations of these later works, it paved the way for them1
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07 Oct

His Native Potatoes

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NPG D12313; Edmund Burke ('Cincinnatus in retirement') by James Gillray, published by  Elizabeth d'Achery

by James Gillray, published by Elizabeth d’Achery, hand-coloured etching, published 23 August 1782
© National Portrait Gallery, London

For National Potato Day, a satirical portrait of Edmund Burke eating potatoes. The caption reads “Cincinnatus in retirement falsely supposed to represent Jesuit Padre driven back to his native potatoes. See Romanish Commonwealth.”
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24 Sep

Molyneux’s Treatise of Dioptrics

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molyneux-dioptricks

molyneux-dioptricks-sig

William Molyneux’s Treatise of Dioptrics, 1692. This copy was given to Narcissus Marsh by Molyneux himself (as evidenced by Molyneux’s inscription, see left.) This 300 page book was the first English language book about optics. (For more on the Dioptrics of William Molyneux and his son, see “When an Eye is armed with a Telescope: The Dioptrics of William and Samuel Molyneux.” by Peter Abrahams.)

Among the other copies that Molyneux gave away was one sent to John Locke, which triggered a correspondence and a friendship that lasted until Molyneux’s death in 1698.

Source of images: Marsh’s Library on Facebook (Creative Commons).

04 Sep

Descartes vs Toland

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Toland also argues that there is no benefit in making a distinction between what is inconsistent with reason and what merely appears to be inconsistent with reason, and then accepting that we may be required by divine revelation to believe what appears to be irrational. Toland’s answer to this is remarkably similar to Descartes’s: if we relax the criterion of what is credible to admit propositions that at least appear to be irrational, then there is no limit to what we may be invited or required to believe. […]

However in contrast to Descartes, Toland seems to establish reason not only as a criterion of what we can believe, but also as a criterion of what is possible for God.

Desmond M. Clarke (1997)”Toland on Faith and Reason” in Philip McGuinness, Alan Harrison and Richard Kearney (eds) John Toland’s Christianity not Mysterious: Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays, Dublin: Lilliput Press, pp. 293-301.
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01 Sep

Steele’s Crisis

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The debate between The Crisis and The Public Spirit of the Whigs exemplifies not only Swift’s personal animosity toward Steele, but, at a more profound level, the basic disagreement between Steele and his Tory antagonists about the meaning of 1688. For Steele, the authority of the monarch derived from the consent of the governed, and the people, acting jointly, had the right to replace the monarch when he or she seriously violated their safety or even interests. The difficulty of replacing the monarch acted as a restraint on civic disorder; the possibility of such replacement acted as a deterrent to monarchical excess. But for Tories no such right was structured into or implied by the constitution. The authority of the Crown derived from Divine approval as providentially manifested in history. If extraordinary circumstances required a violent intervention in order to ensure the safety of the nation (and especially of the Church), the revolution might be a lesser evil, but it did not flow from the inherent rights of citizens. For Steele, revolution principles were an important protection of civic order,; for Tories, Steele’s argument undermined the substance and continuity of monarchical rule and opened the way to radical excesses.

From Charles A. Knight (2009) A Political Biography of Richard Steele, London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. 135-6.

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08 Aug

Francis Hutcheson’s Schooldays

An 18th century school interior. Rows of boys sit, each with a book. To the left the teacher sits at a desk correcting the work on one boy. To the right, two others are writing. Two small children are seated on the ground.
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At Killyleagh during last year’s Francis Hutcheson event, someone asked what the school Francis Hutcheson attended there would have been like. This is an expanded version of the answer given then.

In Francis Hutcheson’s day education was officially provided at (Church of Ireland) parish level, with higher level diocesan schools and Royal schools (grammar schools) in each diocese. However in reality many parishes and dioceses had no schools so there were many schoolmasters and schoolmistresses running private schools for pay1. There were also schools providing elementary education associated with other churches.

From the age of eight, Francis Hutcheson attended the school associated with his grandfather’s church. It was run by John Hamilton in a disused meeting house near Saintfield, probably in very basic conditions (a later school in the area had a dirt floor and no ceiling). In addition to the elementary education provided, it is likely that Hutcheson’s grandfather Alexander Hutcheson tutored the more advanced students 2.
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17 Jul

Was It For This?

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“It may seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for”, an editorial in the paper said the day the Troika came to Dublin, under the headline “Was it for this?”1. Why does this line from Yeats’ poem “September 1913”2 still resonate so much?

For many it is because the Ireland that the 1916 Rising aimed to achieve does not exist. Yeats’ dissatisfaction is shared with us. This feeling is not a new thing. In 1922, George Russell wrote in Studies that3:

the Irish Revolution, which began in Easter Week, has also triumphed solely in externals. Our spiritual, cultural, and intellectual life has not changed for the better. If anything, it has retrograded.

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