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10 Jul

A Certain Sense of Right and Wrong

There is a certain sense of right and wrong placed by nature in the minds of men […] We know by conscience that this moral sense is in us, and it would be vain to try and demonstrate it by argument; it is analogous to the intuitive perception of truth which is the basis of all knowledge, or to the sense of taste by which we distinguish foods; and just as we should have no notion of truth or falsehood if this intuitive sense of truth were taken away, nor any notion of flavours without this sense of taste, so, if this sense of right and wrong; of honourable and shameful, were removed, these words would have no force or meaning. This sense is so natural, so constant and uniform, that it can be stifled by no prejudices and extinguished by no passions; its sacred judgement can be corrupted by no bribes; it lives in the most wicked men, to whom virtue is so pleasing they involuntarily admire their betters.

Abbé Luke Hooke, Religionis naturalis et moralis philosophæ principia, methodo scholastica digesta (Paris, 1752-54), Vol I, pp. 482-3. Quoted in English in R. R. Palmer (2015) Catholics and Unbelievers in 18th Century France, Princeton University Press, pp. 40-1 (originally published 1961).

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01 Jul

Michael Brown on the Centrality of Ulster

The Union of Craic (see embedded tweet below)

This image of the Union of Craic reminded me of Michael Brown’s opening to his political biography of John Toland. 

Inishowen is isolated. A promontory on the northern reaches of the Donegal coast, located on the north-western corner of Ireland it is a remote peninsula which seems removed from the concerns of wider Irish, let alone British politics.

Yet this image is deceptive, for in fact Inishowen is near the very heart of the British Isles. The map of the archipelago, when turned on its side, makes this apparent, for the province of Ulster juts out into the Irish Sea and is nestled between the Argyllshire region of Scotland, the north Welsh region where the island of Anglesey gestures towards County Down, and the Cumbrian coastline of England. This position at the heart of the British Isles has had the unfortunate consequence of making the province the archipelago’s charnel house: when the political structures of governance and representation have become unstable or illegitimate, Ulster has been the central arena of contestation…

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26 Jun

Correcting Lucretius: Dúngal and Carolingian Cosmology

King and Court Astronomer

In January 1417 a man called Poggio Bracciolini pulled a book from a shelf in a German monastic library. The text was De Rerum Natura, a long poem written by the Roman Lucretius in the 1st century BC outlining the tenets of Epicureanism. Much has been written about that event and its effect on the Renaissance, even suggesting it was central in creating modernity1. The story of the text before it was found is less well known.

De Rerum Natura was a poem written in the 1st century BC outlining the tenets of Epicureanism, a philosophical school founded by Epicurus (c. 341-c. 271 BC)2. Epicureanism grew to be one of the major philosophical schools, declining in popularity from the 2nd century on. The oldest manuscripts of the poem that survive are held in the library of Universiteit Leiden: Voss. Lat. F. 30, from the early 9th century nicknamed O and Voss. Lat. Q. 94, nicknamed Q3.

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18 Jun

Robert Boyle, Irish Identity and Science

This year’s 5th Annual Robert Boyle Summer School which runs from June 23 2016 explores ‘Science and Irish Identity’. Organiser Eoin Gill argues that in Ireland, scientific achievements are less celebrated than literary ones. Gill says that1:

It is not unusual for people to talk openly about Yeats and Joyce and their significance in our history and culture. Science has been squeezed out, and some suggest it is because many of our leading scientists were Anglo-Irish and science therefore was seen as an Anglo-Irish pursuit and spurned by the Free State. Others claim that the Catholic Church was wary of science and some even suggest that Catholics themselves leaned more towards superstition than rational inquiry.

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16 Jun

The Veil of the Temple

I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back. Endless, would it be mine, form of my form? Who watches me here? Who ever anywhere will read these written words? Signs on a white field. Somewhere to someone in your flutiest voice. The good bishop of Cloyne took the veil of the temple out of his shovel hat: veil of space with coloured emblems hatched on its field. Hold hard. Coloured on a flat: yes, that’s right. Flat I see, then think distance, near, far, flat I see, east, back. Ah, see now! Falls back suddenly, frozen in stereoscope. Click does the trick.

James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 3: Proteus.

This episode of Ulysses is set at 11am on Sandymount Strand where Stephen sits on the rocks, idling away the hour and a half before he is due to meet Mulligan. While he sits, he reflects on form and substance, echoing the episode in the classical Ulysses, where Menelaus grips Proteus as Proteus changes into many forms.
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07 Jun

Mortal Soul to Immortal

Who doubts but that our Bodies are naturally Mortal? Yet who does therefore believe them actually Mortal after the Resurrection and the General Judgment? And what can hinder but that the same Divine Power which can and shall then Immortalize the Mortal Body, so as to qualifie it for eternal Punishment of which it had not otherwise been capable, may expose mortal Soul to Immortal never ending punishment, as easily as themselves believe it preformed in the Case of the body?

From Henry Dodwell (1706) An Epistolary Discourse, proving from the Scriptures and the First Fathers, that the soul is principle Naturally Mortal, but Immortalized actually by the Pleasure of God to Punish or Reward, by its union with the Divine Baptismal Spirit, wherein is proved that none have the power of giving this Divine Immortalizing Spirit since the Apostles but only the Bishops, p. 18. Quoted in Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth (2001) “The Sleeping Habits of Matter and Spirit: Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins on the Immortality of the Soul” in Past Imperfect, Vol. 9 (online), p. 3.
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27 May

The Wheel’s Annual Lecture 2016: Professor Phillip Pettit, “Neo-liberal and Neo-republican Perspectives”

Talk given at The Wheel’s Annual Lecture (Croke Park, Dublin) on 25th May 2016.

The theme of Prof. Pettit’s lecture was “Neo-liberal and Neo-republican Perspectives”. Neo-liberalism and neo-republicanism each make the ideal of freedom central in their vision of state and society. Neo-liberals argue in an all too familiar fashion that freedom requires an expanding market and a contracting state. But neo-republican thought offers a nice counterpoint to that ideology, casting people in the role of citizens rather than consumers. Drawing on a tradition with a central place in Irish history, it maintains that people can enjoy freedom, even freedom in marketplace relationships, only if their civic status ensures equal protection, empowerment and respect. According to this philosophy, people are free only if they each have standing enough to be able to look one another in the eye without reason for fear or deference.

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24 May

John Toland: the myth-maker of English republican theory

With the support of powerful men he met through Molesworth, Toland published editions of works by republican authors including Edmund Ludlow, Algernon Sidney, John Milton and James Harrington.

Republishing the thought of those associated with regicide was, unsurprisingly, controversial. Toland claimed to be merely laying out these ideas to a free public to be judged. However the truth was more complicated. Collaborating with others to obtain and organise the texts, Toland shaped them to suit the needs of the radical Whigs. His preface to Oceana reiterated Molesworth’s contention that the English government is, under William, “already a commonwealth”. He purged the militant puritanism from Ludlow’s memoirs, silently added original material to the editions of Sidney and Harrington reflecting contemporary concerns, and wrote a life of Milton to shape how the accompanying works were read. He also wrote defending Milton’s denial that Charles the First was a martyr.

Though his editorial work Toland created a narrative spanning the seventeenth century in which virtuous republican heroes battled absolutism, arbitrary government and clerical powerseeking. Toland became the myth-maker of English republican theory.

From Irish Republicanism in the early 18th century: Molesworth, Toland and Hutcheson, a talk given at the “What is a Republic?” conference at Maynooth University, 23rd May 2016 (online at academia.edu)

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17 May

Robert Boyle Summer School, Lismore Co. Waterford, 23rd – 26th June 2016

The Robert Boyle Summer School 2016 (an event aimed at all interested in exploring different aspects of culture) will explore Science and Irish Identity. See details of the programme here on robertboyle.ie. Book tickets via Eventbrite.

From robertboyle.ie:

Ireland’s literary and musical achievements are well acknowledged home and abroad and celebrated in many successful and long established summer schools. The Robert Boyle Summer School was established to explore the place of science in our heritage and culture and the 2016 School will address the theme “Science and Irish Identity”. This theme will resonate with the commemorations of the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme and the school will take place in between these events from 23-26 June. The theme presents the opportunity to explore different Irish Identities not in terms of conflict but in their involvement in and attitudes towards science.

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09 May

Philosophy of Leisure

Leisure, according to the ancients, is the proper state of man. Work is what is necessary for survival and a necessary condition for leisure. It is not an end in itself. Leisure is. It is the end, the goal, of human life.

Cyril Barrett (1989/2016) “Introduction” in Tom Winnifrith and Cyril Barrett (eds) Philosophy of Leisure, Palgrave McMillian, p. 1. (2016 reprint of 1989 original).

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