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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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05 May

“What is a Republic?” Maynooth University, 23 May 2016, 11:00 – 19:00

On 23rd May 2016, Maynooth University will host a conference asking “What is a Republic”:

1916 is not merely a nationalist commemoration but a republican one also. The signatories of the 1916 proclamation committed themselves not merely to Irish national sovereignty but to a particular tradition of sovereignty – a republican tradition. Any commemoration of 1916 therefore demands a commitment to a better understanding of what people have tried to communicate by words such as “republic” and “republican” and the extent to which these international and historical invocations can claim meaningful continuity and contemporary relevance. The conference intends to debate the Irish republican proclamation and heritage in a larger international and historical context, investigating the range of aspirations – political, civic, aesthetic, and other – implied by republican definitions. The extent to which these aspirations are misapplied, traduced and betrayed as well as renewed, extended and expanded will form a critical commentary on the experience of 1916 commemoration.

Registration is 11am, the opening plenary (Margaret O’Callaghan) will be at 11.30am, panel papers will be in the afternoon and the closing plenary (Philip Pettit) will be at 6pm.

Registration for the “What is a Republic” day is now open on Eventbrite. A recommended Registration Donation of €10 is suggested for wage earning attendees.

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23 Apr

Shakespeare, aesthetics and morality

So let us start by saying that Shakespeare is the greatest of all artists, and let our aesthetic grow to be the philosophical justification of this judgement. We may note that a similar method can, and in my view should, be used in moral philosophy. That is, if a moral philosophy does not give a satisfactory or sufficiently rich account of what we unphilosophically know to be goodness, then away with it.

Iris Murdoch (1959) “The Sublime and the Good”, Chicago Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 42-55. Quote from p. 42.

For the fourth centenary of  Shakespeare’s death, Iris Murdoch’s judgement of him as the greatest artist of all. Murdoch argues against Tolstoy that both aesthetics and morality have to start from the concrete, not from definitions which determine what is art, or what is good.

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13 Apr

Beckett and Philosophy

The theme of Beckett and philosophy can be approached in yet another way. Besides philosophers influencing Beckett, Beckett has also interested – even mesmerised – contemporary philosophers and critics, from Sartre, Lukacs, and Theodor Adorno, to Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, George Steiner,Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Wolfgang Iser, Slavoj Zizek, and many others. They have all been attracted to Beckett’s relentless vision of the world and our human place in it.They have sought to reflect on Beckett’s meaning from quite divergent points of view, seeking to recruit Beckett to one cause or other: from modernism to postmodernism, from structuralism to deconstruction.

Sartre, himself the author of existential plays such as Huis Clos (1946) saw himself as engaged with his fellow dramatist Beckett in a common cause of producing a drama that ‘decentralised the subject’. The Hungarian Marxist critic George Lukacs saw the Beckett’s work as exemplifying capitalist decadence and abstract bourgeois individualism. The German Jewish philosopher and critical theorist Theodor Adorno, however, strongly disagreed with Lukacs. Endgame in particular had a very powerful impact on Adorno, who saw in Beckett a kind of ‘organised meaninglessness’. For him, Beckett exposes the bankruptcy of philosophy ‘as the dreamlike dross of the experiential world and the poetic process shows itself as worn out.’ Beckett identifies the tedium of spirit of our late age.

Dermot Moran (2006) “Beckett and Philosophy”, in Christopher Murray (ed.), Samuel Beckett – One Hundred Years (Dublin: New Island Press), pp. 93–110. Quote from pp. 100-101.

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13 Apr

O’Connell and Catholic Emancipation Movements in Europe

By the time of his death in 1847 the international reputation of Daniel O’Connell as one of the most influential Catholic leaders of the period was well established. His demands for an end to secular interference in Church affairs and for the Repeal of the Act of Union attracted a great deal of interest. While European governments, such as those in Berlin and Vienna, had watched the development of O’Connell’s mass movements with suspicion, many of their citizens, particularly members of the increasingly politically aware Catholic middle classes, had seized on his example to develop their own organisations to achieve improved civil and religious rights for the Church and its adherents in their own areas. This was especially true in the states of the German Confederation and culminated in the establishment of a geographically extensive organisation based on O’Connell’s Catholic Association.

Geraldine Grogan (1991) “Daniel O’Connell and European Catholic Thought”, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 80, No. 317 (Spring, 1991), pp. 56-64 (JSTOR). Quote from page 56.

Daniel O’Connell played a key role in obtaining Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom, forcing the issue in 1828 (See Encyclopaedia Britannica and UCC: The campaign for Catholic Emancipation, 1823–1829). While Catholics in Ireland had obtained the vote under Grattan’s parliament, the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 (10 Geo. IV, c. 7) gave all Roman Catholics the right to vote (if they fulfilled the other voting criteria) and to sit in Parliament and hold other positions previously barred to them. (The Irish Parliamentary Elections Act, 1829 (10 Geo. IV, c. 8), raised the county freehold franchise from 40 shillings to £10, meaning many Irish Catholics who had had the vote lost it.)

O’Connell’s campaign was followed and supported by the liberal French press, and adopted as a model for other associations in Europe campaigning for political rights for Catholics.

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06 Apr

Belief and the Blind Man

Painting of a line of blind men leading each other

The blind leading the blind. Oil painting after Pieter Bruegel. Wellcome Library, London (CC BY 4.0)

It may sometimes seem to readers of this blog that too many Irish philosophers of the past were far too interested in religion. However an argument that is first outlined in a religious context may have applications elsewhere.

The thesis of John Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious is clearly outlined in its subtitle: “A treatise shewing that there is nothing in the gospel contrary to reason, nor above it: and that no Christian Doctrine can be properly call’d a mystery.” Toland’s position is that “reason is the only Foundation of all Certitude” against the Divines who “gravely tell us, we must adore what we cannot comprehend”1. It is impossible, says Toland, to believe what we cannot understand2:

A man may give his verbal assent to he knows-not-what…but as long as he conceives not what he believes, he cannot sincerely acquiesce in it

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01 Apr

Persistent Hallucination

Descartes was a recitalist, or formulist, of what he took, often mistakenly, to be true knowledge. He himself established nothing new, nor even a system of pursuing knowledge that was novel. You are fond of quoting his Cogito Ergo Sum. Read my works. He stole that. […] Descartes spent far too much time in bed subject to the persistent hallucination that he was thinking. You are not free from a similar disorder.

St Augustine to de Selby, on Descartes.
Flann O’Brien (1964) The Dalkey Archive, chapter 4.

And by the way, what “St Augustine” says is perfectly true.

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