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15 Oct

Sailing to Utopia: Oscar Wilde on Altruism and Anarchism

Gustave Dore. Dudley street, seven dials. Busy street scene with sets of shops which can be seen on the right. The shops are selling shoes which are lining up on the floor around the opening from under the ground. Children and their mothers are in front of them. This image was first published in 'London, a Pilgrimage' 1872, on p.158.

Seven Dials, by Gustav Dore (1872) Wikimedia, Public Domain

In Fortune Linsey McGoey asks Do today’s philanthropists hurt more than they help?. The article quotes Oscar Wilde:

In his essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Oscar Wilde berated the tendency of benefactors to use their charity as a bulwark against redistributive demands.

“The best among the poor,” Wilde wrote, “are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so … Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.”

Wilde’s essay covers much more ground than this, however, ranging from the purpose of living, the effects of contemporary capitalism, the possible results of mechanisation and the question McGoey cites as one of the biggest questions facing 19th-century philanthropy, the ironic possibility that “growing charity simply exacerbated economic inequality by thwarting demands for better wages and the right to unionize.”

To that question, Oscar Wilde gives an emphatic yes. Many people are truly concerned with poverty and are going as far as spoiling their lives in an attempt to relieve it. “But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.” Just as slave owners who were kind made slavery seem less horrible and therefore encouraged it to persist, altruists perpetuate the system that creates poverty.
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13 Aug

Truth above all things: G. G. Stokes

Sir George Gabriel Stokes, 1st Bt by George William De Saulles bronze medallion, 1899 NPG 2758 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir George Gabriel Stokes, 1st Bt
by George William De Saulles
bronze medallion, 1899 NPG 2758
© National Portrait Gallery, London

George Gabriel Stokes is one of three great mathematicians associated with Ireland in the 19th century. If Boole translated classical logic into algebra, while Rowan Hamilton used metaphysics as an inspiration for mathematics, Stokes took a third path. His mathematics was inspired by real life problems. As Lord Kelvin wrote in Stokes’ obituary, (memoirs, p. 317)

In pure mathematics he was recognised as a fruitful worker by the whole scientific world. But with Stokes, mathematics was the servant and assistant, not the master. His guiding star was natural philosophy. Sound, light, radiant heat, chemistry, were his fields of labour

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05 Jun

The Cause of Ireland is the Cause of Labour: James Connolly

James Connolly Statue, Liberty Hall, Dublin (c) William Murphy/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

James Connolly Statue, Liberty Hall, Dublin
(c) William Murphy/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh to Irish immigrant parents on 5th June 1868. Joining the British Army at 14, he first set foot in Ireland as a member of the Royal Scots Regiment, stationed first in Cork and then in Dublin. When his regiment returned to England in 1889 he deserted and returned to Scotland where in 1890 he married Lillie Reynolds, who he had met in Dublin. He became involved with left-wing politics in Scotland, moving to Dublin in 1896 to take up a job as paid organiser of the Dublin Socialist Club. He disbanded the Club and reorganised it as the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He founded the radical newspaper Worker’s Republic in 1888. An extended lecture tour in the US starting 1902 saw him become involved with the US Socialist Party and the “Wobblies” (Industrial Workers of the World). He returned to Dublin in 1910, becoming national organiser for the Socialist Party of Ireland, and moved to Belfast to organise the newly founded Irish Transport and General Workers Union, ITGWU1.
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10 Apr

Mysticism and Better Business: George William Russell (AE)

St. John Ervine’s play Changing Winds (1917) includes the following line: ‘Was there any one on earth less like the typical Ulsterman than George Russell, who preached mysticism and better business?” Russell’s story seems a radical divide between two aspects: the ‘strayed angel’ (as W. B. Yeats’ sisters nicknamed him): artist, poet, spiritualist, visionary and the practical man: agricultural economist, organiser of the Irish co-operative movement, journalist and newspaper editor.

Born on 10th April 1867 at William Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh, Russell lived there until 1878 when the whole family moved to Dublin. Russell spent every second summer in Armagh and on a visit in 1883 began to experience supernatural visions which continued into adult life, affecting both his art and his sense of self. His artistic talents had been clear from a young age and he took classes at the Metropolitan School of Art where he came to know the poet William Butler Yeats around 1883. Yeats wrote a pen portrait of him about this time.
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17 Mar

Patrick and a question of identity

Statue of St Patrick overlooking green fields and a rainbow

Image: starbeard /Flickr (CC BY)

Last year Vox Hiberionacum published two posts on the historical Patrick and the voicing of early Irish identity: one relating to classical and early medieval terms used by outsiders and a sequel on terms used in Patrick’s own writings. In brief, Patrick used the term Scotti, which had with negative connotations, but mainly to refer to the pagan Irish. The converts he referred to as Irish/Hibernae, including in the famous account of his dream where ‘the voice of the (not yet converted) Irish’ calls on him to return to Ireland, and in contexts referring to existing converts. Vox Hiberionacum points out the complexity of identity involved in both terms – the people referred to in both were of multiple backgrounds, classes and tribes. Some were not even born in Ireland. In his Letter to Coroticus protesting the killing and enslavement of Irish converts to Christianity by a British chieftain, Patrick writes

Indignum est illis Hiberionaci sumus
‘For them, it is a disgrace/shameful that we are from Ireland‘. 

Whether this is a slip or a rhetorical device, it is the first insular expression of an Irish ‘we’, and it includes not only the Irish born in Ireland but Patrick himself.

This complexity inherent in the term “Irish” brought to mind two of Ireland’s greatest philosophers. Johannes Scotus Eriugena adopted two names denoting his Irishness, plausibly because even by his time being an Irishman (Scotus) did not automatically mean born in Ireland (Eriugena). George Berkeley in several places in his Philosophical Commentaries writes, “we Irish” (“we Irish do not hold with this”, “We Irish think otherwise”). Yet he is often claimed as English. Both philosophers are enmeshed in the complexities of Irish identity.
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01 Aug

William Larminie: From Folklore to Philosophy

Humanities in the West_DrTomDuddy from School of Humanities on Vimeo.

Part of the “Humanities in the West” series of lectures.
Dr Thomas Duddy presents “From Folklore to Philosophy: The Life and Work of William Larminie of Castlebar” (video lecture, 45 minutes)

William Larminie was a poet and folklorist, who was born in Castlebar on 1st August 1849. He graduated from Trinity with a degree in classics and went to work in the India Office of the English civil service in London. He threw up his post in the early 1890s and moved to Bray. He published a volume of folklore and volumes of poetry which displayed his interest in Irish landscape and mythology.

His primary philosophical interest was in Eriugena, who Larminie described in one article as the “Irish Plato”. As well as writing articles, Laraminie translated the bulk of Eriugena’s text from Latin into English, leaving out the sections he thought would be of little interest to the modern reader.

Larminie died in Bray, Co. Wicklow on 19th January, 1900.

15 Jun

In Memoriam: Thomas Duddy

Thomas Duddy, philosopher, teacher and poet, died on this day last year (15th June, 2012), aged 62.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that Dr Tom Duddy is something of a patron saint of this site. His Dictionary of Irish Philosophers (2004) is used both for selection and information purposes. Within its pages are many forgotten thinkers, some deservedly, some rewarding a second look. His History of Irish Thought(2002), described as “strikingly original and sorely needed” by Terry Eagleton, is a wonderful survey of Irish thought and thinkers from the 7th to the 20th century. He also edited two important anthologies of Irish writing on philosophical questions, Irish Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (2002) and The Irish Response to Darwinism (2003).

Born in Ramolin near Shrule, Co Mayo, he studied English and philosophy in University College Galway (now National University of Ireland, Galway). His graduate studies in philosophy focused on philosophy of mind, publishing Mind, Self and Interiority, “a critique of the indiscriminate anti-Cartesianism of contemporary philosophy of mind” in 1995. As well as his work in Irish philosophy, he also wrote on the question of morality and the environment, and on the visual arts. He was senior lecturer in the department of philosophy at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
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24 May

Book : A History of Irish Thought

HistoryIrishThought

Description and contents (from Routledge)

By Thomas Duddy.

The first complete introduction to the subject ever published, A History of Irish Thought presents an inclusive survey of Irish thought and the history of Irish ideas against the backdrop of current political and social change in Ireland.

Contents

Preface Acknowledgements

1 Interpreting Marvels: The Irish Augustine

2 The Philosophy of Creation: John Scottus Eriugena
Eriugena, Peter of Ireland, Richard Fitzralph

3 Nature Observed: Robert Boyle, William Molyneux, and the New Learning
Robert Boyle, William Molyneux, Michael Moore

4 John Toland and the Ascendancy of Reason
    John Toland, Peter Browne, Edward Synge, Philip Skelton, William King, Robert Clayton

5 Wonderfully Mending the World: George Berkeley and Jonathan Swift
    George Berkeley, Jonathan Swift

6 Against the Selfish Philosophers: Francis Hutcheson, Edmund Burke, and James Usher
Francis Hutcheson, Edmund Burke, James Usher

7 Peripheral Visions (1): Irish Thought in the Nineteenth Century
Daniel O’Connell, George Ensor, William Thompson, Anna Doyle Wheeler, Henry MacCormac

8 Peripheral Visions (2): Irish Thought in the Nineteenth Century
John Elliot Cairnes, John Tyndall, Gerald Molloy, J.J. Murphy, G.G. Stokes, Benjamin Kidd, Frances Power Cobbe, William Rowan Hamilton, Oscar Wilde

9 Between Extremities: Irish Thought in the Twentieth Century
W.B. Yeats, J.O. Wisdom, M. O’C. Drury, Iris Murdoch, William Desmond, Philip Pettit

The book covers a wide range of philosophers and thinkers, many of whom have been largely forgotten. Clearly written and endlessly fascinating.

13 May

Book: Dictionary of Irish Philosophers

Dictionary of Irish Philosophers

About (via Bloomsbury Publishing)

Since 1999 Thoemmes Press (now Thoemmes Continuum) has been engaged in a large-scale programme of biographical dictionaries of philosophy and related subjects. This volume on Irish philosophers follows the standard format of arranging entries alphabetically by thinker.
It includes two forms of entry: (1) entries reproduced from previous editions of Thoemmes encyclopedias of British philosophy and (2) wholly new entries on early (renaissance-period) and  modern (20th century) philosophers, together with some new entries on the intervening centuries.

My new bible! The hardback is going for £175, but I got a copy of the paperback secondhand for $14 including shipping (as of May 2013).

The book includes an introductory overview which summarises the history of Irish philosophy from the Irish Augustine up to the 21st century. It also explains the logic behind the inclusions. The idea for the dictionary in the first place stemmed from the difficulty surrounding the Irish entries in the British dictionaries. Thomas Duddy outlines the debate that went on regarding this Irish Dictionary, in which differing definitions of “Irish” clashed, he feeling birth in Ireland was a necessary criterion, another consulting editor M. A. Stewart feeling birth in Ireland was neither necessary (what of those born abroad who had their career in Ireland?) nor sufficient (someone born in Ireland but who had no connection thereafter). Thus the selection of entries involved compromise and excluded several philosophers with more tenuous connections.

 As with the Thoemmes Encyclopedias an inclusive definition of philosopher, including writers on philosophical subjects whose contribution was small, plus celebrated figures from other domains such as literature, science or mathematics, who had made philosophical contributions.

There are entries on “over 180 philosophers”, with no entries on any living person. The selection includes all the well-known names, medieval philosophers, forgotten scholastics and academics. Where works by the subject have been published a bibliography is included, along with further reading.

27 Mar

Irish Intellectual Thought

Imperial history is taken as a standard for all national history, as if nations that have been the target of invasion, conquest, and colonisation cannot have histories appropriate to themselves — histories that tell a story of disruption, displacement, and discontinuity. […]
There is, of course, such a thing as Irish intellectual thought but it can’t be characterized in imperially nationalistic terms.

From the Preface of A History of Irish Thought, Thomas Duddy. via @judystout1