Posted in 1689 & earlier: Medieval and Early Modern Uncategorized

Adomnán and the Law of the Innocent

…raising his holy hand, making the sign of the cross in the air saying to the beast, “do not advance any further; do not seize the man but quickly depart”. Then indeed the beast, at the command of this holy man, speedily flees trembling.

The dramatic passage above is from the Vita Sancti Columbae, the life of Columba, telling of his encounter with a huge beast with large teeth near Loch Ness1 The 7th of December this year is the 1,500th anniversary of his birth, and this year sees a series of events, including an exhibition by the RIA Library on the Cathach (available here). However this post is not about Columba but the writer of the passage above, Adomnán, who created a law which has been described as the “first Geneva Convention”. 

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Siris : a chain of philosophical reflexions and inquiries concerning the virtues of tar water
Posted in George Berkeley

Don’t try this at home: Berkeley and tar-water

For Tom Stoneham, Peter West and Clare Moriarty 

Three hundred and thirty-six years ago today, George Berkeley was born in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny. One year ago today, the first major Covid19 restrictions for Ireland were announced. Living in a time of Covid perhaps gives us a new appreciation of the world in which Berkeley lived. His contemporary Francis Hutcheson died of a fever and three of Berkeley’s four children born in Cloyne where he was bishop predeceased their father.

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Posted in John Toland

The signature of Bruno’s ideas in Toland’s Letters to Serena

Toland hadn’t finished upsetting the cosily-stacked Newtonian-Anglican applecart. In 1696 he had unearthed a copy of Lo Spaccio de la Bestia Trifontane by the Italian Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) [known in English as The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast]. This book—Bruno’s most scathing attack on the Roman Church—had a huge influence on Toland. In it Bruno stated that God is the source of all change in matter which is in constant motion. Bruno also believed that the Sun was one of an infinite number of stars, and that life may exist elsewhere in the Universe. […]
The signature of Bruno’s ideas on motion and matter is evident throughout Toland’s Letters to Serena (1704). In Serena, matter is one, motion is inherent in matter, and no void exists. Toland’s matter is the “source of life itself” Toland’s matter is the source of life itself, whereas Newtonian matter is ‘sluggish, inactive, brute and stupid’. 

Philip McGuinness “‘The Hue and Cry of Heresy’ John Toland, Isaac Newton & the Social Context of Scientists”, History Ireland, Volume 4 (Winter 1996), Issue 4, (online)
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Depiction in a 12th century manuscript of Donatus writing his grammar.
Posted in 1689 & earlier: Medieval and Early Modern

Sedulius Scottus: philosopher poet to princes

There could be no more appropriate Irish philosopher to write about at Easter than Sedulius Scottus, at least according to another Irish philosopher Dr George Sigerson. In 1922 Sigerson’s “The Easter song : being the first epic of Christendom, by Sedulius the first scholar-saint of Ireland” was published, and in the introduction to this partial translation of the  “Paschale Carmen” Sigerson stated that Sedulius who composed it was Irish1 While this was not a pure assumption on Sigerson’s part2, and the same attribution has been made before and since, modern scholars see no reason to assume an Irish origin for this 5th century writer3.

There is no such doubt about Sedulius Scottus, whose very name betrays his origins. (Though because nothing is ever simple, he is sometimes confused with another, slightly earlier Irish Sedulius, who is known only for a commentary on Matthew, and is sometimes called Sedulius Senior to avoid confusion4 (fl. 7th–8th cent.) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography].) 

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Posted in Post 1922: Contemporary

The Philosopher’s Bookclub on Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman”

The Philosopher’s Bookclub on Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, an episode of the Forum for Philosophy podcast featuring Clare MoriartyPaul Fagan and David Papineau. Recorded on Tuesday 25 February 2020 at Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building, LSE.
Stained glass depicting St Patrick preaching to the kings of Ireland
Posted in 1689 & earlier: Medieval and Early Modern Patrick

The Twelve Abuses and Mirrors for Princes

Patrick wrote two texts that we can still read today. The first is his Confessio, giving the story of his life and his mission in Ireland. The other, less well-known text is his Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, in which Patrick roundly condemns their murder and capture of baptised Irish. He repudiates them as countrymen and calls for others to do likewise, and tells them what they can expect as Christians: “Riches, says Scripture, which a person gathers unjustly, will be vomited out of that person’s stomach. The angel of death will drag such a one away, to be crushed by the anger of dragons.”1

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Posted in Francis Hutcheson Triumfeminate

Hutcheson’s Labours Lost?

Th’ internal Senses painted here we see:
They’re born in others, but they live in thee.
O were our Author with thy Converse blest,
Could he behold the Virtues, of thy Breast;
His needless Labours with Contempt he’d view;
And bid the World not read — but copy you!

Constantina Grierson “To the Honourable Mrs. Percival, 
with Hutcheson’s Treatise on Beauty and Order.” Eighteenth Century Poetry Archive

For International Women’s Day, one Irish woman praising another.

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Posted in Iris Murdoch

Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.

Art and morals are…one. Their essence is the same. The essence of both of them is Love. Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.

Iris Murdoch (1959) “The Sublime and the Good” Chicago Review Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 42-55. See page 51.
Posted in William Rowan Hamilton

The discovery of quaternions

But on the 16th day of the same month – which happened to be a Monday, and a Council day of the Royal Irish Academy – I was walking in to attend and preside, and your mother was walking with me, along the Royal Canal…An electric circuit seemed to close; and a spark flashed forth, the herald (as I foresaw, immediately) of many long years to come of definitely directed thought and work, by myself if spared, and at all events on the part of others, if I should even be allowed to live long enough distinctly to communicate the discovery. Nor could I resist the impulse – unphilosophical as it may have been – to cut with a knife on a stone of Brougham Bridge, as we passed it, the fundamental formula with the symbols, ijk; namely,
i2 = j2 = k2 = ijk = -1

Letter dated August 5, 1865 from Sir W. R. Hamilton to Rev. Archibald H. Hamilton.

The classic account of the discover of quaternions. Hamilton also notes in this letter that the Council Books of the Academy record that he had obtained leave to read a paper on quaternions, which reading took place on the 13th November 1843.

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Posted in Maria Edgeworth

Lyric Feature: A Radical Life

A Radical Life from Lyric Feature on RTE Lyric FM

A documentary, presented by Susan Manly, on the life and work of Maria Edgeworth made for the 170th anniversary of her death . For more on the documentary and Maria Edgeworth see this article from RTE.