Wittgenstein got me to read aloud to him the opening chapters of Frazer’s Golden Bough. Frazer thinks he can make clear the origin of the rites and ceremonies he describes by regarding them as primitive and erroneous scientific beliefs. […] Now Wittgenstein made it clear to me that on the contrary the people who practised these rites already possessed a considerable scientific achievement: agriculture, metal working, building, etc., etc.; and the ceremonies existed alongside these sober techniques. They were not mistaken beliefs that produced the rites but the need to express something; the ceremonies were a form of language, a form of life. Thus today if we are introduced to someone we shake hands; if we enter a church we take off our hats and speak in a low voice; at Christmas perhaps we decorate a tree. These are expressions of friendliness, reverence, and of celebration.”
Maurice O’Connor Drury in the preface of “The Danger of Words”, on ritual and tradition as a form of life and a language.
Dublin born Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (26 March 1829 – 18 December 1913) is probably best known for his translations of Kant’s ethical works published in 1873 which remained the standard English texts into the 1940s (Duddy, 2004). He had a wide range of scholarly interests, being professor various of Moral Philosophy, Greek and Hebrew in Trinity College Dublin. However his greatest philosophical contribution was made in his early career, where he disputed the theory of vision outlined by (fellow Trinity man) George Berkeley.
The roots of Berkeley’s theory are in Locke. Just before he introduces (William) Molyneaux’s Problem, in his Essay on Human Understanding (IX, 8) Locke states that “When we set before our eyes a round globe of any uniform colour […] it is certain that the idea thereby imprinted on our mind is of a flat circle”. The roundness we think we see, says Locke, is the effect of experience, which differentiates what we see: “…only a plane variously coloured, as is evident in painting.” He does not, however, claim we cannot tell that the sphere is at a distance.
William Molyneaux does claim this, however, in his Dioptrica Nova (1692, 113):
Distance of itself is not to be perceived. For it is a line (or a length) presented to our eye with its end toward us which must therefore be only a point, and that is invisible.
Berkeley expands these ideas in A Essay towards a New Theory of Vision (1709/1732), referenced previously in relation to the Moon Illusion. Berkeley agrees with Molyneaux that distance cannot be seen (II): Continue reading “Small and Far Away: Thomas Kingsmill Abbott”
A five minute documentary on George Boole, creator of Boolean algebra and forefather of the digital age. The memorials mentioned are those in Lincoln where Boole was born. Click here for the Lincoln Boole Foundation, who encourage citizens of Lincoln and the world to celebrate George Boole’s digital legacy -especially in 2014 & 2015, his binary bicentenary.
Mathematician and logician George Boole died 150 years ago today, on 8th December, 1864. Today also marks the start of the year-long schedule of events UCC are running to commemorate Boole, culminating in the bicentenary of his birth on 2nd November 2015 (see GeorgeBoole.com for more).
George Boole was born in Lincoln, the eldest son in a family of modest means. For details of his life as a self-taught mathematician to first professor in UCC (then Queens College Cork) in 1849, where he lived until his death see the detailed biography here.
Boole had a large impact on mathematics, providing the basis for invariant theory, and working on differential and difference equations, and probability. Developments of his work such as set theory and boolean algebra are taught to school children today.
However, of most interest philosophically are The Mathematical Analysis of Logic, and its successor An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, on which are founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities published in 1854. These proposed that ideas expressed in language can be expressed in algebraic form. This combination of philosophical logic and algebra, as DeMorgan said “would not have been believed until it was proved.”
Continue reading “Ones and Zeros: George Boole”
I came across an article, An image from Francis Hutcheson in Gulliver’s Travels, book IV, chapter 5 by Arnd Bohm, in which he points out the similarity between a passage by Swift and a passage by Hutcheson.
In Gulliver’s Travels (book IV, Chapter 5) Gulliver tells the gentle, horse-like Houyhnhnm master about wars among humans, and the death and destruction it involves:
And to set forth the valour of my own dear countrymen, I assured him, “that I had seen them blow up a hundred enemies at once in a siege, and as many in a ship, and beheld the dead bodies drop down in pieces from the clouds, to the great diversion of the spectators.”
The Houyhnhnm is horrified, as we might be well be, at the thought of wholesale death being a “great diversion”. Bohm suggests that the moral indifference shown is emphasised when we realise the likely source of the example Swift is using.
Continue reading “Reciprocal Referencing: Hutcheson and Swift”
C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast on 29th November 1898, and a festival in that city celebrating him is in its second year.
So for the purposes of this, he’s Irish. But is C. S. Lewis a philosopher? A piece in the University of Oxford Practical Ethics blog argues that he is, in C. S Lewis as a moral philosopher:
All decent people believe essentially the same things, he thought. There is, in other words, not just a Universal Moral Grammar, but a Universal Moral Vocabulary. This is an old idea. It’s inherent in the idea and language of natural law. ‘[T]aking the race as a whole’, wrote Lewis, those who referred to the “Law of Nature’ ‘thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right.’ Our moral norms are hardwired. ‘It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong. But they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.’
Readers may see a certain similarity to the ethical theory of another Ulster man, Francis Hutcheson.
Continue reading “C.S. Lewis, Irish philosopher?”
What too many people in Ireland mistake for thoughts are feelings. It is enough to them to vent like or dislike, inherited prejudices or passions, and they think when they have expressed feeling they have given utterance to thought. The nature of our political controversies provoked passion, and passion has become dominant in our politics. Passion truly is a power in humanity, but it should never enter into national policy.
Chapter I, The National Being (1916), by (A.E.) George William Russell.
When, therefore, the Horizontal Moon is said to appear greater than the Meridional Moon; this must be understood, not of a greater Visible Extension, but of a greater Tangible Extension; which, by reason of the more than ordinary Faintness of the Visible Appearance, is suggested to the Mind along with it.
Berkeley on the Moon Illusion in his 1709 An Essay towards a new Theory of Vision. These lines are from section LXXIV. The Moon Illusion is discussed from section LXVII – note in LXXV his mention of the “gross blunders” of Descartes, Hobbes and Gassendi, shown up by Mr Molyneaux (not William but his brother Thomas.) Thomas Molyneaux’s paper in Philosophical Transactions is here.
The podcast series The History of Philosophy without any Gaps has arrived at the early medieval period. The first major philosopher to be covered is Irishman John Scottus Eriugena.
Episode 197: “Charles in Charge: The Carolingian Renaissance” gives an introduction to the growth of learning in France in the years before Eriugena. The focus is on the star of Charlemagne’s court, the philosopher Alcuin of York. The court was also home to many Irish scholars such as Clemens Scotus (teacher, at court before Alcuin), Joseph Scottus (a poet and scholar who probably accompanied Alcuin), Dungal of Bobbio (teacher and astronomer), Dicuil (geographer), Donatus of Fiesole (teacher), Cruindmelus (teacher), and Cadac-Andreas (scholar). This reflects the focus the Carolingian Court had on education and learning, which drew in scholars from all over Europe. It also shows the wide range of learning held by Irish monks.
Continue reading “Eriugena without any gaps”
around the Globe, whinged[…]
“What ish my nation?”
And sensibly, though so much
later, the wandering Bloom
replied, “Ireland,” said Bloom,
“I was born here. Ireland.”
Traditions, Seamus Heaney
Bloom may have been sensible, but his simple statement was not undisputed. A spit on the ground is the response to his reply in Ulysses. MacMorris, the original stage Irishman in Henry V declares “Ish a villain and a bastard and a knave and a rascal”, a admission unsurprising, Heaney suggests, to an English audience with a low opinion of the Irish. Identity is complicated, Irish identity perhaps especially so.
“[T]he histories of dependant, colonized nations are for the most part histories of ‘accidents'” – whether of births at home, ventures abroad, fortunes of war (Duddy, History of Irish Thought, p. xiii). Simple criteria to try and define the products of such a complicated history inevitably exclude – something Joyce was deliberately targetting when he wrote the words of Bloom’s reply. Could Bloom, nonCatholic and nonChristian, be accepted as Irish?
Continue reading “What ish my nation?”