Boolean Expressions (exhibition), UCC’s Lewis Glucksmann Gallery, opens Friday, 24 July 2015 at 3pm

Mel Bochner, Study for Axion of Associations, 1973 (c) UCC, All Rights Reserved
Mel Bochner, Study for Axion of Associations, 1973
Image courtesy UCC. All rights reserved

Boolean Expressions: Contemporary art and mathematical data, a new exhibition investigating how artists have used logic and technology, at UCC’s Lewis Glucksman Gallery this Friday, July 24. It will be opened at 3pm by Lord David Putman. The exhibition, which runs until 8 November, is accompanied by an extensive programme of curated events, talks, art courses and workshops (see the brochure here.)

What is beauty? Irish philosophers have given many different answers. Berkeley suggested beauty was recognised by judgement and that a thing was “perfect in its kind when it answers the end for which it was made.” (Alciphron, p. 129). For Hutcheson, we have an innate sense that recognises beauty: where “there is Uniformity amidst Variety” (An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, I. II. § III). For Hutcheson, theorems could have beauty (I. III.), an idea that might have appealed to Boole.

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The Tree of Liberty

A stone bearing the image of a tree and the "United Irishmen Catechism"
Monument to the 1798 Rebellion, Maynooth.
(c) Irish Philosophy

What is that in your hand?
It is a branch.
Of what?
Of the tree of liberty.
Where did it first grow?
In America.
Where does it bloom?
In France.
Where did the seeds fall?
In Ireland.

The philosophical background of the French Revolution (up to 1799) was to be found in Montesquieu, Rousseau and Locke. Rousseau and Locke were already popular in Ireland, with the United Irishman Edward Fitzgerald educated along principles laid out by the two philosophers. William Drennan, who first formulated the idea of the United Irishmen, was a great admirer of Rousseau.

In 1789, the month before the Bastille fell, a Whig Club was founded in Dublin, and in the following year in Belfast. These Whig Clubs held commemorations of the Fall of the Bastille in 1791, the same year Thomas Paine wrote his Rights of Man in answer to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, Wolfe Tone published his An argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland and the United Irishmen was founded (chronology, A concise history of Ireland (1909).

There were further commemorations of Bastille Day in 1792, and in France that November Edward Fitzgerald renounced his title. France acted as inspiration for the revolt of 1798, both politically and philosophically, and (Wolfe Tone hoped) as a source of support. Ultimately it ushered in over half a century of civil insurrection in Ireland, Europe and around the world.

A last Irish link – one of the seven prisoners in the Bastille the day it fell was Irish: Chevalier James F.X. Whyte, born in Dublin in 1730.

(Images of the French Revolution here and here)

A public-spirited citizen: William Bruce

William Bruce was born in 1702 in Killyleagh Co. Down and died on the 11th of July, 1755. He was the third and youngest surviving son of the Presbyterian minister Rev James Bruce and Margaret, neé Traill. His two older brothers were Presbyterian ministers, unsurprising in a line where the previous three generations had also been ministers. His first cousin was Francis Hutcheson (son of Margaret’s sister Magdalen). Hutcheson attended the dissenting academy in Killyleagh, which William’s father James was instrumental in setting up. This is probably where the two cousins first met and became close friends.

We next hear of William Bruce in Dublin, in the month of July 1725, entering into partnership with John Smith in his printing business at the sign of the Philosopher’s Head, on Blind Quay (now Lower Exchange St.) Dublin. John’s existing partner, William Smith, was moving to the Netherlands, where he would act as continental book buyer for the firm. The Smiths, both graduates of the University of Glasgow, had already published (as their first imprint) Hutcheson’s Inquiry into…ideas of beauty and virtue (1725). Future editions were published under the imprint of Smiths and W. Bruce as was Hutcheson’s  An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (1728).

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Francis Hutcheson Day, 8th August 2015, Saintfield Co. Down, 11:30am-4pm

On the anniversary of his birth (in 1694 in Saintfield, Co. Down) and death (in 1746), Saintfield Heritage Society will spend a day celebrating Francis Hutcheson, with a tour of his birthplace, where he was educated and talks on his life and thought. Venue: Saintfield 1st Presbyterian Church Hall Time: 11.30 am to 4.00 pm … Read more

Saving Science from Pseudo-facts

Every scientific hypothesis is a transitory and to some extent arbitrary affair. It must never be allowed to solidify into a pseudo-fact. But why not? What harm is done? So it is time we got back to Justinian and the question Macaulay puts into his mouth. ‘What profitable truth has philosophy taught us that we should not equally have known without it? What has it taught us to do which we could not have equally done without it?’

I would like to think that Isidore replied in the true spirit of Socrates. Good sir, you mistake our purpose. We add nothing to the sum total of human cleverness and skill. Our function is otherwise. When the Delphic oracle told our father founder that he was the wisest man in Athens, he understood this to mean that he alone knew how little he understood. That still remains our function in society. To insist that people say only just as much as they really know; that when, as happens in every generation, new advances in knowledge are made, they are not taken to be more important than they really are. “

Quoted from The Danger of Words by Maurice O’Connor Drury. In this section, “Hypotheses and Philosophy”, Drury explores what he thinks the function of philosophy is and how it and science are necessary to each other.