Posted in 1689 & earlier: Medieval and Early Modern James Ussher John Toland Patrick

Appropriating Patrick: Keating, Ussher, Toland and the Early Irish Church

A statue of St Patrick in an antique shop window (c) david perry/flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A statue of St Patrick in an antique shop window
(c) david perry/flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The very oldest texts in any language written in Ireland that have survived relate to St Patrick. One, the Confessio, outlines his own account of his life. To the modern reader, it may seem sparse. There is no mention of Pascal fires, of shamrock or of snakes.

The tale of St Patrick developed over time, and to fulfil different purposes. Muirchú’s Latin Life of Saint Patrick, compiled around the year 680 which includes tales of wonders, was written to confirm Armagh’s pre-eminent place in the Irish Church. Patrick was said to have arrived in Ireland in 432AD to undermine the earlier Palladius who was documented to have arrived in 431AD. The development of the myth continued into the 15th century, with examples to be found in the Book of Lismore and the Leabhar Breac. This tradition emphasised St Patrick as a wonder worker and a prophet. At the same time secular writings such as the 12th century Acallamh na Senorach include stories of Patrick meeting the Fianna.

The Norman invasion saw a parallel tradition emerge, starting with Gerald of Wales’ outline of Patrick’s life in Topographia Hibernica, which included a debunking of the legend of the banaishment of the snakes. Jocelin of Furness’ account, based on resources some of which are now lost, was written as part of the Anglo-Norman attempt to appropriate the saint. Written at the same time as the shrine in Downpatrick was established, it portrays Patrick as a miracle-working prophet, whose mother was related to St. Martin of Tours.
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Posted in Events George Berkeley

Lecture Series, David Berman on Berkeley and neo-Berkeleian thought. 23rd, 25th, 26th March, 10am-12noon, Trinity College Dublin

This three part lecture series on The Essential Berkeley and Neo-Berkeleian Idealism/Empiricism will be given by Prof. David Berman as part of Trinity College’s Berkeley Initiative.

All three lectures will be held in the Neill Hoey Lecture Theatre, Trinity Long Room Hub Building, Fellows’s Square, Trinity College Dublin.

Monday 23 March, 10am–12pm
Wednesday 25 March, 10am–12pm
Thursday 26 March, 10am–12pm.

The lectures are free, but registration is required on Eventbrite.

The Lecture Series Abstract from EventBrite:
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Posted in Elizabeth Hamilton Maria Edgeworth

Am I not a woman and a sister?

Am I Not a Woman And A Sister?
A variant of the Wedgewood designed seal of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade
Wikimedia – Public Domain

The eighteenth century had seen changes in the position of women, not all positive. While arguments for rights for all citizens clearly offered an opening for women to claim these rights, the tendency to assign women to a separate domestic sphere counteracted this. Even in charity work, where women were long pivotal, the growth of institutions tended to push female control to the sidelines. The setting up of institutions for women by women tended to counteract this trend, and women also continued to operate within the boundaries society had set for them.

The campaign against the slave trade was one philanthropic cause that appealed to women, and for which they could directly act. In January 1792 William Drennan in Dublin wrote to Samuel McTierin Belfast: “The Quakers here are forming associations against sugar, and I should much like to see family resolutions on the subject drawn up and subscribed by some of the matrons of Belfast most famous for conserves and preserves.” If a boycott of West Indian sugar was to be effective, it needed the support of those in charge of food production: the women.
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Posted in Eriugena

Damned Scotus Eriugena

Eriugina was not understood in his time
“which explains, perhaps, the delay in condemning him”
And they went looking for Manicheans
And found, so far as I can make out, no Manicheans
So they dug for, and damned Scotus Eriugina
“Authority comes from right reason,
never the other way on”
Hence the delay in condemning him
Aquinas head down in a vacuum,
Aristotle which way in a vacuum?

From Canto XXXVI by Ezra Pound.

Poster poems: light in the Guardian, on the role played by light in the work of various poets: “For Pound, light was the informing principle of the universe, a view best summarised in the phrase ‘all things that are, are lights’ which he attributed to the Irish philosopher John Scotus Eriugena in the Pisan Cantos.”

Posted in John Tyndall

Physics to Consciousness

[T]he passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from one to the other.”

John Tyndall on the hard problem of consciousness in the “Belfast Address”. Quoted by Galen Strawson in “Consciousness myth”Times Literary Supplement.

Posted in Events John Tyndall

“John Tyndall Resurrected”, Wed 4 March 2015, 7pm, Royal Institute London.

On Wednesday 4th March 2015 at 7pm there will be special event to celebrate the launch of the first volume of Tyndall’s correspondence. Royal Institution historian Prof Frank James is to host an evening of expert talks on Tyndall’s early life, his relationship with the Ri and the future of collaborative humanities research. Free to Ri members, £12 standard admission, £8 concession.

Further information here, book here. John Tyndall’s showmanship in the Ri Christmas lectures is described here and the Tyndal Correspondance Project has its website here.

Posted in Events

“An Evening with Wittgenstein” Thur 12 March 2015, 7.00pm ACF London (Free)

“An evening with Wittgenstein” sees the launch of the play-text Wittgenstein – The Crooked Roads, by Methuen-Bloomsbury Drama, together with a talk on the Wittgenstein family by Margaret Stonborough, Ludwig’s great niece, and the first showing of a filmed scene from the play.

Wittgenstein – The Crooked Roads was first staged in 19 April 2011 at the Riverside Studios, London, directed by Nick Blackburn and generously sponsored by both the ACF, London, and the American Philosophical Association. Written by William Lyons, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Trinity College, Dublin, the play spans Wittgensteins’ life, including his time in Ireland in 1948. (More detail on the play is available on IrishPlayography

Attendance is free; for more detail and to book see ACF London.

Posted in William Drennan

Thomas Drennan Remembered

I am the son of an honest man, a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and good will among men; a Protestant Dissenting minister, in the town of Belfast; whose spirit I am accustomed to look up, in every trying situation, as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven. He was the friend and associate of good, I may say, great men; of Abernethy, of Bruce, of Duchal, and of Hucheson; and his character of mild and tender benevolence is still remembered by many in the North of Ireland, and by not a few in this city.

I may be imprudent in mentioning, that he was, and that I glory to be, a Protestant Dissenter, […] one of that division of Protestants who regard no authority on earth, in matters of religion, save the words and the works of its author, and whose fundamental principle it is, that every person has a right, and in proportion to his abilities, is under an obligation, to judge for himself in matters of religion; a right, subservient to God alone, not a favour to be derived from the gratuitous lenity of government; a right, the resignation of which produces slavery on the one hand, persecution on the other.

Thomas Drennan (1696–14 Feb 1768) as described by his son William Drennan, in An Intended Defence in a Trial for Sedition, in the year 1794. William links his adherence to religious freedom and toleration to his father, and his father’s friends Francis Hutcheson, William Bruce, John Abernathy and John Duchal. The Latin footnote in the text is a further eulogy to Thomas Drennan.

Posted in Francis Hutcheson

The Evolution of Evolution: Darwin’s philosophical forebears

Mosaic portrait of Charles Darwin (c) Charis Tsevis/Flickr  (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Mosaic portrait of Charles Darwin
(c) Charis Tsevis/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Charles Darwin (born on 12th February, 1809) famously developed the idea of evolution by natural selection outlined in Origin of the Species (1859). Though still controversial, to some today it seems such an obvious idea it is surprising it took so long to emerge.

Evolutionary ideas had had a long pedigree, appearing as early as the Greek philosopher Anaximander. The problem with them all was there seemed to be only two possible mechanisms available to make creatures – deliberate design or blind chance. This was the great innovation of Darwin: not evolution but the theory of natural selection which gave a plausible account of how radical changes could appear by chance, yet appear designed.

That theory did not arise in a vacuum. Stephen J. Gould (1985) has written about the important insights Darwin obtained from Richard Owen (a vertebrate palaeontologist) and John Gould (an ornithologist) after they examined his Galapagos specimens.

Darwin also had intellectual forebears, most famously Lamarck, de Buffon, Lyell and Hutton. Even Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, had written on evolutionary theory. In addition he was influenced by more conceptual work outside biology and geology. This post (indebted to Gould, 1993) will concentrate on two streams which both happen to cross over in the work of an Irish philosopher.
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Posted in William Drennan

Benevolent conspiracy

I should much desire that a society were instituted in this city having much of the secresy and somewhat of the ceremonial of Free-Masonry. … A benevolent conspiracy—A Plot for the People—No Whig Club—no party Title—The Brotherhood its name—the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End. Its general end Real Independence of Ireland, and republicanism its particular purpose. Its business, every means to accomplish these ends as the prejudices and bigotry of the Land we live in would permit. . . .

Extract from a letter sent by William Drennan to Samuel McTier, 21st May 1791 (Agnew, Drennan-McTier Letters, vol. 1, p. 357). A few months later the Society of United Irishmen was formed. William Drennan’s aim of “the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End” echoes the philosophy of Francis Hutcheson. Drennan’s father, Thomas Drennan was a close friend of Hutcheson and had been his assistant teaching in Dublin.