Posted in George Berkeley

In Our Time: Bishop Berkeley

[soundcloud height=200]https://soundcloud.com/in-our-time-philosophy/bishop-berkeley[/soundcloud]

This In Our Time covers the life and philosophy of George Berkeley, one of the most important philosophers of the 18th century. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Peter Millican, Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford; Tom Stoneham, Professor of Philosophy at the University of York and Michela Massimi, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh.

The programme explores the influences on Berkeley, what his immaterialism entailed, how he never said esse est percipi, how Johnson’s famous refutation fails and how God is less central to his philosophy than Ronald A. Knox’s pair of Limericks would suggest.

In Our Time: Bishop Berkeley page, including further reading.

Posted in General Patrick

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.
Continue reading “Patrick and a question of identity”

Posted in Oscar Wilde

Wilde on Masks

give him a mask
Original Image: Steve Sawyer/ Flickr

I would say that the more objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the white streets of London, or seen the serving-men of rival houses bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. […]

[J]ust as it is because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything, so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature and temperament far more completely than do those strange and exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

From The Critic as Artist by Oscar Wilde.

Image source: Steve Sawyer

Posted in Edward Synge b. 1690

Edward Synge, friend and father

The Episcopal Throne in the ruined Cathedral of Elphin (c) Vox Hiberionacum, with permission
The Episcopal Throne in the ruined Cathedral of Elphin
(c) Vox Hiberionacum, with permission

Edward Synge was born around 1690 and died in Dublin on the 27th January, 1762. He was the son of the elder Edward Synge, who was himself involved in the philosophical debates of the time.

He was educated in Trinity College Dublin (M.A. in 1712 and D.D. in 1728) and after being chancellor of St. Patrick’s (1726), was successively bishop of Clonfert (1730), Cloyne (1731), Ferns (1733), and finally Elphin (1740 until his death).

Synge was close to Francis Hutcheson and appears to have been a member of the Molesworth Circle. He assisted Hutcheson in developing revising his work and Hutcheson himself acknowledged that Synge had devised the general scheme of “Inquiry into Beauty and Virtue” before Hutcheson. The connection seems to have continued after Hutcheson’s departure for Glasgow and until his death, since his son dedicated the posthumous collection of his father’s works to Synge 1. Letters from the 1760s from Edward Synge giving advice to the younger Hutcheson still exist.
Continue reading “Edward Synge, friend and father”

Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

Rude Enlightenment

Admittedly, Swift was not an easy man with whom to get on with, aggravating his church superior, Archbishop William King of Dublin, himself a truculent steward prone to picking fights.

Arbuckle was an equally thorny character who made enemies easily. He found it necessary to leave the University of Glasgow in a hurry when, as a student, he was involved in an altercation concerning the election of the rector. He retreated to Dublin, where he fell into favor with Robert, Viscount Molesworth of Swords—himself described by one acquaintance as “waspish” and prone to anticlerical outbursts.

These traits helped Molesworth to remain close to that most volatile and barbed of personalities, the freethinker John Toland. He promulgated a kind of literary subterfuge that Swift mocked in a series of texts, notably An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, in which he mentioned Toland by name.

A selection of personality clashes in Enlightenment Dublin.

Quote from Michael Brown (2012) “The Biter Bitten: Ireland and the Rude Enlightenment” in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Volume 45, Number 3 (JSTOR)

To see just how rude it could get, see the post on James Arbuckle.

Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

James Arbuckle and the Molesworth Circle

arbuckle
Frontispiece of “Hibericus’ Letters”

James Arbuckle was born in Belfast in 1700 and died in Dublin on 16th January 1742. An obituary in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal described him as

remarkable for his learning, political writings, and in some ingenious and witty pieces in the poetical way…a sincere friend, an agreeable companion.

There is evidence Arbuckle was childhood friends with John Smith and Thomas Drennan. He studied in the University of Glasgow, obtaining an MA in 1720, and studying for the ministry up to 1724. He was a poet, publishing a number of works including Snuff (1717), Epistle to the Right Hon. Thomas Earl of Hadington, on the Death of Joseph Addison, Esq. (1719) and, on the beauties of the Clyde, Glotta (1721). A 1719 letter in verse from poet Allan Ramsey to Arbuckle survives (see The Poems of Allan Ramsey, Vol.2, p. 375), as do verses addressed to Ramsey by “James Arbuckle” (The Poems of Allan Ramsey, Vol.1, p. clxxiii).

While at Glasgow he acted as an intermediary between the students, who wanted to restore their right to elect the rector, and the Viscount Molesworth, who lent his support to the students. He also may have assisted John Smith in writing A Short Account of the Late Treatment of the Students of the University of G[lasgo]w (1722), published in Dublin to drum up support for the Glasgow students. In 1722 Arbuckle was also involved in a Glasgow dispute over non-Subscribing ministers in Belfast, defending them from “allegations…derogatory to the Reverend Ministers” in representations made to the Synod of Ayr and Glasgow by Samuel Smith.
Continue reading “James Arbuckle and the Molesworth Circle”

Posted in John Tyndall

Epicurean Creation

The mechanical shock of the atoms being in his view the all-sufficient cause of things, he combats the notion that the constitution of nature has been in any way determined by intelligent design. The inter-action of the atoms throughout infinite time rendered all manner of combinations possible. Of these the fit ones persisted, while the unfit ones disappeared. “

John Tyndall references Lucretius the Epicurean (On The Nature on Things) in his famous Belfast Address (1874) in support of Darwinism and the superior authority of science over religious or non-rationalist explanations.

Posted in George Berkeley

Berkeley’s Problem with Representative Realism

[T]he structure of the dialectic, both between Berkeley and his real-world opponents and between his fictitious characters Hylas and Philonous, is a debate about whether ‘the vulgar’ or ‘the mob’ or ‘the illiterate bulk’ have knowledge of familiar objects like apples, tables, and cherry trees, and if so how. Berkeley’s complaint against his opponents is that, on their theories, it cannot be proved that the gardener knows his cherry tree. He claims that his own theory does not have this defect: the philosopher who has grasped Berkeley’s arguments thereby comes to know that the gardener knows that his cherry tree exists.

Berkeley’s problem with representative realism – we don’t know if we know. From Kennypearce.net

Posted in 1801-1922 Union and Rebellion

Educating the Citizen Lord

Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1797)
Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1796.
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Lord Edward Fitzgerald was born 250 years ago, on the 15th October 1763, in Carton House, Co. Kildare, the fifth son of the Duke of Leinster. From his earliest days, Edward Fitzgerald was a child of the Enlightenment, and educated according to Enlightenment ideals.

One of the most influential thinkers on education in 18th century Ireland was John Locke. The earliest edition of his “Thoughts on Education” (1683) described itself as “Published at the request of several of the nobility of this kingdom”, and was reprinted three times from 1728-1738, and twice in the late 1770s. It provided a model for a gentleman’s education, and helped popularize the ideal of a paternalistic and educated gentry taking responsibility for improving their local area.

For Locke the goal of education was to instil “the Principle of Virtue”, that is the ability to subvert one’s immediate appetites and desires to the dictates of reason. The aim was to create people who obeyed reason over passion. 
Continue reading “Educating the Citizen Lord”

Posted in John Toland

Incendiary: John Toland and the birth of the Irish Enlightenment

A book burning in London, 1643. (click for source)
A book burning in London, 1643. (Image  is figure 8 in “Incendiary texts”, referenced and linked below)

On 18th (some say 11th) September, 1697 the book “Christianity Not Mysterious” was burned in front of the Irish Parliament Buildings. This had been ordered by the Parliament who declared some days earlier that the heretical book “be publickly burnt by the hands of the common hangman” and the author “be taken into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms and…prosecuted”. Such burning of books by the hangman had been done in England since 1634 (ref), though letters from Molyneaux to Locke suggest it had not happened in Ireland before.

The book had already caused controversy. It was denounced when it was first published in 1696, the first edition anonymously and the second under Toland’s name. The book argues that “[T]here is nothing in the Gospel contrary to Reason, nor above it; and … no Christian Doctrine can be properly called a Mystery.” In other words, nothing in the Gospel can conflict with reason, the Gospel cannot transcend reason (so apparent conflicts with reason cannot be explained away as a mystery) and that no doctrine can at once be Christian and mysterious. The creation of mysteries within Christianity he attributed to innovations of competing sects.

This theory of the relationship between religion and reason went further than other supporters of reason such as Locke had dared. It was especially contentious in Ireland, since it undermined the position of the established Anglican Church over other churches. Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (of the Library) requested the Provost of Trinity College, Dr. Peter Browne, to write an answer to Toland’s book. Browne did so in his 1797 A Letter in answer to a book entitled Christianity not mysterious, condemning Toland as ‘an inveterate enemy of revealed religion’. Browne was later made the Bishop of Cork, due to Marsh’s influence, leading Toland to boast he had ‘made Browne a bishop’.
Continue reading “Incendiary: John Toland and the birth of the Irish Enlightenment”