Posted in Laurence Sterne

The philosophy in Tristram Shandy

From ABC National Radio’s Philosopher’s Zone (2006) The philosophy in Tristram Shandy. “Tristram Shandy” is a novel that plays, not only with form (the unique handmarbled page, the typography, the fact the narrator digresses so much that he only completes the story of his birth in volume 3), but with philosophy, particularly that of Locke.

For a transcript of the programme and further information, please click here.
Further Reading and Listening

Glasgow University Library (2000) Book of the Month October 2000: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (online)

Karen Harvey (2014) “Nose to nose with Laurence Sterne and Tristram Shandy” OUP Blog (online)

BBC Radio 4: In Our Time (2014) Tristram Shandy (online). Featuring podcast with guests Judith Hawley, John Mullan and Mary Newbould and links to further information.

Allegoric statue of "Tolerance", depicted as a seated woman with a torch in her right hand, and a shield on her left with the words "Concordia religionum" (harmony in religions).
Posted in Arthur O'Leary Cornelius Nary Edward Synge b. 1659 Edward Synge b. 1690 John Abernathy

Toleration in 18th century Ireland

This year, World Philosophy Day (17th November 2016) is celebrated immediately after International Day for Tolerance (16th November every year). The theme for World Philosophy Day 2016, therefore, is Tolerance.

In her message on World Philosophy Day 2016, Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova has this to say on tolerance and philosophy1:

Philosophy does not offer any ready-to-use solutions, but a perpetual quest to question the world and try to find a place in it. Along this road, tolerance is both a moral virtue and a practical tool for dialogue. It has nothing to do with the naive relativism that claims everything is equally valid; it is an individual imperative to listen, all the more striking because it is founded on a resolute commitment to defend the universal principles of dignity and freedom.

While an accurate description of the ideal of tolerance, it should be remembered that tolerance was not obviously a virtue in the past. It had to be argued for, and the acceptance of toleration waxed and waned over time. 

In the religious wars of 16th and 17th century Europe, toleration was generally a term of insult. The Thirty-Year War and the Eighty-Year War sought to establish right religion within Europe. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 saw all countries recognise the 1555 Peace of Augsburg in which each ruler would have the right to determine the religion of his own state while allowing other Christians to worship privately and (limitedly) in public. This had some strange ramifications in Ireland.
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Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

Eternal Vigilance

[F]rom the history of the early periods of this corporation, and a view of its charters and bye-laws, it appears that the Commons had, from the earliest periods, participated in the important right of election to that high trust ; and it was natural and just that the whole body of citizens, by themselves or their representatives, should have a share in electing those magistrates who were to govern them, as it was their birthright to be ruled only by laws which they had a share in enacting. The Aldermen, however, soon became jealous of this participation, encroached by degrees upon the Commons, and at length succeeded in engrossing to themselves the double privilege of eligibility and of election; of being the only body out of which, and by which the Lord Mayor could be chosen.

Nor is it strange that, in those times, a board consisting of so small a number as twenty-four members, with the advantages of a more united interest, and a longer continuance in office, should have prevailed, even contrary to so evident principles of natural justice and constitutional right, against the unsteady resistance of competitors so much less vigilant, so much more numerous, and, therefore, so much less united. It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.

“Election of Lord Mayor of Dublin,” speech before the Privy Council, July 10, 1790.
From Thomas Davis (ed) (1847) The Speeches of the Right Honorable John Philpot Curran, pp. 103-131 (archive.org). Quote is from p. 105.

John Philpott Curran was one of the best-known lawyers of his time. He had associations with the United Irishmen and defended Archibald Rowan Hamilton. The above quote is from one of his political speeches made on the occasion of a disputed election. The agreement of both Aldermen and the Common Council was required to elect a Lord Mayor but the aldermen disputed the validity of the Common Council’s rejection of their selection. Curran’s famous linking of liberty and vigilance was made while reviewing the background to the dispute as the extended quote above makes clear.

The last two sentences are the ones most commonly quoted and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1980, 15th ed, p. 397, footnote 8) gives them as the source of “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” .

Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

Who called it a “Glorious Revolution”?

On the 5th November 1688 William of Orange landed at Torbay, a key event in the “Glorious Revolution”. It has been said of the Glorious Revolution that it was not glorious and not a revolution. But who called it that in the first place?

The first account of the events which culminated in the crowning of William and Mary was written in 1689. The title called the change in ruler a revolution (The history of the late revolution in England). It’s questionable how acceptable those in power would have found the description. After James II’s escape from England, the Convention Parliament had declared on 12 February 1689 that his flight constituted an abdication. Thus the transfer of power to William III and Mary II as joint sovereigns was not an abandonment of the constitution but a (admittedly unusual) implementation of it.

Nonetheless the term continued to be used. The first person recorded adding the adjective “Glorious” was a Whig radical, John Hampden Jr, who spoke of a “glorious revolution” while giving testimony to a committee of the House of Lords in the autumn of 1689. “When that term appeared again it was in 1706 in sermons by Bishop Gilbert Burnet (a friend and confidant of King William and Queen Mary) and nonconformist preachers.”1

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Posted in 1801-1922 Union and Rebellion

Tolstoy: “In Todhunter’s ‘Theory of the Beautiful’ (1872), beauty is infinite loveliness…”

In Todhunter’s Theory of the Beautiful (1872), beauty is infinite loveliness, which we apprehend both by reason and by the enthusiasm of love. The recognition of beauty as being such depends on taste; there can be no criterion for it. The only approach to a definition is found in culture. (What culture is, is not defined.) Intrinsically, art that which affects us through lines, colours, sounds, or words is not the product of blind forces, but of reasonable ones, working, with mutual helpfulness, towards a reasonable aim. Beauty is the reconciliation of contradictions.

From What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Aylmer Maude, New York : Funk & Wagnalls (1904), p. 35. (archive.org).
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Monument in the west aisle of the south transept dedicated to Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin.
Posted in Richard Whatley

Richard Whatley: Defending Logic

Those who have spoken of Induction or of Example, as a distinct kind of Argument in a Logical point of view, have fallen into the common error of confounding Logical with Rhetorical distinctions, and have wandered from their subject as much as a writer on the orders of Architecture would do who should introduce the distinction between buildings of brick and of marble

In 1826 Richard Whately, future Archbishop of Dublin, published his Elements of Logic. Soon after its publication, the great wave of 19th century logical works began, from writers such as George Boole, Augustus De Morgan, Charles Sanders Peirce and Bernard Bolzano. While Whately’s work contained none of the innovations of these later works, it paved the way for them1
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Posted in Edmund Burke

His Native Potatoes

NPG D12313; Edmund Burke ('Cincinnatus in retirement') by James Gillray, published by  Elizabeth d'Achery
by James Gillray, published by Elizabeth d’Achery, hand-coloured etching, published 23 August 1782
© National Portrait Gallery, London

For National Potato Day, a satirical portrait of Edmund Burke eating potatoes. The caption reads “Cincinnatus in retirement falsely supposed to represent Jesuit Padre driven back to his native potatoes. See Romanish Commonwealth.”
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Posted in William Molyneux

Molyneux’s Treatise of Dioptrics

William Molyneux’s Treatise of Dioptrics, 1692. This copy was given to Narcissus Marsh by Molyneux himself (as evidenced by Molyneux’s inscription, see left.) This 300 page book was the first English language book about optics. (For more on the Dioptrics of William Molyneux and his son, see “When an Eye is armed with a Telescope: The Dioptrics of William and Samuel Molyneux.” by Peter Abrahams.)

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Posted in John Toland

Desmond Clarke on Descartes and Toland

Toland also argues that there is no benefit in making a distinction between what is inconsistent with reason and what merely appears to be inconsistent with reason, and then accepting that we may be required by divine revelation to believe what appears to be irrational. Toland’s answer to this is remarkably similar to Descartes’s: if we relax the criterion of what is credible to admit propositions that at least appear to be irrational, then there is no limit to what we may be invited or required to believe. […]

However in contrast to Descartes, Toland seems to establish reason not only as a criterion of what we can believe, but also as a criterion of what is possible for God.

Desmond M. Clarke (1997)”Toland on Faith and Reason” in Philip McGuinness, Alan Harrison and Richard Kearney (eds) John Toland’s Christianity not Mysterious: Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays, Dublin: Lilliput Press, pp. 293-301.
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Posted in Richard Steele

Steele’s Crisis

The debate between The Crisis and The Public Spirit of the Whigs exemplifies not only Swift’s personal animosity toward Steele, but, at a more profound level, the basic disagreement between Steele and his Tory antagonists about the meaning of 1688. For Steele, the authority of the monarch derived from the consent of the governed, and the people, acting jointly, had the right to replace the monarch when he or she seriously violated their safety or even interests. The difficulty of replacing the monarch acted as a restraint on civic disorder; the possibility of such replacement acted as a deterrent to monarchical excess. But for Tories no such right was structured into or implied by the constitution. The authority of the Crown derived from Divine approval as providentially manifested in history. If extraordinary circumstances required a violent intervention in order to ensure the safety of the nation (and especially of the Church), the revolution might be a lesser evil, but it did not flow from the inherent rights of citizens. For Steele, revolution principles were an important protection of civic order,; for Tories, Steele’s argument undermined the substance and continuity of monarchical rule and opened the way to radical excesses.

From Charles A. Knight (2009) A Political Biography of Richard Steele, London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. 135-6.

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