10 Apr

Mysticism and Better Business: George William Russell (AE)

St. John Ervine’s play Changing Winds (1917) includes the following line: ‘Was there any one on earth less like the typical Ulsterman than George Russell, who preached mysticism and better business?” Russell’s story seems a radical divide between two aspects: the ‘strayed angel’ (as W. B. Yeats’ sisters nicknamed him): artist, poet, spiritualist, visionary and the practical man: agricultural economist, organiser of the Irish co-operative movement, journalist and newspaper editor.

Born on 10th April 1867 at William Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh, Russell lived there until 1878 when the whole family moved to Dublin. Russell spent every second summer in Armagh and on a visit in 1883 began to experience supernatural visions which continued into adult life, affecting both his art and his sense of self. His artistic talents had been clear from a young age and he took classes at the Metropolitan School of Art where he came to know the poet William Butler Yeats around 1883. Yeats wrote a pen portrait of him about this time.
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28 Mar

Labour by Mutual Co-operation

But, equal security established, the right of every adult rational being, male or female, to free labour, entire use of its products, and voluntary exchanges, being established; a new question presents itself. Is there no mode of human labour consistent with security – whose paramount importance even to production has been demonstrated [in the Inquiry]- but that of individual competition? May not a mode of labour be found, consistent with security, and still more productive of happiness, than labour by individual competition? […] Nay more, may there not be found a mode of labour consistent with security, which will not only obviate the evils of individual competition, but which will afford its peculiar benefits – abundant production and development of all the faculties – to a greater, an incalculably greater extent, than the best arrangements of individual competition could afford?

No mode of labour can produce preponderant good, which does not respect the natural laws of distribution, “free labour, entire use of its products and voluntary exchanges”, or the principle of equal security regarding wealth.


Such a mode of labour has been proposed. It has been called the system of labour by mutual co-operation; and its object and effect are to produce perfect voluntary equality of enjoyment of all the fruits of united labour.

From chapter V of An inquiry into the principles of the distribution of wealth most conducive to human happiness; applied to the newly proposed system of voluntary equality of wealth (1824) by William Thompson (available on archive.org). This book (along with the Appeal) is regarded as his greatest work.

This crucial chapter is the point where Thompson accepts that his construction of an economic system based on classical liberalism does not fulfil the utilitarian goal of achieving the greatest happiness. The chapter also outlines the various laws which create and perpetuate inequalities (including inheritance.)

“For Thompson, the science of happiness is concerned with the functions of society and social institutions broadly understood, and how these affect individual happiness.” (Mark Kaswan in Happiness, Democracy and the Cooperative Movement: The Radical Utilitarianism of William Thompson).

26 Mar

Irish Kantians: Found in Translation

The Irish interest in Kant spans back to Dr J. A. O’Keeffe, whose 1795 Essay on the Progress of Human Understanding included a description of Kant’s conception of the aims of philosophy. We know little of O’Keeffe but we do know that he attended lectures in Leipzig given by Friedrich Gottlob Born, who was translating Kant into Latin. O’Keeffe’s radical leanings were manifest in the book, adding to heated English debate on Kant in 1796, and increasing the association of Kant with radical ideas in the English mind.

O’Keeffe had translated sections of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in discussing it, but the first full translation was by the Scot John Richardson in 1797, and attracted little notice. By 1819 Kant was better known in England, and Richardson published additional translations with limited impact. Mahaffy (1878, p. 207) argues for Sir William Hamilton (not the Irish mathematician), along with Semple’s translations, as the driving force in the 1830s for the study of Kant in Britain, and certainly Scottish translators and commentators were active from the late 1830s on.

Despite interest in Kant by Irish individuals such as William Rowan Hamilton (introduced to Kant in the early 1830s by Samuel Coleridge), systematic academic interest did not emerge until the 1860s. Maffahy gives an account of the birth of the Kantian school in Trinity:
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20 Mar

Literary Tours of Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford

The House in which Maria Edgeworth Lived Public Domain: from "Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil" by Richard Lovett (1888)

The House in which Maria Edgeworth Lived
Public Domain: from “Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil” by Richard Lovett (1888)

Edgeworthstown was the home of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his daughter Maria Edgeworth who wrote many novels including Belinda and Caste Rackrent. These two, particularly Maria are the focus of the Literary Tour of Edgeworthstown. Also referenced are Maria’s cousin the Abbé Edgeworth (who was with King Louis XVI when the king was guillotined), Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth and Oscar Wilde.

Details of the locations visited are available on the Mostrim website. For details of when the tours are run please contact Mostrim before visiting.

08 Mar

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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28 Feb

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.

16 Feb

“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.

26 Jan

RTE The History Show: George Boole

RTE The History Show: George Boole (25th Jan 2015)

Ahead of the Boole Inaugural Lectures, this piece on RTE The History Show (25th Jan) discusses George Boole and his legacy.

The website for the programme contains additional information.

21 Jan

George Boole 200 Inaugural Lectures, UCC, 5th Feb 2015, 6-9 pm

Depiction of George Boole in stained glass, Aula Maxima, UCC.

Depiction of George Boole in stained glass, Aula Maxima, UCC.
(c) @UCC

There will be a number of lectures to commemorate the George Boole Bicentenary. The first addressed George Boole’s legacy and is now available to watch online here.

Introduced by Desmond MacHale (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at UCC and author of Boole’s biography), this lecture will be given by Professor Muffy Calder OBE (University of Glasgow) and and Professor Alberto Sangiovanni Vincentelli (Berkeley) and aims to being “Boole’s logic and algebra to life, showing how Boolean thought has influenced our modern world.”

This event will be held in the Boole 4 Lecture Theatre on Thursday the 5th of February 2015 from 6pm to 9pm. All are welcome. The lecture is free to attend but registration is required, please click here to register.

The event will also be livestreamed here.

For further information see the George Boole website. There will be other events held throughout the year. Visitors to Cork may wish to go on the Being George Boole Tour running from February to December 2015.

01 Jan

Edgeworth Schools

Two schools set up by Maria Edgeworth (c) IrishArtHistory

Two schools set up by Maria Edgeworth
(c) Ciarán MacGonigal

Reproduced with permission of Ciarán MacGonigal @IrishArtHistory, originals here and here. Both schools, set up by Maria Edgeworth, are in Edgeworthstown. The one on the left which bears her family arms was opened in the Porters Lodge. The one on the right was the eighth and last she opened.

Maria Edgeworth (1 January 1768 – 22 May 1849) not only expressed philosophical ideas through her novels and short stories but also wrote a treatise Practical Education (1798), a progressive work that joins the ideas of Locke and Rousseau with scientific inquiry.