A family stand on a grassy mount, grazed by cattle, with the river Liffey flowing in the valley below. On the other side, Dublin stretches, look at 18th century Dublin, a low city dotted with steeples.
Posted in Francis Hutcheson

In the footsteps of Francis Hutcheson

Francis Hutcheson celebrated his 27th birthday in Dublin, 300 hundred years ago today, probably amid preparation for the upcoming academic year. The precise date on which he established his school in Dublin is unknown, but the 1719 Toleration Act was passed in the latter half of that year. The call to Francis Hutcheson from the Dublin Presbyterian ministers, lead by Boyse would hardly have been made before then, and Scott notes a pupil of Hutcheson arrived for his last year of study in Glasgow in 17221

It would have been the largest city he had ever been in, with a population of around 100,000. It was also the most religiously divided, split roughly three ways between the Established Church, Dissenters and Catholics2. It was not the Georgian city we know, but a city of medieval and baroque churches, the odd Tudor survival and a sea of gable-fronted houses, frequently with shops below, often referred to as Dutch Billies. The large engraving at the top of Brookings map, showing not only the distant gables but multiple windmills could be a view of a Dutch town if not for the Dublin mountains behind it. The featured image above shows a view from the Phoenix Park, showing how compact the city still was, concentrated on the south side of the Liffey, with the old medieval city at its core.

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Siris : a chain of philosophical reflexions and inquiries concerning the virtues of tar water
Posted in George Berkeley

Don’t try this at home: Berkeley and tar-water

For Tom Stoneham, Peter West and Clare Moriarty 

Three hundred and thirty-six years ago today, George Berkeley was born in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny. One year ago today, the first major Covid19 restrictions for Ireland were announced. Living in a time of Covid perhaps gives us a new appreciation of the world in which Berkeley lived. His contemporary Francis Hutcheson died of a fever and three of Berkeley’s four children born in Cloyne where he was bishop predeceased their father.

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Posted in John Toland

The signature of Bruno’s ideas in Toland’s Letters to Serena

Toland hadn’t finished upsetting the cosily-stacked Newtonian-Anglican applecart. In 1696 he had unearthed a copy of Lo Spaccio de la Bestia Trifontane by the Italian Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) [known in English as The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast]. This book—Bruno’s most scathing attack on the Roman Church—had a huge influence on Toland. In it Bruno stated that God is the source of all change in matter which is in constant motion. Bruno also believed that the Sun was one of an infinite number of stars, and that life may exist elsewhere in the Universe. […]
The signature of Bruno’s ideas on motion and matter is evident throughout Toland’s Letters to Serena (1704). In Serena, matter is one, motion is inherent in matter, and no void exists. Toland’s matter is the “source of life itself” Toland’s matter is the source of life itself, whereas Newtonian matter is ‘sluggish, inactive, brute and stupid’. 

Philip McGuinness “‘The Hue and Cry of Heresy’ John Toland, Isaac Newton & the Social Context of Scientists”, History Ireland, Volume 4 (Winter 1996), Issue 4, (online)
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Posted in Francis Hutcheson Triumfeminate

Hutcheson’s Labours Lost?

Th’ internal Senses painted here we see:
They’re born in others, but they live in thee.
O were our Author with thy Converse blest,
Could he behold the Virtues, of thy Breast;
His needless Labours with Contempt he’d view;
And bid the World not read — but copy you!

Constantina Grierson “To the Honourable Mrs. Percival, 
with Hutcheson’s Treatise on Beauty and Order.” Eighteenth Century Poetry Archive

For International Women’s Day, one Irish woman praising another.

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Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century Jonathan Swift Triumfeminate

Mary Delany, the Triumfeminate and other Dublin Women: Swift’s “Female Senate”

This post originally appeared on my personal blog. However at the recent conference on Irish Philosophy in the Age of Berkeley, Christine Gerrard gave a fascinating presentation on What the Dublin Women of the ‘Triumfeminate’ did with John Locke”. I have therefore moved this post here to serve as an introduction to these women.


In 1752 John Boyle (5th earl of Cork and Orrery), erstwhile friend of Jonathan Swift, wrote in his life of the Dean, “You see the command which Swift had over all his females, and you would have smiled to have found his house a constant seraglio of very virtuous women, who attended him from morning til night”. Boyle blamed Swift’s women for Swift publishing papers he would have been wiser to withhold, since “he communicated every composition as soon as finished, to his female senate.”

Patrick Delany, who had been close friends with Swift since meeting him in 1718, wasted no time in defending the reputation of Swift and his friends in Observations Upon Lord Orrery’s Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift. As well as giving explanations of Swift’s relationships with Esther Johnson (‘Stella’) and Esther Vanhomrigh (‘Vanessa’), he insisted that women almost never visited the Dean’s house, and then only by invitation. Delany had every opportunity of knowing this: “[Delany’s] house at Glasnevin was the scene of the weekly meetings at which Swift and his circle would read poems to each other and submit them for correction” (Andrew Carpenter, 2004). The house, Delville, has since been demolished but stood on the site of the present Bon Secours Hospital, Dublin.

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Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

The Forum for Philosophy: the Irish Enlightenment

The Forum for Philosophy: The Irish Enlightenment (4 March 2019)

On 4th March 2019, the Forum for Philosophy hosted a discussion on the Irish Enlightenment at the LSE. Contributors were Ian McBride (Oxford),
Katherine O’Donnell  (UCD) and Tom Stoneham (University of York). The chair was Clare Moriarty (Forum for Philosophy and UCD).

This interesting discussion is an excellent introduction to the subject of the Irish Enlightenment. The podcast website is here.

Posted in Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke and the Fight against Injustice

Edmund Burke and the French Revolution

Lecture given as part of the course “Ireland in Rebellion: 1782-1916” delivered by Prof. Patrick Geoghegan, Department of History, Trinity College Dublin. (11 mins)

Posted in Edmund Burke

Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years.

It is this inability to wrestle with difficulty which has obliged the arbitrary Assembly of France to commence their schemes of reform with abolition and total destruction. But is it in destroying and pulling down that skill is displayed? Your mob can do this as well at least as your assemblies. The shallowest understanding, the rudest hand, is more than equal to that task. Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years. The errors and defects of old establishments are visible and palpable. It calls for little ability to point them out; and where absolute power is given, it requires but a word wholly to abolish the vice and the establishment together.

Edmund Burke (1790/2014) Reflections on the Revolution in France, University of Adelaide (online). Emphasis added.

The Reflections were published on this day in 1790.

Posted in Francis Hutcheson

Francis Hutcheson on Empire

Alongside the mercantilist and metrocentic strain in civil philosophy in the 1730s, there was also an anti-imperial and philocolonial strand. This was represented most notably by the Hiberno-Scot Francis Hutcheson’s A System of Moral Philosophy, which he composed between 1734 and 1737, in the period before the anti-Spanish agitations but in the aftermath of the Excise Crisis and the darkest days of Walpole’s premiership. Hutcheson questioned the very foundations in rights of dominium upon which the British Empire rested, and argued that ‘[n]o person or society…can by mere occupation acquire such a right in a vast tract of land quite beyond their power to cultivate’. This denial of the juridical basis on which the British Empire in America was claimed was in its own way as Lockean as that of the author of the Essay on Civil Government, but took seriously Locke’s sufficiency condition for legitimate possession. Hutcheson went even further, and proposed colonial independence should the mother-country impose ‘severe and absolute’ power over its provinces. ‘The insisting on old claims and tacit conventions’, he concluded, ‘to extend civil power over distant nations, and form grand unwieldy empires, without regard to the obvious maxims of humanity, has been one great source of human misery’.

David Armitage (2000) The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, Cambridge University Press, p. 188.

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Posted in Edmund Burke W. E. H. Lecky

Edmund Burke: Constructing the Father of Conservativism

Conservatism is a disposition, not a political doctrine. It is difficult to avoid this implication in statements such as that of Robert Michels (in 1930, as quoted by Richard Bourke) “The Bolsheviks of today are as conservative as the Tsarists of yesterday”. As Bourke points out, “one conserves relative to opposing positions that seem to bring about unwelcome change”1

But if this is the case, why and when did Edmund Burke come to be associated with conservative thought in general, and the British Conservative Party in particular? This happened, as Emily Jones has shown, much later than many would think.

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, Burke was admired more by liberals than by conservatives. Whigs knew him as the man who provided the party manual, the Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents (1770), but also as the man who split the party. The Tories approved of his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) but were deeply aware of his Whig status. “His political legacy was thus divided between Whig exaltation of earlier texts, and Tory adulation of Reflections.” 2

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