Posted in Oliver Goldsmith

Goldsmith: a coda to the Irish Golden Age of Philosophy

Detail of the Goldsmith statue outside Trinity College Dublin Source: Wikicommons/CC (Edit)
Detail of the Goldsmith statue outside Trinity College Dublin
Source: Wikicommons/CC (Edit)

David Berman places the publishing of Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful as marking the end of the Irish Golden Age of Philosophy.

“Irish aesthetics begins in the 1720s with Hutcheson, and it may be said to end in 1757 with Burke” (Berman, p. 129) As well as distinguishing between the terms “sublime” and “beautiful”, Burke also argued against George Berkeley’s utility theory of beauty: “‘…beauty riseth from the appearance of use …’. (Berman, p. 130 (quoting Alciphron, III. 9.) and p. 131) Burke notes

if the utility theory were correct ‘the wedge-like snout of a swine, with its tough cartilage at the end, the little sunk eyes, and the whole make of the head, so well adapted to its office of digging and rooting, would be extremely beautiful’.

In a coda to the Irish aesthetics debate, and to the Golden Age itself, Oliver Goldsmith reviewed Burke’s book in the Monthly Review in which he described the book, and argued against some points in footnotes. In one, he suggested that utility can in fact lead to ideas of beauty:
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Posted in John Toland

Newton in the Letters to Serena

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, whereas Newtonian matter is ‘sluggish, inactive, brute and stupid’. Toland fully accepted Newton’s physics. In fact he was one of the first writers to bring word of Newton’s science into France. However, he argued that Newton’s interpretation of his own laws was not the only possible interpretation.

The acceptance of Newton’s physics in Letters to Serena by the most notorious freethinker of the time had the effect of making Newton somewhat suspect to orthodox Anglicans. The first edition of Opticks (1704) had only sixteen queries; Newton added seven more between 1704 and the 1706 Latin version. However, there is in existence an early draft of the twenty-third query which differs significantly from the later (published) version. Thus Newton wrote and rewrote this query between the publication of Serena, and the Latin edition of Opticks in 1706. Here he tried to grapple with the significance of Toland’s hylozoism [the doctrine that all matter has life]. The draft version of the twenty-third query states:

it seems to have been an ancient opinion that matter depends upon a Deity for its laws of motion as well as for its existence. These are passive laws and to affirm that there are no others is to speak against experience. …all matter duly formed is attended with signes of life.

This text does not appear in the final version of query twenty-three. As the person who had given the English ruling class its ideological justification, publicly stating that ‘all matter duly formed is attended with signes of life’ would have undermined the status quo and aligned Newton with Toland and the heretic Bruno! One suspects that Newton may have become a prisoner of his own ideology, trapped in the cul-de-sac of orthodoxy.

From Philip McGuinness (1996) ‘The Hue and Cry of Heresy’ John Toland, Isaac Newton & the Social Context of Scientists, History Ireland, Issue 4.

Posted in John Toland

Irish Times Unthinkable: Dr Ian Leask on the legacy of John Toland

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Courtesy this article from the Irish Times by Joe Humphreys.

Posted in Edmund Burke

Jesse Norman on Edmund Burke

From My Favourite Political Thinker series on Daily Politics. Giles Dilnot talks to Jesse Norman about Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who shaped the UK politics of today according to Norman. 

Source: BBC.

Posted in George Berkeley

In Our Time: Bishop Berkeley

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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 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.
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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

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.
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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

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’.
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