This section from a satirical print from 1829 is held in the British Museum, who describe it as follows:
The lecturer, wearing breeches and top-boots, stands on the edge of his platform gesticulating to an audience of men and women who register amusement, horror, or stupidity: ‘It’s all a farce! I tell you it’s all a farce—there are no clouds, no mountains, no trees, no water—I’ve proved it, it’s nothing, depend on it—nothing—bona fide nothing’. Behind him is a terrestrial globe on a table, and on the wall a paper: ‘Bishop Berkley’.
This print is one of four vignettes. Another is called “Irish Character”, the third, called ‘March of Intellect’, features an Irish accent (being corrected) and the fourth is a picnic where all have brought legs of mutton. It seems plausible that the set is a set of satires of the Irish.
This is interesting in light of the discussion about Irishness in Richard Kearney’s “Post-Nationalist Ireland”. Kearney reports a claim that Berkeley can’t be Irish since he is included in books as an English philosopher. (That, despite Berkeley’s famous use of “we Irish” in his writing.) It certainly appears that eighty years after his death, Berkeley wasn’t English yet…
Ulster Presbyterianism, at this time, was embroiled in controversy. Believers who were reluctant to subscribe to the ‘man-made’ doctrinal formulations of the Westminster Confession of Faith were clashing with those for whom the Confession embraced all that was sound and crucial in Reformed theology. These ‘Non-subscribing’ presbyterians were to become known as ‘New Light’ believers. They generally put less stress on the ‘biblical’ dogma of ‘sinful human nature’ and more emphasis on the broad human imperative to lead a good and charitable life. Into this theological row stepped the young Francis Hutcheson, fresh from Glasgow. We know that he deputised, one wet and cold Sunday, for his father in the Armagh church. (Mr Hutcheson senior, a sufferer from arthritis, did not wish to risk a soaking) The rain cleared and the father decided to risk a short walk in the direction of the meeting house in order to meet with his son on his return journey. However he met up, first of all, with one gloomy-looking member of the congregation, who said to him….
Your silly loon, Frank, has fashed a’ the congregation wi’ his idle cackle, for he has been babbling this ‘oor about the good and benevolent God, and that the souls o’ the heathen
themsel’s will gang to heaven, if they follow the licht o’ their ain consciences. Not a word does the daft boy ken nor say aboot the gude auld comfortable doctrines o’ election, reprobation, original sin and faith…
An early ill-fated sermon of Francis Hutcheson.
Excerpt from an article on the life of Francis Hutcheson, written by Philip Orr, a local historian and expert on Francis Hutcheson. It was published in the Down Survey in the year 2000 by the Down County Museum
Note on the Text
Part I: Berkeley’s Philosophy
1. George Berkeley
2. On Missing the Wrong Target
Part II: The Golden Age of Irish Philosophy
3. Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment in Irish Philosophy
4.The Culmination and Causation of Irish Philosophy
5.Frances Hutcheson on Berkeley and the Molyneux Problem
6.The Impact of Irish Philosophy on the American Enlightenment
7. Irish Ideology and Philosophy
Part III: New Berkeley Letters and Berkeleiana
8. An Early Essay concerning Berkeley’s Immaterialism
9. Mrs Berkeley’s Annotations in An Account of the Life of Berkeley (1776)
10. Some New Bermuda Berkeleiana
11. The Good Bishop: New Letters
12. Becket and Berkeley
Part 2 of this book was the one that piqued my interest in Irish Enlightenment philosophy. In these essays, Berman looks at the philosophical background Berkeley came from, including Toland and the reactions to him. He discusses the link between Berkeley and Francis Hutcheson in relation to their answers to the Molyneux problem. He also looks at the impact of golden age Irish philosophy on eighteenth-century American philosophy.
The other sections form a wide-ranging look at the achievements of George Berkeley and its broad scope.
Plaque for Francis Hutcheson, located in Wolfe Tone Square near to The Church, Dublin 1. It was unveiled on the 1st December 2012, due to the organisation of Fergus Whelan on behalf of the Francis Hutcheson Memorial Committee.
Further information here.
A book by Leonard O’Brian exploring the work of five Irish philosophers.
- John Scottus Eriugena
- John Toland
- George Berkeley
- Francis Hutcheson
- Iris Murdoch
[Hypatia], he educated not only in all the qualifications belonging to her sex; but caused her likewise to be instructed in the most abstruse sciences, which are reputed the proper occupation of men, as requiring too much labor and application for the delicate constitution of women.
That this notion is a vulgar prejudice, the vast number of ladies who have in every age distinguished themselves by their professions or performances in learning, furnishes an unanswerable argument. Whole volumes have been written containing nothing else but the lives of such women, as became eminent in all kinds of Literature, especially in Philosophy; which, as it is the highest perfection, so it demands the utmost effort of human nature.
But leaving these heroines to the search of the curious, I shall confine myself at present to one object worthy all admiration; in doing justice to whom I may be deemed to write the panegyric of the whole sex.
John Toland arguing for female education in “Hypatia”
Here is a brief sketch of the philosophical struggle that went on in Ireland over the ideas of the Enlightenment. It is based heavily on part II of David Berman’s Berkeley and Irish Philosophy. (“We Irish think otherwise” is a quote from Berkeley. All links in text are Wiki).
The signing of the Treaty of Limerick had marked the final defeat of the old Irish landowning classes. It also marked the end of wars that since 1642 had seen thousands killed, exiled and dispossessed.
Despite the turmoil, Ireland was not isolated from new ideas from Britain and Europe. William Molyneaux, a natural philosopher and founder of the Dublin Philosophical Society (1683) had given his name to Molyneaux’s Problem in his friend Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Another interested in the new ideas was Robert Molesworth, a Whig, a follower of Lord Shaftsbury. Graduates from Trinity mingled with those from Oxford on the Dublin streets.
John Toland published Christianity Not Mysterious in 1696. Much as Augustinus Hibernicus before him had brought Augustine’s thought to a logical conclusion, Toland did the same with the ideas in Locke’s Essay. He argued that only intelligible ideas could be believed. There could be no religious mysteries, such ideas would have to be nonsense.
This position had both religious and political implications, potentially undermining faiths and the basis of the Penal Laws. Toland arrived in Dublin to hear himself and his book denounced from the pulpit. His book was condemned by the Irish government and he left the country to avoid arrest.
Philosophically, though, Toland’s contention needed an answer. In their efforts to create one the Irish Counter Enlightenment also used the ideas of Locke, and thereby triggered a philosophical programme which saw developments in epistemology, aesthetics, religion, ethics and language.
Continue reading “We Irish think otherwise: The Golden Age of Irish Philosophy”