Posted in George Berkeley

The Veil of the Temple

I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back. Endless, would it be mine, form of my form? Who watches me here? Who ever anywhere will read these written words? Signs on a white field. Somewhere to someone in your flutiest voice. The good bishop of Cloyne took the veil of the temple out of his shovel hat: veil of space with coloured emblems hatched on its field. Hold hard. Coloured on a flat: yes, that’s right. Flat I see, then think distance, near, far, flat I see, east, back. Ah, see now! Falls back suddenly, frozen in stereoscope. Click does the trick.

James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 3: Proteus.

This episode of Ulysses is set at 11am on Sandymount Strand where Stephen sits on the rocks, idling away the hour and a half before he is due to meet Mulligan. While he sits, he reflects on form and substance, echoing the episode in the classical Ulysses, where Menelaus grips Proteus as Proteus changes into many forms.
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Posted in Henry Dodwell

Mortal Soul to Immortal

Who doubts but that our Bodies are naturally Mortal? Yet who does therefore believe them actually Mortal after the Resurrection and the General Judgment? And what can hinder but that the same Divine Power which can and shall then Immortalize the Mortal Body, so as to qualifie it for eternal Punishment of which it had not otherwise been capable, may expose mortal Soul to Immortal never ending punishment, as easily as themselves believe it preformed in the Case of the body?

From Henry Dodwell (1706) An Epistolary Discourse, proving from the Scriptures and the First Fathers, that the soul is principle Naturally Mortal, but Immortalized actually by the Pleasure of God to Punish or Reward, by its union with the Divine Baptismal Spirit, wherein is proved that none have the power of giving this Divine Immortalizing Spirit since the Apostles but only the Bishops, p. 18. Quoted in Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth (2001) “The Sleeping Habits of Matter and Spirit: Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins on the Immortality of the Soul” in Past Imperfect, Vol. 9 (online), p. 3.
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Posted in John Toland

John Toland: the myth-maker of English republican theory

With the support of powerful men he met through Molesworth, Toland published editions of works by republican authors including Edmund Ludlow, Algernon Sidney, John Milton and James Harrington.

Republishing the thought of those associated with regicide was, unsurprisingly, controversial. Toland claimed to be merely laying out these ideas to a free public to be judged. However the truth was more complicated. Collaborating with others to obtain and organise the texts, Toland shaped them to suit the needs of the radical Whigs. His preface to Oceana reiterated Molesworth’s contention that the English government is, under William, “already a commonwealth”. He purged the militant puritanism from Ludlow’s memoirs, silently added original material to the editions of Sidney and Harrington reflecting contemporary concerns, and wrote a life of Milton to shape how the accompanying works were read. He also wrote defending Milton’s denial that Charles the First was a martyr.

Though his editorial work Toland created a narrative spanning the seventeenth century in which virtuous republican heroes battled absolutism, arbitrary government and clerical powerseeking. Toland became the myth-maker of English republican theory.

From Irish Republicanism in the early 18th century: Molesworth, Toland and Hutcheson, a talk given at the “What is a Republic?” conference at Maynooth University, 23rd May 2016 (online at academia.edu)

Posted in Edward Synge b. 1659 John Toland

Belief and the Blind Man

Painting of a line of blind men leading each other
The blind leading the blind. Oil painting after Pieter Bruegel. Wellcome Library, London (CC BY 4.0)

It may sometimes seem to readers of this blog that too many Irish philosophers of the past were far too interested in religion. However an argument that is first outlined in a religious context may have applications elsewhere.

The thesis of John Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious is clearly outlined in its subtitle: “A treatise shewing that there is nothing in the gospel contrary to reason, nor above it: and that no Christian Doctrine can be properly call’d a mystery.” Toland’s position is that “reason is the only Foundation of all Certitude” against the Divines who “gravely tell us, we must adore what we cannot comprehend”1. It is impossible, says Toland, to believe what we cannot understand2:

A man may give his verbal assent to he knows-not-what…but as long as he conceives not what he believes, he cannot sincerely acquiesce in it

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Posted in George Berkeley

“I refute him thus!”: Misunderstanding Berkeley

Dr Johnson
Johnson definitely not considering kicking the cat
Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr Public Domain
“Johnsoniana” (1836), p. 124

The philosophy of Berkeley seems to have been consistently misunderstood, from Swift refusing to have the door opened to Berkeley since Berkeley believed he could walk through it and Dr Johnson kicking a stone to refute Berkeley’s thought1, to the 19th century satirical summarising of Berkeley’s thought as “I’ve proved it, it’s nothing, depend on it—nothing—bona fide nothing” and Bill Nye’s “if you drop a hammer on your foot, is it real or is it just your imagination? You can run tests a couple of times and I hope you come to agree that it is probably real.” (For more on Nye, see this post by Massimo Pigliucci which includes the video and critiques it.)

There are two different problems here. The first is a misunderstanding of Berkeley’s argument, as shown by the 19th century satire and Bill Nye. Both suggest that Berkeley is saying that everything that we believe exists is not real. That is not what Berkeley is saying. In fact he is saying almost precisely the opposite.

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Posted in Cornelius Nary

Catholic Controversialist: Cornelius Nary

Cornelius Nary
Cornelius Nary (detail) © UCD OFM, with permission

Despite living in a time when anti-Catholic legislation was in full force, Cornelius Nary managed to combine scholarship and religious controversy with being a Dublin priest. Little is known of his early life. He was born in Co. Kildare, probably at Tipper, near Naas. Though details of his parents have not been found he was probably the son of a substantial tenant farmer. Two brothers and three sisters are named in his will. He was ordained a priest in Kilkenny in 1682 before starting a course of studies in the Irish College in Paris in 1683. He remained there until 1695 when he obtained a doctorate in civil and canon law 1.

He then appears in London as tutor to the son of Alexander MacDonnell, Catholic third earl of Antrim. His first publication was in 1696, A modest and true account of the chief points in controversy between Roman Catholics and protestants, in which he castigated the late John Tillotson (1630–94), archbishop of Canterbury.

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Posted in A. A. Luce George Berkeley

Ideas about Berkeley

Berkeley, in his lifetime, was regarded as a disciple of Malebranche. Subsequently he came to be regarded as a Lockian. The new opinion was a natural growth. In the course of time British acquaintance with Malebranche sank, and the fame of Berkeley rose. National sentiment adopted him as the English philosopher in succession to Locke. It may therefore be in place here to mention the danger of over-estimating the degree to which the young Berkeley was anglicized.

There are two national sentiments to be considered, and to hold the balance is not easy. To speak of him, without qualification, as an English philosopher cannot be right. Leslie Stephen’s statement ‘Berkeley always considered himself an Englishman’, is misleading, if not mistaken. Berkeley was born and bred in Ireland. His education was entirely Irish. He speaks of himself as an Irishman several times in the Commonplace Book. Newton to him was ‘a philosopher of a neighbouring nation’. As with many his sentiments were necessarily mixed and his loyalties divided. But credit must go where it is due. Berkeley’s system in so far as it forms part of the heritage of international philosophy was complete before he set foot in England, and in England he wrote little or no philosophy.

The changing views of Berkeley’s influences and nationality. From A. A. Luce (1934) Berkeley and Malebranche, Oxford University Press, pp. 10-11. (archive.org)

Posted in Edmund Burke

Burke: no conservative?

Conservatives have either ignored Burke’s support for colonial rebellion, or maintained that his career was split between two phases: an early period of support for the ‘liberal’ cause of America and a later ‘conservative’ reaction to the Revolution in France. Burke certainly changed his opinions over the course of his career, but these shifts cannot be captured by presuming a contradiction between his support for American resistance and his aversion to the revolution in France. Representations of Burke as a renegade from early idealism are based on the dogmatic assumption that the American and French revolutions were fundamentally ‘the same’. Yet for Burke these two events were absolutely different, and in fact he had good reasons for insisting on their difference.

from Richard Bourke (2015) “Burke was no conservative” in Aeon Magazine (online).

Posted in Jonathan Swift

In Our Time: Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’

[soundcloud height=200]https://soundcloud.com/in-our-time-culture/swifts-a-modest-proposal[/soundcloud]

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most brilliant and shocking satires ever written in English – Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Masquerading as an attempt to end poverty in Ireland once and for all, a Modest Proposal is a short pamphlet that draws the reader into a scheme for economic and industrial horror.

Published anonymously but written by Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal lays bare the cruel presumptions, unchecked prejudice, the politics and the poverty of the 18th century, but it also reveals, perhaps more than anything else, the character and the mind of Swift himself.

With John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London; Judith Hawley, Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London and Ian McBride, Senior Lecturer in the History Department at King’s College London

The programme explains the background of the Proposal, including the confiscation of land, the growth of mathematical problem solving (referencing William Petty, surveyor of Ireland) and the conditions at the time.

Posted in John Abernathy

A Brief Account of John Abernathy

Recent biographies concur that John Abernathy was probably born in Bligh (near Cookstown), Co. Tyrone on 19th October 1680. His father, also John, was a Presbyterian minister there. In 1698 John Abernathy senior went to London with Patrick Adair to communicate Irish Presbyterian support for William III. His mother took refuge in Derry/Londonderry: John’s siblings were among the 10,000 who died in the famous siege. John had been sent instead to relatives in Ballymena who then brought him to Scotland where he was educated. In 1692 he returned to his parents in Coleraine. He went to Glasgow University aged 13, graduated MA in 1696, studied divinity in Edinburgh and returned to Ireland in 1701/2.

He was ordained in 1703 and became minister in Antrim. He married Susannah Jordan (d. 1712), with whom he had one son and three daughters.

Abernathy had a leading role in the Irish Presbyterian debate over whether ministers should be obliged to sign up to the Westminister Profession of Faith, an obligation only introduced in the Irish Presbyterian Church in 1705. The debate raged from 1719 until 1726, when the non-subscribing ministers, including John Abernathy, were sequestered in the Presbytery of Antrim.
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