Posted in William Drennan

Thomas Drennan Remembered

I am the son of an honest man, a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and good will among men; a Protestant Dissenting minister, in the town of Belfast; whose spirit I am accustomed to look up, in every trying situation, as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven. He was the friend and associate of good, I may say, great men; of Abernethy, of Bruce, of Duchal, and of Hucheson; and his character of mild and tender benevolence is still remembered by many in the North of Ireland, and by not a few in this city.

I may be imprudent in mentioning, that he was, and that I glory to be, a Protestant Dissenter, […] one of that division of Protestants who regard no authority on earth, in matters of religion, save the words and the works of its author, and whose fundamental principle it is, that every person has a right, and in proportion to his abilities, is under an obligation, to judge for himself in matters of religion; a right, subservient to God alone, not a favour to be derived from the gratuitous lenity of government; a right, the resignation of which produces slavery on the one hand, persecution on the other.

Thomas Drennan (1696–14 Feb 1768) as described by his son William Drennan, in An Intended Defence in a Trial for Sedition, in the year 1794. William links his adherence to religious freedom and toleration to his father, and his father’s friends Francis Hutcheson, William Bruce, John Abernathy and John Duchal. The Latin footnote in the text is a further eulogy to Thomas Drennan.

Posted in Francis Hutcheson

The Evolution of Evolution: Darwin’s philosophical forebears

Mosaic portrait of Charles Darwin (c) Charis Tsevis/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Mosaic portrait of Charles Darwin
(c) Charis Tsevis/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Charles Darwin (born on 12th February, 1809) famously developed the idea of evolution by natural selection outlined in Origin of the Species (1859). Though still controversial, to some today it seems such an obvious idea it is surprising it took so long to emerge.

Evolutionary ideas had had a long pedigree, appearing as early as the Greek philosopher Anaximander. The problem with them all was there seemed to be only two possible mechanisms available to make creatures – deliberate design or blind chance. This was the great innovation of Darwin: not evolution but the theory of natural selection which gave a plausible account of how radical changes could appear by chance, yet appear designed.

That theory did not arise in a vacuum. Stephen J. Gould (1985) has written about the important insights Darwin obtained from Richard Owen (a vertebrate palaeontologist) and John Gould (an ornithologist) after they examined his Galapagos specimens.

Darwin also had intellectual forebears, most famously Lamarck, de Buffon, Lyell and Hutton. Even Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, had written on evolutionary theory. In addition he was influenced by more conceptual work outside biology and geology. This post (indebted to Gould, 1993) will concentrate on two streams which both happen to cross over in the work of an Irish philosopher.
Continue reading “The Evolution of Evolution: Darwin’s philosophical forebears”

Posted in William Drennan

Benevolent conspiracy

I should much desire that a society were instituted in this city having much of the secresy and somewhat of the ceremonial of Free-Masonry. … A benevolent conspiracy—A Plot for the People—No Whig Club—no party Title—The Brotherhood its name—the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End. Its general end Real Independence of Ireland, and republicanism its particular purpose. Its business, every means to accomplish these ends as the prejudices and bigotry of the Land we live in would permit. . . .

Extract from a letter sent by William Drennan to Samuel McTier, 21st May 1791 (Agnew, Drennan-McTier Letters, vol. 1, p. 357). A few months later the Society of United Irishmen was formed. William Drennan’s aim of “the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End” echoes the philosophy of Francis Hutcheson. Drennan’s father, Thomas Drennan was a close friend of Hutcheson and had been his assistant teaching in Dublin.

Posted in Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch on Philosophy and Literature

Byran Magee discusses the areas in which philosophy and literature overlap with Iris Murdoch.

“Style and structure in philosophical writing are compared and contrasted with those in literature. The narrative abilities of Plato, Schopenhauer, and Kant are examined. Philosophy’s predilection for accepting only literature that supports its theories is discussed as a source of antagonism between the two disciplines.”

Many more of Magee’s interviews with contemporary philosophers are available here.

Posted in George Boole

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.

Posted in Robert Boyle

In Our Time: Robert Boyle

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Melvyn Bragg discusses the life and work of Robert Boyle with Simon Schaffer, Michael Hunter and Anna Marie Roos.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Robert Boyle, a pioneering scientist and a founder member of the Royal Society. Born in Ireland in 1627, Boyle was one of the first natural philosophers to conduct rigorous experiments, laid the foundations of modern chemistry and derived Boyle’s Law, describing the physical properties of gases. In addition to his experimental work he left a substantial body of writings about philosophy and religion; his piety was one of the most important factors in his intellectual activities, prompting a celebrated dispute with his contemporary Thomas Hobbes.

For more “In Our Time” relating to Robert Boyle, see the programme on alchemy and the “In Our Time” blog.

Posted in Events George Boole

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.

Posted in Events

‘Political Thought in Ireland: the Contribution of Ulster-Scots’, Queen’s University, Thur 22 Jan 2015, 9.30am – 5pm.

political-symposium-page-001The Ulster-Scots influence on Ireland’s political landscape will explored in a symposium entitled: ‘Political Thought in Ireland: the Contribution of Ulster-Scots’. The symposium is funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and supported by DCAL’s Ministerial Advisory Group on the Ulster-Scots Academy.

The event will be held in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at Queen’s University, 6 College Park, Belfast on Thursday 22 January 2015, 9.30am – 5pm. All are welcome to attend. The conference is aimed at those with an interest in local history and the evolution of politics in Ulster.

The conference “will feature discussions covering the history of modern Ireland, from the early role of Presbyterians in the politics of Ireland, the 1798 Rebellion, the complexities of the nineteenth-century, through to partition and beyond.”

The keynote speaker is Professor Ian McBride (King’s College London) who will lecture on the political thought of Francis Hutcheson. Dr Andrew Holmes (Queen’s University Belfast) will respond. Also in attendance will be Wesley Hutchinson, Laurence Kirkpatrick and Carol Baraniuk.

More information on Facebook and The Ulster Scots Agency. The agenda is here (pdf on Queens University website). Contact Dr John Greer for further details. .

Posted in Events Jonathan Swift

“Censorship and deception in the printing of Swift’s works 1690-1758” , National Print Museum, 15th Jan 2015.

From ECIS: There will be a public lecture at the National Print Museum entitled ‘Censorship and deception in the printing of Swift’s works 1690-1758’, on Thursday, 15 January 2015, at 6.30pm. The lecture will be given by Professor Andrew Carpenter as part of the National Print Museum’s ‘Censored’ lecture series and is free of charge

Please visit the National Print Museum website, or call 01 6603770 for further details.

Posted in Edmund Burke

Burke, Beauty and the Sublime

Burke on the difference between Beauty and the Sublime (Youtube). Narrated by Harry Shearer and scripted by Nigel Warburton for the BBC Radio 4 series A History of Ideas.

Burke was not the first to write about the sublime, but in his A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756) he suggested for the first time that the sublime and the beautiful are mutually exclusive. For Burke, the sublime could be ugly, and thus ugliness was not merely a lack of form as Augustine and others had suggested. Unlike the pleasure invoked by beauty, Burke suggested that the sublime evoked a “negative pain” which he called delight. The sublime evokes fear and attraction. Overcoming fear to confront the sublime removes the pain, producing the intense feeling of delight.

David Berman sets the end of the Irish Golden Age of Philosophy at the publication of The Sublime and the Beautiful, the last great work of the period. For more on the idea of the Sublime see this In Our Time episode. Also see this from Existential Comics on the sublime.