What too many people in Ireland mistake for thoughts are feelings. It is enough to them to vent like or dislike, inherited prejudices or passions, and they think when they have expressed feeling they have given utterance to thought. The nature of our political controversies provoked passion, and passion has become dominant in our politics. Passion truly is a power in humanity, but it should never enter into national policy.
Chapter I, The National Being (1916), by (A.E.) George William Russell.
When, therefore, the Horizontal Moon is said to appear greater than the Meridional Moon; this must be understood, not of a greater Visible Extension, but of a greater Tangible Extension; which, by reason of the more than ordinary Faintness of the Visible Appearance, is suggested to the Mind along with it.
Berkeley on the Moon Illusion in his 1709 An Essay towards a new Theory of Vision. These lines are from section LXXIV. The Moon Illusion is discussed from section LXVII – note in LXXV his mention of the “gross blunders” of Descartes, Hobbes and Gassendi, shown up by Mr Molyneaux (not William but his brother Thomas.) Thomas Molyneaux’s paper in Philosophical Transactions is here.
The podcast series The History of Philosophy without any Gaps has arrived at the early medieval period. The first major philosopher to be covered is Irishman John Scottus Eriugena.
Episode 197: “Charles in Charge: The Carolingian Renaissance” gives an introduction to the growth of learning in France in the years before Eriugena. The focus is on the star of Charlemagne’s court, the philosopher Alcuin of York. The court was also home to many Irish scholars such as Clemens Scotus (teacher, at court before Alcuin), Joseph Scottus (a poet and scholar who probably accompanied Alcuin), Dungal of Bobbio (teacher and astronomer), Dicuil (geographer), Donatus of Fiesole (teacher), Cruindmelus (teacher), and Cadac-Andreas (scholar). This reflects the focus the Carolingian Court had on education and learning, which drew in scholars from all over Europe. It also shows the wide range of learning held by Irish monks.
Continue reading “Eriugena without any gaps”
around the Globe, whinged[…]
“What ish my nation?”
And sensibly, though so much
later, the wandering Bloom
replied, “Ireland,” said Bloom,
“I was born here. Ireland.”
Traditions, Seamus Heaney
Bloom may have been sensible, but his simple statement was not undisputed. A spit on the ground is the response to his reply in Ulysses. MacMorris, the original stage Irishman in Henry V declares “Ish a villain and a bastard and a knave and a rascal”, a admission unsurprising, Heaney suggests, to an English audience with a low opinion of the Irish. Identity is complicated, Irish identity perhaps especially so.
“[T]he histories of dependant, colonized nations are for the most part histories of ‘accidents'” – whether of births at home, ventures abroad, fortunes of war (Duddy, History of Irish Thought, p. xiii). Simple criteria to try and define the products of such a complicated history inevitably exclude – something Joyce was deliberately targetting when he wrote the words of Bloom’s reply. Could Bloom, nonCatholic and nonChristian, be accepted as Irish?
Continue reading “What ish my nation?”
The intellect of Ireland is irreligious. I doubt if one could select from any Irish writer of the last two hundred years until the present generation a solitary sentence that might be included in a reputable anthology of religious thought. Ireland has produced but two men of religious genius: Johannes Scotus Erigena who lived a long time ago, and Bishop Berkeley who kept his Plato by his Bible; and its moral system, being founded upon habit, not intellectual conviction, has shown of late that it cannot resist the onset of modern life. We are quick to hate and slow to love; and we have never lacked a Press to excite the most evil passions. To some extent Ireland but shows in an acute form the European problem, and must seek a remedy where the best minds of Europe seek it — in audacity of speculation and creation.
William Butler Yeats, The Need for Audacity of Thought p 201 of The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats Vol X: Later Articles and Reviews. (First published in Dial, LXXX, Feb 1926)
On the 4th November 1964, the physicist John S. Bell published a paper called On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox. This was an important paper for both philosophy and physics with implications for our understanding of reality and freedom.
When quantum theory was developed in the early 20th century, the philosophical implications troubled some, including Einstein. The “Copenhagen interpretation” put realism in science under threat. Although the “macro” world (people, planets, plates and platypuses) were argued to be real existing things, electrons and other particles were held not to be. The world was therefore divided into the “classical” and the “quantum” worlds, or as John S. Bell later called them, the “speakable” and the “unspeakable”.
In 1935, Einstein published a paper with Nathan Rosen and Boris Podolsky (known collectively as EPR) arguing that quantum mechanics was not a complete theory, but required additional “hidden” variables to preserve realism and locality. “In the vernacular of Einstein: locality meant no instantaneous (“spooky”) action at a distance; realism meant the moon is there even when not being observed.” (wiki)
Bell also argued for realism, thus rejecting the Copenhagen Interpretation. He worked with realist theories such as de Broglie–Bohm theory, but the theory violated the EPR locality criterion. This fact was used to argue that it was on the wrong track, but Bell’s 1964 paper showed that “any serious version of quantum theory (regardless of whether or not it is based on microscopic realism) must violate locality. This means that if nature is governed by the predictions of quantum theory, the ‘locality principle’ is simply wrong, and our world is nonlocal” (American Scientist)
Continue reading “John Stewart Bell: The Nature of Reality”
This video gives a brief introduction to the importance of George Boole, who will be the subject of a year of celebration in UCC next year, 2015. George Boole’s major achievement was Boolean Algebra, a major development in logic, which Frege later built on.
For Boole’s life and his contribution to the digital age, see this video Forgotten Genius: George Boole (YouTube), and for his place in philosophy Logic –The Structure of Reason Great Ideas of Philosophy (YouTube) (Boole is featured from 15:43 to 17:42). A biography of Boole is here.
Dr. Wallace Notestein chose an end date of 1718 for his A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718 because “that year was marked by the publication of Francis Hutchinson’s notable attack upon the belief. Hutchinson levelled a final and deadly blow at the dying superstition.”
This view of the importance of An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft is echoed in more recent works. For example, The Devil in Disguise (2011) concurs with the assessment of the Essay and also suggests that an earlier pamphlet The Case of the Hertfordshire Witchcraft Consider’d is likely to have been written by Hutchinson. An account of that Hertfordshire witch trial against Jane Wenham, together with Hutchinson and Hans Sloane’s involvement is to be found on the Sloane Letters blog. Hutchison was concerned by the level of superstition which characterised the witch hunts, and moved from sharing that concern with Sloane to publishing his Essay in 1718, with the aim of preventing that superstition from spreading.
Sloane is not the only Irish link to this story. A second edition of the Historical Essay was published in 1720, the year Hutchinson was appointed Bishop of Down and Conor. While not active in his religious duties as bishop, he took an interest in conditions in his diocese. He was particularly concerned with the problems of Irish speakers in the Church of Ireland, especially the community on Rathlin Island. He had a bilingual catechism and primer printed for their use, and later an Irish catechism. In all these the Irish was rendered phonetically in a Roman script. More on his adaptation of Irish and his attempts to proselytize among the Catholic population is available on History Ireland.
Continue reading “An Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft”
One of Ireland’s most visited sites, the Rock of Cashel, was in use up to the mid-Eighteenth century. To replace the cathedral there, a new one was built (1749-1784) on the site of a medieval church. The Church of Ireland Cathedral of St John the Baptist now stands next next to an unassuming chapterhouse, which houses the Bolton book collection, which the International Dictionary of Library Histories calls “one of the great treasures of the Church of Ireland” and “probably one of the finest collections of antiquarian books in Ireland outside Dublin.” The Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections (London 1997) says that, “The [Bolton] collection contains many items of great rarity, at least fifty not recorded elsewhere in the world, and some 800 not recorded elsewhere in Ireland.”
Photography is not permitted in the library, but the Heritage Council report on the Library contains images of the interior and of many of the books mentioned below.
The collection includes 11,000-12,000 items. These include fragments of papyrus, 15 manuscripts predating 1701, 45 books printed before 1501 (incunabulas), letters, maps and 200 pamphlets. The oldest manuscript, on vellum, dates from the 12th century and includes an early example of the use of zero. The finest Irish manuscript comes from the hand of Dermot O’Connor of Limerick in 1716, and includes translation of French heraldric rules into Irish. The most notable of the incunabulas is probably an uncoloured copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1483).
Continue reading “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: GPA Bolton Library”
Thomas Osborne Davis was born two hundred years ago in Mallow Co. Cork on 24 October 1814 (the date is disputed – some say the 14th October). He is best known as a poet (see here), with one of his most famous songs being “A Nation Once Again” (version by the Dubliners here).
Later writers have argued for Davis as more than a poet and writer, however. T. W. Rolleston (in the introduction to The prose writings of Thomas Davis) goes as far as to cite Davis as the mingling of two streams in Irish thought: Swift’s defence from enemies without and Berkeley’s encouragement of improvements by the Irish people themselves. Davis did not write systematically or academically, but he did succeed in his self-set task as populariser. He set out a vision of Ireland that proved influential. Not only were his works (mostly written for newspapers) collected and republished, but he was invoked by Padraig Pearse and Arthur Griffith, and cited as inspiration by Fenian John O’Leary. Most directly, he influenced the group around him, who had joined O’Connell’s Repeal Movement with him in 1841 and who were christened by a reporter “Young Ireland”.
Continue reading “What Kind of Nation (Once Again)?”