Posted in George Russell 'AE'

The Dublin Strike

I am a literary man, a lover of ideas, but I have found few people in my life who would sacrifice anything for a principle. Yet in Dublin, when the masters issued that humiliating document, asking men – on penalty of dismissal – to swear never to join a trades union, thousands of men who had no connection with the Irish Transport Workers – many among them personally hostile to that organisation – refused to obey. They would not sign away their freedom, their right to choose their own heroes and their own ideas. Most of these men had no strike fund to fall back on. They had wives and children depending on them. Quietly and grimly they took through hunger the path to the Heavenly City. […] For all their tattered garments, I recognise in these obscure men a majesty of spirit. It is in these workers in the towns and in the men in the cabins in the country that the hope of Ireland lies.

William Russell (AE) puts the General Strike of 1913 firmly in the realm of rights and freedom: to associate, to have one’s own ideas, to follow one’s own ideals.

From ‘The Dublin Strike’ by George Russell. Section I. A Plea for the Workers’, a speech delivered in the Royal Albert Hall, London, 1 November 1913 to an audience of 12,000 persons.
Published by the Irish Worker Press, Liberty Hall, Dublin, 1913. [available on archive.org]

Posted in Francis Hutcheson

The Sixth Sense of Francis Hutcheson

If we may call every Determination of our Minds to receive Ideas independently on our Will and to have Perceptions of Pleasure and Pain, A SENSE, we shall find many otherSenses beside those commonly explained. Tho it is not easy to assign accurate Divisions on such Subjects, yet we may reduce them to the following classes….

In the 1st Class are the External Senses, universally known. In the 2d, the Pleasant Perceptions arising from regular, harmonious, uniform Objects; as also from Grandeur andNovelty. These we may call, after Mr. ADDISON, the Pleasures of the Imagination; or we may call the Power of receiving them, an Internal Sense. Whoever dislikes this Name may substitute another. 3. The next Class of Perceptions we may call a Publick Sense, viz ‘our Determination to be pleased with the Happiness of others, and to be uneasy at their Misery‘…

4. The fourth Class we may call the Moral Sense, by which ‘we perceive Virtue or Vice in ourselves or others’…

5. The fifth Class is a Sense of Honour, ‘which makes theApprobation, or Gratitude of others, for any good actions we have done, the necessary occasion of Pleasure’…”

From the Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (1728). This was written in Dublin, further refining the aesthetic and moral theories he had outlined in Inquiries into the Original of our Ideas of Virtue and Beauty.

Hutcheson outlines five classes of senses, the first of which includes all the physical senses (sight, sound etc), the second is aesthetic, the third the public sense, the fourth the moral senses and the fifth the sense of honour.

Hutcheson argued that, while ideas might never be innate, senses or faculties were. He argued for compassion, mutual aid and support of offspring as the natural state of humans, one that flowed from innate principles in human nature.

Posted in Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O’Connell and Free Speech

Daniel O'Connell [The O'Connell Centennial] (c) Library & Archives Canada/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Daniel O’Connell [The O’Connell Centennial]
(c) Library & Archives Canada/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Given his political philosophy, it is not surprising that Daniel O’Connell was a champion of free speech. The history of the eighteenth century in Ireland was a history of speech restricted, with all political writers from Molyneaux and Swift to Wolf Tone facing possible accusations of treason. Religious freedom was still being fought for.

O’Connell’s passion for free speech extended, as it should, to those he disagreed with. Not that he was necessarily entirely polite to them, if the following account by Wendell Phillips (1875) is to be believed:
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Posted in 1801-1922 Union and Rebellion

William Larminie: From Folklore to Philosophy

Humanities in the West_DrTomDuddy from School of Humanities on Vimeo.

Part of the “Humanities in the West” series of lectures.
Dr Thomas Duddy presents “From Folklore to Philosophy: The Life and Work of William Larminie of Castlebar” (video lecture, 45 minutes)

William Larminie was a poet and folklorist, who was born in Castlebar on 1st August 1849. He graduated from Trinity with a degree in classics and went to work in the India Office of the English civil service in London. He threw up his post in the early 1890s and moved to Bray. He published a volume of folklore and volumes of poetry which displayed his interest in Irish landscape and mythology.

His primary philosophical interest was in Eriugena, who Larminie described in one article as the “Irish Plato”. As well as writing articles, Laraminie translated the bulk of Eriugena’s text from Latin into English, leaving out the sections he thought would be of little interest to the modern reader.

Larminie died in Bray, Co. Wicklow on 19th January, 1900.

Posted in Philip Pettit

Philip Pettit: Freedom and other Robustly Demanding Goods

This is a lecture on freedom (2 hours 14 mins) given by Professor Philip Pettit on May 6, 2013. The lecture was given at the Australian National University School of Philosophy.

For more information on this topic see Philip Pettit’s article from 2012 on “A Question for Tomorrow: The Robust Demands of the Good” [pdf]. Extract:

Humphrey Lyttelton, the English jazz musician, was once asked where he thought jazz was going. He replied that if he knew where jazz was going, he would be there already. I feel the same about being asked about the questions of tomorrow in the moral and political philosophy. If I knew what they were,
I would be there already. Which raises an interesting thought. Perhaps the best indication of what I think that the questions are is where I am already. And, following that thought, there is a clear path to follow, however narcissistic it may seem. This is to describe a question that I think important — indeed a question that is something of a personal hobby-horse — despite the fact that it is not currently much discussed. Induction from past evidence suggests that it is unlikely to become a question of tomorrow. But I live, as we all must do, in hope.

In thinking over a long period about the various ways in which freedom may be conceptualized, I came to see that it is, as I came to put it, a robustly or modally demanding value.

Posted in William Butler Yeats

The Seven Sages

The First. My great-grandfather spoke to Edmund Burke
In Grattan’s house.
The Second. My great-grandfather shared
A pot-house bench with Oliver Goldsmith once.
The Third. My great-grandfather’s father talked of music,
Drank tar-water with the Bishop of Cloyne.
The Fourth. But mine saw Stella once.
The Fifth. Whence came our thought?
The Sixth. From four great minds that hated Whiggery.
The Fifth. Burke was a Whig.
The Sixth. Whether they knew or not,
Goldsmith and Burke, Swift and the Bishop of Cloyne
All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
That never looked out of the eye of a saint
Or out of drunkard’s eye.
The Seventh. All’s Whiggery now,
But we old men are massed against the world.
The First. American colonies, Ireland, France and India
Harried, and Burke’s great melody against it.
The Second. Oliver Goldsmith sang what he had seen,
Roads full of beggars, cattle in the fields,
But never saw the trefoil stained with blood,
The avenging leaf those fields raised up against it.
The Fourth. The tomb of Swift wears it away.
The Third. A voice
Soft as the rustle of a reed from Cloyne
That gathers volume; now a thunder-clap.
The Sixth. What schooling had these four?
The Seventh. They walked the roads
Mimicking what they heard, as children mimic;
They understood that wisdom comes of beggary.

Yeats’ poem (published 1933) in praise of Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, George Berkeley (the Bishop of Cloyne) and Jonathan Swift. All wrote about oppression and dispossession; Berkeley and Swift in the Irish context (The Querist and A Modest Proposal), Goldsmith in the context of the rich evicting the poor in The Deserted Village, and Burke on the widest canvas of all (India, the American colonies and Ireland).

Yeats’ affiliation with the Georgian (protestant, intellectual) past first emerged in “The Tower” (1928) and “Blood and the Moon” (1929). Yeats also makes reference to the 1798 Rising, “the trefoil stained with blood”, which he previously referred to (“Emmet, Fitzgerald, Tone”) in “The Funeral of Parnell” (1932).

It is a little strange to see four men who attended Trinity College Dublin, three of whom (Swift, Berkeley and Burke) were pillars of the Establishment, described as walking the roads and knowing that “wisdom comes of beggary”. However in Yeats’ 1931 introduction to Hone and Rossi’s Bishop Berkeley1 Yeats argued that the Georgian society they all belonged to was one that allowed “solitaries to flourish” – essentially the same premodern society that supported hermit monks, or Indian sages with begging bowls, or literal beggars and wanderers.
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Posted in Edmund Burke

Burke and Sons: the legacy of the Father of Conservatism

Burke died in 1797. His legacy has been hotly contested. In Edmund Burke in America, the historian Drew Maciag charts the use of Burke by US intellectuals. “Burke will be heard to say whatever needs to be said,” he argues. This is especially true of the past few decades. Neo-conservatives have used his anti-Jacobinism to call for strong military action in the cold war and after 9/11. Religious conservatives have cited Burke’s belief in Providence. Others, foreshadowing the Tea Party, have sought to parallel his reverence for the unwritten English constitution and the Glorious Revolution with theirs for the US constitution and the wars of independence.

In Maciag’s telling, Burke has been abused by American rightwing thinkers. His conservatism ends up appearing kaleidoscopic. Maciag implies that if the father of modern conservatism has spawned such diverse offspring, it makes no sense to think of a single, identifiable “conservatism”.

Yes, another review of Jesse Norman’s Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet along with Drew Maciag’s Edmund Burke in America: The Contested Career of the Father of Modern Conservatism.

John McDermott’s “Burke & Sons” (Financial Times) goes further than a simple review however, briefly exploring to what extent Burke can be said to be the father of a thing called conservatism, touching on Maciag, Corey Robin and today’s UK politics on the way.

Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

Ireland’s first recorded blasphemy trial

NPG D8717; Thomas Emlyn by Gerard Vandergucht, after Joseph Highmore
Thomas Emlyn;
(c) National Portrait Gallery (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Thomas Emlyn spent fourteen of his seventy-eight years in Dublin (1691-1705), but they were easily the most eventful of his life. He wrote his An Humble Inquiry into the Scripture Account of Jesus Christ as a result of events there. That Inquiry led to his appearance as the plaintiff in what “appears to have been the first reported blasphemy prosecution in Irish law” (UK Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales First Report).

Thomas Emlyn was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, on 27 May 1663. His family were non-conformist (protestants who were not Anglicans). He first came to Ireland as the domestic chaplain of the Countess of Donegall, a Presbyterian. During these four years he was first invited to minister to the Presbyterian congregation of Wood Street, Dublin. Instead he returned to London and became chaplain to Sir Robert Rich. In September 1690 the offer of the Wood Street congregation was made again and accepted. Emlyn became colleague to Joseph Boyse, the same minister who later arranged for Francis Hutcheson to become head of a dissenting academy in Dublin, in which Boyse taught divinity.
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Posted in George Russell 'AE'

Æ on the Irish Mind

We wish the Irish mind to develop to the utmost of which it is capable, and we have always believed that the people now inhabiting Ireland…made up of Gael, Dane, Norman and Saxon, has infinitely greater intellectual possibilities…a more complex mentality. Ireland has not only the unique Gaelic tradition, but it has also given birth, if it accepts all of its children, to many men who have influenced European culture and science, Berkeley, Swift, Goldsmith, Burke, Sheridan, Moore, Hamilton, Kelvin, Tyndall, Shaw, Yeats, Synge and many others of international repute.

Quoted by Richard Kearney in the Sunday Independent, May 26, 1985. These words were also included in the opening of a collection of essays, The Irish Mind, published in 1985 and edited by Kearney. The quote was intended to act as an epigraph for the book, outlining the context of and acting as a preface to the subject.

AE, aka George William Russell originally wrote this in the Irish Statesman(17 January 1925).

Posted in Iris Murdoch

Seeking the Sun: Murdoch and the Good

Dame Iris Murdoch Bill Strain/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Dame Iris Murdoch
Bill Strain/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Murdoch and Nietzsche start from with the same assumptions when considering morality. But interestingly, they end up in different places.

Iris Murdoch, in the essay The Sovereignty of Good over other Concepts, gives her starting assumptions as follows (p. 76-7)

That human beings are naturally selfish seems true on the evidence, whenever and however we look at them, in spite of a very small number of apparent exceptions. […]

That human life has no external point or Telos is a view as difficult to argue as its opposite, and I shall simply assert it. I can see no evidence to suggest that human life is not something self-contained.

These principles are ones Nietzsche would agree with. Added to this the disagreement among those who consider the matter as to what principles morality is based on, lead Nietzsche to scepticism about the existence of morality (see the upcoming paper by Leiter which outlines Nietzsche’s position in full).

Murdoch takes another path. She agrees that modern attempts to analyse moral concepts without success, but argues that the failure is due to the abandonment of images and metaphors, which are “the fundamental forms of our awareness of our condition”. Though such philosophy does not arrive at a conclusion, it does contain concepts which lose substance when an attempt is made to remove the metaphorical aspects.
Continue reading “Seeking the Sun: Murdoch and the Good”