A look at the history of Irish philosophy shows that a rather high proportion of our well known philosophers worked abroad. But we do know that bishops capable of debate were around before John Toland aggravated Bishops Edward Synge and William King.
Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) came to Ireland to visit his Barry relatives in 1186-7. He wrote a description of the country in his Topography of Ireland. As in his works about Wales, Gerald is less than complimentary about the nonNormans he encounters. In his Topography (pp 79-81) he argues that the Irish people have many failings, and attributes this to the failure of prelates to preach to them. To support that preaching was lacking he cites the unparalleled lack of martyrs in the story of Ireland’s conversion to Christianity. If there had been a “voice like a trumpet” preaching to this uncivilised nation, says Gerald, there should have been martyrs.
He once (he tells us) put this argument to Maurice, archbishop of Cashel, (probably Muirges Ua hÉnna) “a discreet and learned man” who retorted:
Continue reading “Giraldus Cambrensis and the necessity of martyrs”
I was intrigued by these quotes from Jorge-Luis Borges in Richard Kearney’s Post-Nationalist Ireland.
My father introduced me to Berkeley’s philosophy at the age of ten. Before I was even able to read or write properly he taught me to think. He was a professor of psychology and every day after dinner he would give me a philosophy lesson. I remember very well how he first introduced me to Berkeley’s idealist metaphysics and particularly his doctrine that the material or empirical world is an invention of the creative mind: to be is to be perceived/esse est percipi. It was one day after a good lunch when my father took an orange in his hand and asked me: ‘What colour is this fruit?’ ‘Orange’, I replied. ‘Is this colour in the orange or in your perception of it?’ he continued: ‘And
the taste of the sweetness—is that in the orange itself or is it the sensation on your tongue that makes it sweet?’ This was a revelation to me: that the outside world is as we perceive or imagine it to be. It does not exist independently of our minds. From that day forth, I realised that reality and fiction were betrothed to each other, that even our ideas
are creative fictions.
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”
When philosophy and the name Augustine are mentioned, one immediately thinks of the North African bishop, reluctant convert and writer of classic works like the Confessions and The City of God.
At about the same time a man who shared Augustine’s fathers’ name was on a mission to Christianise Ireland. While not in the same literary or philosophical league Patrick’s Confessions mark the start of a long Christian tradition and his Letter is a very early statement of a belief that slavery (of Christians at least) is wrong.
The collapse of the Roman Empire (Augustine died in a city under siege) left turmoil. The works of the ancients were preserved in the East, in the Arab world, and in Ireland.
The monks not only preserved works but also created their own commentaries and treatises. In the 7th century an Irish monk later known as Augustinus Hibernicus (the Irish Augustine) produced a Latin treatise De mirabilibus sacrae scripturae (in English: On the miraculous things in sacred scripture). This treatise was widely circulated (76 copies at least extant) though possibly because they thought it was by the better know Augustine.
The treatise is called a “rationalisation” of the Bible, but this is slightly misleading. To put it in modern terms Augustinus Hibernicus argues that God does not break the rules of nature he has created to perform a miracle. Instead miracles are performed using the natural possibilities within the object. This applied to both Old Testament and New Testament miracles. Both the water turned to blood in Egypt and the water turned to wine in Cana are to Augustinus Hibernicus the performing of a natural process, only greatly accelerated. Water becoming wine (in a vine) or blood (in an animal) is part of nature.
Continue reading “Patrick, Augustine and a blackbird”