Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, Culture, Philosophy

By Richard Kearney | Go to book overview

11

John Tyndall and Irish science

THE SUBMERGENCE OF IRISH SCIENCE

For centuries philosophy and science were Siamese twins. From Thales and Aristotle to Hume and Kant, questions of philosophers were inextricably bound up with scientific inquiry into the workings of nature. Today an intellectual apartheid segregates science and philosophy. Even in third-level colleges, the natural world is analysed in ‘Science Faculties’, while matters of meaning and morality are exiled to ‘Arts Faculties’—often located in separate buildings if not separate campuses.

This dissociation of inquiry has also taken its toll on the Irish intellectual scene. The creative dialogue between philosophical and scientific questioning which prevailed between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries—from Toland and Berkeley to Hamilton and Tyndall—has virtually disappeared. The dynamic debates of the Dublin Philosophical Society, where issues of natural and moral knowledge were passionately discussed, are no longer to be heard. And it is almost unthinkable that any contemporary Irish scientist could provoke the sort of public controversy, at national or international level, which resulted from Tyndall’s famous Belfast Address in 1874. It is regrettably true that few Irish citizens today have ever heard of Tyndall’s achievements, not to mention those of other distinguished Irish scientists, for example: Rowan Hamilton’s discovery of the ‘Hamiltonian function’ which plays a central role in quantum mechanics; Fitzgerald’s contribution to special relativity; William Parsons’s reflecting telescope; Richard Griffith’s innovations in geological mapping; the decisive discoveries of Boyle, Boole or Molyneux in natural philosophy; Ernan McMullan’s contributions to the philosophy of science, and so on. Ireland has a most impressive scientific tradition, especially in the nineteenth century which Gordon Herries Davies has nominated the ‘golden age of Irish

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Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, Culture, Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Politics 13
  • 1 - Beyond Sovereignty 15
  • 2 - Ideas of a Republic 25
  • 3 - Genealogy of the Republic 39
  • 4 - Postnationalism and Postmodernity 57
  • 5 - Rethinking Ireland 70
  • Part II - Culture 97
  • 6 - The Fifth Province 99
  • 7 - Myths of Motherland 108
  • 8 - Myth and Nation in Modern Irish Poetry 122
  • Part III - Philosophy 143
  • 9 - George Berkeley 145
  • 10 - John Toland 157
  • 11 - John Tyndall and Irish Science 169
  • Postscript 178
  • Notes 189
  • Index 248
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