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The Department of Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin invites applications to our PhD programme, and is delighted to offer two full funded PhD positions as part of the recently introduced Provost’s Scholarships Initiative. These funded positions cover fees (either EU or Non-EU) plus an annual stipend of €16,000 per year for 4 years. Please see below for descriptions of the research projects within which Provost’s Scholars will work, and for a description of the further research strengths of the department.

We also welcome applications for our PhD programme in line with our research strengths in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion and ethics, as well as expertise in ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, early modern philosophy, modern European philosophy and history of analytic philosophy. All applicants will be considered for the Postgraduate Ussher Fellowships.

Funded Position 1: Ancient Philosophy (Supervisor: Prof. Vasilis Politis)

Applications are invited for a funded PhD in Philosophy, to be supervised by Professor Vasilis Politis, on the topic of: Plato’s Essentialism. The successful applicant will be expected to demonstrate interest in one or more of the following themes under this general topic:

  • How does Plato defend the commitment to the search for essences?
  • What are distinctive features of Plato’s essentialism?
  • What, according to Plato, is the role of essences in: thought and language; dialectic; science; metaphysics?
  • What is the relation between Plato’s essentialism and his epistemology?
  • Does Plato have an answer to the sceptic about essences?
  • How does Plato’s essentialism compare to Aristotle’s?
  • Is Plato’s essentialism relevant in contemporary philosophy?
  • Is there a political and/or ethical dimension to Plato’s essentialism?

The successful applicant will demonstrate a combination of scholarly and philosophical ability, and will be expected to know some Greek already or be committed to learning Greek during and in preparation of his or her PhD programme.

Funded Position 2: Early Modern Philosophy (Supervisor: Dr. Kenneth Pearce)

Irish Philosophy in the Age of Berkeley

George Berkeley’s Principles (1710) and Dialogues (1713) are standard texts in Western philosophy curricula. No other Irish philosopher, and no other work of Berkeley’s, has achieved this ‘canonical’ status. However, there was a vibrant philosophical scene in Ireland in Berkeley’s lifetime, to which Berkeley was far from the only contributor. Studying this broader Irish philosophical discussion will improve our understanding of Berkeley and also of early modern philosophy more generally. This is in line with a new approach to the history of philosophy focused on philosophical conversations, rather than on the ‘grand systems’ of individual thinkers.

Proposals are invited for a fully funded PhD position within this project to be supervised by Dr. Kenneth Pearce. Proposals should adopt a contextual approach to the study of the philosophy of George Berkeley and/or other Irish philosophers of the same period, such as Robert Boyle, William King, or John Toland.

About the Provost’s Scholarships

The Provost’s Scholarships include funding to cover fees (either EU or Non-EU) plus an annual stipend of €16,000 per year for 4 years. The awards are made in connection to research projects, and those wishing to apply for one of the funded Provost’s Scholarships should indicate this clearly in their applications, and should ensure that their research proposals align with one of the research projects.

Prospective students are advised to contact the relevant supervisor if they are unsure whether their research project fits the advertised position.

About the Department

Based in the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, we are a small and student-friendly Department that offers a world-class programme in philosophy. There has been a rich tradition of philosophical excellence at Trinity since its foundation in 1592 and today the Department is a close-knit, lively intellectual community of researchers, teachers and students, which combines high-quality teaching with expansive research activity.

The Department of Philosophy has a well-established international reputation for innovative research across many areas of philosophy. While much of our research is in the broad analytical tradition, this is complemented by a strong interest in history of philosophy. We have special strengths in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion and ethics, as well as expertise in ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, early modern philosophy, modern European philosophy and history of analytic philosophy.

The Department of Philosophy has a vibrant graduate community. Students who are accepted into the PhD programme at Trinity College are, as a matter of course, also enrolled in the Dublin Philosophy Graduate Programme. This programme, which combines the strengths and expertise of the philosophy faculties of Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, integrates a rigorous taught component with a serious research element, giving it a unique and comprehensive character.

Research students are offered the chance to be teaching assistants for our undergraduate courses. Our students have been successful in attracting national and international research funding, including postgraduate and postdoctoral fellowships, and presenting their research at international conferences.

All applicants will automatically be considered for the Postgraduate Ussher Fellowships. These fellowships are available to new entrants on the PhD programme. The fellowships aim to support and develop gifted research students. They are competitive and are awarded on the basis of academic merit.

The initial deadline for all applications is 1st April. Applications received after the deadline will be considered, but they will not be considered for a Provost Scholarship or an Ussher Fellowships. Late applicants also run the risk that available places in the programme will be filled. All applications are to be made online via the TCD postgrad applications system.

For further information on the Department of Philosophy at TCD and our graduate programmes please visit: http://www.tcd.ie/Philosophy/courses/

For more information on scholarships, please visit: http://www.tcd.ie/Philosophy/postgraduate/phd-programme/fees-funding/index.php

Any queries should be directed to prospective supervisors or to Dr James Miller (jamiller@tcd.ie)

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According to the Port-Royal Logic, “words are distinct and articulated sounds that people have made into signs to indicate what takes place in the mind” (Buroker 74). Similarly, according to Locke, the use of language requires that one “be able to use [articulate] Sounds, as Signs of internal Conceptions; and to make them stand as marks for the Ideas within his own Mind, whereby they might be made known to others, and the Thoughts of Men’s Minds be conveyed from one to another” (EHU 3.1.2). Passages like these support Berkeley’s interpretation of his predecessors as holding that, in the proper use of words, the speaker “design[s] them for marks of ideas in his own, which he would have them raise in the mind of the hearer” (PHK, Intro 20). This in turn implies that “significant names, every time they are used, excite in the understanding the ideas they are made to stand for” (PHK, Intro 19). In other words, Berkeley understands his opponents to hold that “communication of ideas,” which his opponents take to be “the chief and only end of language” (PHK, Intro 20), requires that the hearer ends up having the same mental state as the speaker.

One problem with this, to which Berkeley does not call attention in his critique, is what happens when one hears and understands a sentence. Although this is disputed by Walter Ott, the standard view, which I take to be well-supported by the texts, is that for both the Port-Royalists and Locke, the mental proposition (i.e., the mental state signified by a complete sentence) carries assertive force. In the mental propositions signified by simple declarative sentences that aren’t negated, the subject idea and the predicate idea are joined by an act of affirmation. To have the mental state signified by ‘Melampus is an animal’ (Berkeley’s example in the Manuscript Introduction) just is to believe (occurrently) that Melampus is an animal. But this apparently implies that one cannot understand that sentence without believing it, and that’s absurd.

In a recent paper, Jennifer Smalligan Marušić proposes an interesting and plausible solution to this problem (see ppp. 273-277). Marušić’s suggestion is that, when communication succeeds, the hearer may form an idea of the speaker’s mental state, rather than having that mental state herself. Since the Port-Royalists explicitly distinguish between the act of affirming and the idea of that act, and say that you can have one without the other (Buroker 79), this allows us to understand sentences without affirming them. Since Locke also has ideas of reflection, it seems that he can make a similar move.

A nice feature of this approach, which Marušić does not mention, is that it helps to reconcile the Port-Royalists’ claim that “for an uttered or written sound to signify is nothing other than to prompt an idea connected to this sound in the mind by striking our ears or eyes” (Buroker 66) with their claim that the verb signifies the act of affirmation, and not the idea of that act. On this reading, the verb signifies the speaker’s act of affirmation by prompting the idea of that act in the hearer. What it doesn’t signify is that the speaker has (occurrently) an idea of affirmation.

If this is right, then the Port-Royalists may not hold quite the view of language Berkeley has in mind in his critique in the Introduction to the Principles. I don’t think, though, that this has far-reaching consequences for Berkeley’s critique. For one thing, Berkeley is arguing against the very existence of the mental states (abstract ideas) the words are thought to signify; to say that only speakers need to have these ideas, while hearers may have only ideas of ideas is not a way of escape. Furthermore, the attribution of the view that understanding involves ideas of speakers’ mental states to the Port-Royalists is better supported than its attribution to Locke. Now, I do think we need to take very seriously all the things that Berkeley says indicating the breadth of his targets (using phrases like ‘received opinion’, ‘common opinion of the philosophers’, etc.). I also think it’s pretty likely that Berkeley had read the Port-Royal Logic, simply on grounds that the book was extremely widely read in the period. However, we don’t have evidence that Berkeley gave to Port-Royal the kind of sustained attention we know he gave to Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke. So the Port-Royal Logic‘s direct impact on Berkeley’s conception of the ‘received opinion’ was probably modest at best. (The Logic‘s indirect impact, via Locke, was enormous.)

In sum, if our project is understanding Port-Royal or Locke on their own terms, Berkeley’s presentation may be misleading, because he may well be wrong to think that understanding involves simulating what goes on in the mind of the speaker, rather than just conceiving of what goes on in the mind of the speaker. On the other hand, from Berkeley’s own perspective, this is an irrelevant, hair-splitting distinction. Since abstract ideas are impossible, and we can’t conceive of impossibilities, we can’t have ideas of abstract ideas. So regardless of which interpretation we take, Locke and Port-Royal have both speakers and hearers doing things that are (according to Berkeley) impossible.

Let me conclude with some controversial assertions about the relationship between Locke’s Essay and the Port-Royal Logic. (After all, what are blogs for?) Much of Locke’s Essay can be read as an empiricist, radical Protestant rewrite of the (Cartesian, Catholic) Port-Royal Logic. (Compare, for instance, the subtle differences in the two works’ accounts of faith and the practical upshots derived from them – Buroker 260-272; EHU 4.18-19.) But Locke does not always seem to be aware of the ways in which his own anti-Cartesian polemics undermine the Port-Royal theory of mind and language. This fact is responsible for many of Locke’s well-known inconsistencies and unclarities, as for instance on the topic of whether (and in what sense) all ideas are images.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)

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In George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man, David Berman amasses considerable circumstantial evidence to the effect that Berkeley’s movement away from Locke’s theory of language may have been touched off by an in-person encounter with Archbishop William King and Provost Peter Browne (later Bishop of Cork and Ross) at a meeting of the Dublin Philosophical Society, November 19, 1707, where Berkeley read a brief paper entitle ‘Of Infinities’ (included in Luce and Jessop, volume 4; see Berman 11-20). I think Berman’s overall picture is quite likely correct. In fact, in a paper called “Berkeley’s Lockean Religious Epistemology” which I am currently revising for Journal of the History of Ideas, I provide further evidence that some of Berkeley’s work can be seen as a direct response to Browne. However, I have just acquired a piece of information that partially undermines one piece of Berman’s case. This is Berman’s appeal to the controversy surrounding Berkeley’s ordination.

Berkeley was ordained in early 1710 by St. George Ashe, Bishop of Clogher and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College (Berman 17). (In case you are wondering, this guy is not a canonical saint; his first name was actually ‘St. George.’ This may have been a political statement on the part of his parents: he was an Irish Protestant, and St. George is the patron saint of England.) Now, Berman notes that the ordination was performed in King’s jurisdiction and without King’s permission, and King actually ordered Berkeley to be prosecuted. Berkeley escaped prosecution by writing a letter of apology to King. Berman notes that A. A. Luce had previously claimed that Berkeley was simply caught in the middle of a power struggle. However, Berman supports the claim that King had personal animosity toward Berkeley by a letter of King to Ashe, dated March 27, 1710. In this letter, King alleges that Berkeley intentionally scheduled the ordination when King was out of town.

Other evidence, however, supports Luce’s interpretation. In his biography of Browne (Peter Browne: Provost, Bishop, Metaphysician (1974)), Arthur Robert Winnett documents a protracted jurisdiction dispute between Trinity College and the archdiocese of Dublin. Winnett notes that in the 1690s “It was usual … for the resident members and Fellows of Trinity College to avoid receiving holy orders from the archbishop of Dublin” (p. 4). Browne was heavily involved in this controversy on the side of the College: Browne was rector of St. Mary’s parish in Dublin from 1698 to 1699, and he entered and left this position without knowledge or consent of the Archdiocese. King became archbishop in 1703 and actually alleged that Browne’s resignation was invalid (and therefore that all subsequent appointments to the rectory were likewise invalid), since Browne tendered his resignation to the wrong office. The dispute was finally resolved by Parliament in 1717 (p. 5). All of this information seems to me strongly to favor Luce’s interpretation over Berman’s. Furthermore, it suggests that in intentionally avoiding being ordained by King Berkeley was siding with the College and therefore with Peter Browne, its provost, contrary to Berman’s portrayal of Browne and King on the same side against Berkeley.

(cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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