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Mathematics at TCD 1592-1992

400
years of
MATHEMATICS
by T. D. Spearman

WILLIAM
MOLYNEUX
and the Dublin
Philosophical Society

William Molyneux graduated in 1674. As a student at Trinity he `conceived a great dislike to the scholastic learning then being taught in that place; and young as he was, he fell entirely into Lord Bacon's methods and those prescribed by the Royal Society.' After graduation he studies law, but his real enthusiasm was for science. He took up mathematics, becoming especially interested in optics; he translated Decartes' Méditations and Galileo's Discorsi e demonstrazioni mathematiché intorno à due nuove scienze.
An important element in the growth and promotion of the new approach to science was the formation of societies such as the Accademia dei Lincei, founded in Rome in 1601, or the Accademia del Cimento in Florence. In England the Royal Society of London was founded in 1660. Molyneux resolved to establish such a society, `agreeable to the design of the Royal Society', in Dublin. His main accomplice in this was St. George Ashe, who was Miles Symner's successor as Donegall Lecturer in Mathematics and later became Provost. Thanks to their efforts The Dublin Society for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, Mathematics and Mechanics, more commonly known as the Dublin Philosophical Society, was founded in 1684. Sir William Petty was elected president, Molyneux being secretary and treasurer. Its membership included the Provost, Robert Huntington, his predecessor Narcissus Marsh who had become Archbishop of Dublin, and other Fellows of the College. It was active in the years from 1684 to 1687; in its first year there were 38 meetings. It was dormant during the politically troubled years which followed but revived briefly after 1693 and again in 1707. The Philosophical Society is generally regarded as a forerunner of the Royal Dublin Society which was founded in 1731. St. George Ashe was Jonathan Swift's tutor and no doubt contributed to Swift's ideas on natural philosophy. He succeeded Molyneux as secretary of the Dublin Philosophical Society in 1685 and Symner as Donegall Lecturer the following year.
William Molyneux was a friend of the philosopher John Locke who was one of the dominant intellectual figures of his time. Writing of Locke's Essay concerning human understanding Molyneux wrote that `the incomparable Mr. Locke ... has rectified more received mistakes and delivered more profound truths established on experience and observation for the direction of man's mind in the prosecution of knowledge ... than are to be met with in all the volumes of the ancients.' Molyneux introduced Ashe to Locke's work. Ashe, who by then was Provost, was immediately enthusiastic and at once incorporated Locke's Essay into the College syllabus. Sir William Petty, the surveyor and cartographer, was the first president of the Dublin Philosophical Society.

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