Dublin Philosophical Society

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William Molyneux, founding member of the society.

The Dublin Philosophical Society was founded in 1683[1][2] by William Molyneux with the assistance of his brother Sir Thomas Molyneux and later Provost St George Ashe.[3] It was intended to be the equivalent of the Royal Society in London (with which it maintained cultural ties) as well as the Philosophical Society at the University of Oxford. Whilst it had a sometimes close connection with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, its closest institutional connection was with Trinity College, Dublin.


The society was traditionally intended to be a paper reading society, however it also included many demonstrations of the latest science and mathematical endeavour of the time. Members would meet regularly within Trinity College, Dublin and at Crow St. Temple Bar, Dublin at a location commonly referred to as "The Crow's Nest". This location housed the society's garden, laboratory, as well as containing a large meeting room and a small repository for the societies belongings. Among its most prominent members were William Petty, Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, Archbishop William King and Bishop George Berkeley. The majority of its members were graduates of Trinity College, Dublin, a number of whom were Fellows, including the then current and later Provost of the college. Although it played a small role in intellectual Dublin life, it inspired the foundation of the Dublin Society founded in 1731 (which became the Royal Dublin Society in 1820) and the Royal Irish Academy. Whilst at the time no particular precedent existed for Trinity College, Dublin to recognise it, it can be considered the college's first such society.


William Petty, first elected President of the Society.

The Dublin Philosophical Society had a somewhat tumultuous existence. It held its first meeting on 15 October 1683[4] within the Provost's lodgings at Trinity College, Dublin, however it is thought to have existed from sometime in September 1683. It existed most prominently from 1683 until 1698, 1701 until 1731.[5]

Having garnered a significant reputation of studious diligence, on 18 December 1683, then Provost Robert Huntington acting on behalf of the society wrote to Robert Plot of the Royal Society asking for assistance in printing the papers of its members. Hereafter the relationship between both societies became cemented, with many papers being printed in Philosophical Transactions and for a number of years the society flourished, circulating papers from various academic fields. From then on, the Provost played a vital role in protection and assistance of the society,[6] becoming its Senior Patron, a role the position still holds.

Provisionally Dr. Charles Willoughby was placed in charge of the society. On 1 November 1684 William Petty was duly elected the first President of the society, with William Molyneux elected as the first Secretary.

The appointment of Richard Talbot as Lord Deputy of Ireland impeded some work of the society to a small degree, having earlier petitioned James II to deny the society of a Royal charter in 1686.[7]

The society struggled greatly during the Revolution of 1688, a time which during few meetings took place, but papers were still presented to members. Finally struggling on until the year 1698, when, due to political upheaval the society was forced to adjourn for almost ten years, sometimes meeting sporadically from some time after the Battle of the Boyne.[7] During this time William Molyneux died and the society did not recommence activity until 1701 when his son Samuel Molyneux was elected Secretary.[8]

Sir Thomas Molyneux is recorded as having been a continued member of society in all its incarnations[8] and most likely continued to be until his death in 1733.[5]

Council and Members of the Dublin Philosophical Society[edit]

Having been at what seems the centre of learned culture in 17th century Dublin, the society boasted many historically famous members. Many of these were members, fellows, professors of Trinity College, Dublin, clergymen, medical practitioners and members of the judiciary.


Dating of the society's sessions are counted from 1 November 1684, due to the first elections of officers taking place at that time.

Senior Patron Robert Huntington, Provost of Trinity College.

Officers of the Dublin Philosophical Society, 5th Session

President Sir William Petty
Director Dr. Charles Willoughby
Treasurer William Pleydall
Secretary William Molyneux

Members of the Society[edit]

Jonathan Swift, member of the society.

What follows is a complete list of known members of the society.

George Berkeley, who presented a paper entitled "Of Infinites", in November 1707.
Thomas Prior, member after the society's revival in the early 18th Century.

Continuation of the Society[edit]

The Dublin Philosophical Society continued under the new guise of the Medico-Philosophical Society, from 1756 until 1831. John Rutty, Dr. Hugh Hamilton (uncle to later University Philosophical Society Patron George Alexander Hamilton), David MacBride, George Cleghorn, all of whom had delivered several papers to the Dublin Philosophical Society[14] and continued the practice of paper reading. The papers presented could cover natural history, natural philosophy, medicine, ethics, as well as politics, similar in style and subject matter to those of the Dublin Philosophical Society. Whilst a significant proportion of the members had studied at Trinity College Dublin it was predominantly aligned with Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

Whilst the society may have existed outside of Trinity College, Dublin for the first time in seventy-three years, the tradition established by the society of having academic papers published in Philosophical Transactions continued in within the college.[15]

Franc Sadlier, Provost of Trinity College, and Senior Patron of the society upon its restoration.

Restoration to Trinity College[edit]

In November 1842 to mark the original session date the Dublin Philosophical Society was reformed under its original name. One hundred and sixty years after its inception the society fully returned to Trinity College, Dublin in February 1843 becoming the Dublin University Philosophical Society, with then Provost Franc Sadleir as its senior patron and George Alexander Hamilton as vice-patron, with Richard Whately the Archbishop of Dublin. In keeping with tradition the society met each Monday, offering its members the opportunity of reading papers on scientific, philosophical and literally subjects.

Some years later the society dropped the "Dublin" prefix becoming known as the University Philosophical Society as it is in the college today.

Timeline of the Dublin Philosophical Society

Inspiration for other societies[edit]

The society was the inspiration for the Royal Dublin Society which had its first meeting in the society's rooms in 1731.[16][17]

It also inspired the cadet society, the Physio-Historical Society of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, lasting from 1744 until 1777.

The Royal Irish Academy founded in 1785, drew the inspiration for its creation from the society.


  1. ^ Greta Jones, Elizabeth Malcolm (1999), Medicine, Disease and the State in Ireland, 1650–1940, Cork University Press, p. 91, ISBN 978-1-85918-230-7 
  2. ^ W.R.Wilde, Memoir of the Dublin Philosophical Society of 1683, Royal Irish Academy, p. 160, JSTOR 20489545 
  3. ^ T. D. Spearman (1992), 400 Years of Mathematics  "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."
  4. ^ W.R.Wilde, Memoir of the Dublin Philosophical Society of 1683, Royal Irish Academy, p. 162, JSTOR 20489545 
  5. ^ a b Crowe, Ian (22 August 2012). Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain. Redwood City, California, USA: Stanford University Press. p. Chapter 3. 
  6. ^ W.R.Wilde, Memoir of the Dublin Philosophical Society of 1683, Royal Irish Academy, p. 166, JSTOR 20489545 
  7. ^ a b c Ehrenpreis, Irwin (1 Jan 1962). Swift, Volume 1: Mr Swift and his contemporaries. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard University Press. pp. 78–90. 
  8. ^ a b Henry F. Berry (1915), A History of the Royal Dublin Society, London:Longmans 
  9. ^ Bertil Belfrage (1986), "Berkeley's theory of emotive meaning (1708)", History of European Ideas, 7: 643–649, doi:10.1016/0191-6599(86)90014-8 
  10. ^ Kirkpatrick, Thomas Percy Claude (1945). Sir Patrick Dun, M.D. An address delivered in the Chapel of Trinity College. Trinity College, Dublin: University Press, Dublin. 
  11. ^ Berry, Henry F. (1915). A History of The Royal Dublin Society. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 
  12. ^ a b Weaire, Kelly and Attis. (1 March 2000). A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy. CRC Press. p. P2. 
  13. ^ a b Clarke, Desmond (September 1951). "Thomas Prior, 1681-1751: Founder of the Royal Dublin Society". Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review. 40 (159): 334–344. 
  14. ^ Repository of the Dublin Philosophical Society, Royal Irish Academy 
  15. ^ Hugh Hamilton (1764), Philosophical Transactions, S. Smith and B. Walford, printers to the Royal Society, p. 103 
  16. ^ Provost's Address to Members of the Royal Dublin Society-"The very first meeting of the Dublin Society in 1731 – when it wasn't yet Royal – was in the rooms of the Philosophical Society in Trinity College."
  17. ^ T.D Spearman (1992), 400 Years of Mathematics >[1]- " The Philosophical Society is generally regarded as a forerunner of the Royal Dublin Society which was founded in 1731."