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Erasing Berkeley’s name from Trinity would do nothing to combat racial prejudice in Ireland

Saturday, 21 January 2023 - 3:15pm

Nigel Biggar: In celebrating people, we admire them only for some things they’ve done

'Ireland’s famous 18th century philosopher, George Berkeley, was guilty of racial prejudice and slave – owning. He once described the Irish poor as “a lazy destitute race” and he bought a slave plantation on Rhode Island. Since the Irish today deplore both racism and slavery, shouldn’t they disown him? Trinity College Dublin’s legacies working group is currentlyweighing whether his name should be removed from one of the college libraries.

'What’s wrong with “racism” is what’s wrong with any prejudice directed at other people – whether they are members of a race, a nation, a social class, a religion, or the body of Brexit supporters – namely, that it prejudges the individual by regarding him or her simply as a member of a group, automatically attributing to the individual that group’s supposedcharacteristics, which are stereotyped in unflattering terms. The group is simplified pejoratively and the dignity of individuality is brushed aside. Racial prejudice is an ugly thing and Bishop Berkeley was guilty of it.

'But let’s be frank: prejudice against other groups and their members is a widespread human phenomenon.'

Read Nigel's opinion piece in The Irish Times.


Image: Hulton Archive