Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Name 'Siris'

I recently got a hit from a search engine in which the referring phrase was "what does the name siris mean". Unfortunately, that string doesn't yield any information about the name 'Siris'; this blog comes up in the search, but posts that explicitly discuss the name don't. And it's worth reminding people, because a lot of people forget; and, plus, sometimes people misread or misremember the name as 'Sirius', and a dog-star this blog is not.

'Siris' is a word invented by George Berkeley. It derives from the Greek word transliterated (if I recall correctly) as sireis, meaning 'chain'. He used it as the title of a very interesting work, Siris: a chain of philosophical reflexions & Inquiries concerning the virtues of tar water, which starts with a discussion of the folk remedy tar-water and thence passes on to speculative chemistry, cosmology, metaphysics, finally ending with philosophical intimations of the Christian Trinity. While it is largely ignored, it deserves to be remembered as one of Berkeley's four primary philosophical works (the other three being the Principles, the Three Dialogues, and the also-neglected Alciphron).

Thus my blog title and the description. The 'golden chain' comes not from Siris itself but from Berkeley's poem 'On Tar', a poetic summary of the philosophical argument of Siris. I posted a brief commentary on this poem in July.

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