Arthur Aston Luce, professor of philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin, and also Precentor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1952–1973), is born in Gloucester, England on August 21, 1882. He holds many clerical appointments, including Vice-Provost of Trinity from 1946 to 1952. He is widely known as an authority on the philosopher George Berkeley. His fellowship of Trinity College from 1912 to 1977 is a record.
Luce is the fourth son of the Reverend John James Luce and Alice Luce (née Stubbs). He is educated at Lindley Lodge School and Eastbourne College. He enters Trinity College, Dublin in 1901. He obtains his BA in 1905, BD in 1908 and MA in 1911.
Luce’s earlier work focuses largely on theological matters within Christianity. His academic career is interrupted by World War I, in which he serves with the 12th Royal Irish Rifles. He is awarded the Military Cross in 1917. After the war, he publishes “Monophysitism Past and Present” (1921) which deals with the nature of Jesus and his relationship to the world. The following year, he publishes his Donnellan Lectures on Henri Bergson where he examines issues in psychology and evolution as well as religion.
From the 1930s, Luce becomes interested in the Irish philosopher George Berkeley. He feels many of the previous studies of Berkeley are in many ways inadequate and sometimes wrong. His unearthing of new sources on Berkeley as well as better ways of interpreting existing sources guide his work in this direction. He stresses the role of the French monk Nicolas Malebranche on influencing the thought of the young Berkeley. Prior to his Berkeley and Malebranche (1934), Berkeley had been seen almost solely in the patrimony of John Locke and empiricism.
Berkeley’s mature philosophy is given lucid exposition by Luce in his 1945 work “Berkeley’s Immaterialism”. Along with Thomas Edmund Jessop, he edits The Works of George Berkeley (in nine volumes, 1948–1957).
Luce is not only a Berkeley scholar but comes to be a believer in Berkelianism itself. In “Sense without Matter” (1954) he attempts to bring Berkeley up to date by modernising the philosophers vocabulary and putting the issues Berkeley faced in today’s terms.
Berkeley’s personal reputation among historians and the public is also an area which Luce feels needs correcting and updating. Some studies of Berkeley had contributed to his reputation as a dreamer or a loner who often hid his real views. Luce’s “Life of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne” (1949) takes aim at this picture of Berkeley and, by careful use of often new sources, paints a more grounded picture of the man.
In 1918, Luce marries Lilian Mary Thomson, with whom he has three children. Tragically, his wife and young daughter drown in 1940. His elder son, Professor John Victor Luce (1920–2011), is also an academic at Trinity and also serves as vice-provost.
Luce dies in Dublin on June 28, 1977 shortly after an assault by a man who has an antipathy towards clergymen.