Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) was born in Ireland but was educated and spent his career in Scotland at the University of Glasgow, where he was professor and chair of moral philosophy from 1729 until his death. Hutcheson is generally considered a key figure, and sometimes even the ‘father’, of the Scottish Enlightenment, especially considering his ideas had such an important impact on figures like Hume, Smith, and Reid. Hutcheson is best known for his theory of the moral sense and his sentimentalist moral theory more generally, wherein he provided an early formulation of the utilitarian principle of ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’, among other things. He also made a significant contribution to early aesthetic theory, and his works were not only translated and discussed in places like Germany, where he had an influence on Kant, but were also discussed in the American colonies both at colleges and by writers on slavery and colonial independence.
Hutcheson’s most read works are the Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725, modern edition 1726) and the Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations upon the Moral sense (1728, modern edition 2002). The Inquiry contains his theory of the moral sense and sense of beauty, as well as his arguments against the self-interested moral psychology of Hobbes and Mandeville and alternative theory of benevolence. The Essay is an even more extensive elucidation of his theory of motivation, and the Illustrations contains his famous distinction between exciting and justifying reasons. Hutcheson’s other writings include texts on logic and metaphysics (Hutcheson et al 2006), a Latin textbook introduction to moral philosophy (2007), his posthumously published magnum opus A System of Moral Philosophy (1755, modern edition 2015), as well as a translation of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. Among his more famous shorter writings are his exchange with the rationalist Gilbert Burnet in the London Journal and his inaugural lecture on the Social Nature of Man (see Mautner 1993). Facsimiles of eighteenth-century editions of Hutcheson’s works have been reproduced by Georg Olms press (1745), but the new standard edition of Hutcheson’s works is that published by Liberty Fund, and which is available online (some volumes are still forthcoming).
For an excellent introduction to Hutcheson’s meta- and normative ethics, see Dorsey 2021. On Hutcheson’s aesthetics see Grote 2017. For Hutcheson’s relation to the Scottish Enlightenment, see Carey 2015. For Hutcheson’s relation to utilitarianism see Hollander 2019. The standard biography of Hutcheson remains Scott 1900.
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