Passions, Perceptions, and Motives: Fault-Lines in Hutcheson's Account of Moral Sentiment

In Heather Kerr, David Lemmings & Robert Phiddian (eds.), Passions, Sympathy and Print Culture: Public Opinion and Emotional Authenticity in Eighteenth-Century Britain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 203-222 (2016)

Glen Pettigrove
University of Glasgow
In the 1720s Francis Hutcheson developed a systematic account of the origins of ethical judgments that would have a profound influence on later writers. Ethical judgments, he argues, arise from the perceptions of internal senses that are, themselves, rooted in ‘Passions and Affections’. This paper describes his account and draws attention to an important tension at its heart. When judging particular cases, Hutcheson praises kindly, generous, and merciful affections as exemplary. But when he proposes a mathematical formula for ‘computing the Goodness’ of a person’s character, this formula yields results that are at odds with many of his judgments about the kindly, generous, and merciful. I trace the sources of this tension and identify ways in which Hutcheson might have avoided it.
Keywords Francis Hutcheson  Grace  Emotion  Character  Moral Sense  Moral Perception
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