Hutcheson, Francis (1694–1746), philosopher, was born 8 August 1694 in Drumalig, Co. Down, second among three sons of John Hutcheson – at the time presbyterian minister of Downpatrick – and his first wife, the daughter of an army officer, James Trail of Killyleagh. The Hutcheson family derived from Ayrshire in Scotland.
Education and early contacts Francis Hutcheson was educated in a school in Saintfield and at the dissenting academy of James McAlpin in Killyleagh, Co. Down, where he would have followed the syllabus of Glasgow University in preparation for matriculating in 1711 and graduating from Glasgow a year later. Training for the ministry he studied divinity at Glasgow till 1717, under the controversial professor of divinity John Simson, who was later removed from teaching due to his suspect theological leanings. After a spell as tutor to the future earl of Kilmarnock, he returned to Ireland (1718), receiving a probationary licence to preach from the presbytery in Armagh in July 1719. He received a call from the congregation at Magherally, Co. Armagh, but, availing himself of the liberalisation of the legal context following the toleration act of 1719, he went to Dublin, where he established a presbyterian academy on Drumcondra Lane with the financial assistance of the prestigious Wood St. congregation. Assisted by Thomas Drennan (qv), his teaching throughout the 1720s included primer courses for those who went on to Scottish institutions.
During this period he became acquainted with the radical politician and self-proclaimed commonwealthman, Robert, Lord Molesworth (qv) of Swords; Edward Synge (qv) (d. 1762), the latitudinarian prebendary of St Patrick's cathedral and later bishop of Elphin; William King (qv), the tory-inclined archbishop of Dublin; and John Carteret (qv), lord lieutenant of Ireland 1724–30. While living in Dublin Hutcheson published two books, each of which contained two treatises. He also contributed two sets of three articles in a local periodical. In these he criticised the egoist philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville. He also debated in print with Gilbert Burnet the younger.
Development of a moral system, 1725–8 The first major publication, An inquiry into the original of our ideas of beauty and virtue; in two treatises (1725), identified a series of internal senses, analogous to our senses of taste and sight. These acted to prompt responses to aesthetic and moral events and produced in men a pre-rational awareness of good and bad. These responses in turn gave the viewer pleasure – the secondary nature of this pleasure is important in distancing him from the egoist theories of Hobbes and Mandeville, who conceived of humans as self-interested pleasure seekers. The validity of these responses was assured by the Deity, who underwrote the accuracy of man's faculties. These faculties could be trained to perceive their subjects more effectively, creating for example connoisseurs who had undergone an aesthetic education, or moralists who had honed their sense of virtue. The place Hutcheson granted for the refinement of aesthetic and moral sense allowed him to balance the instinctual nature of the senses against the rational calibration that education effected. This allowed him to account for moral vice – which he stated was analogous to poor sight, a-morality, akin to being colour blind – and provided a role for the teaching profession he was committed to pursuing.
The quasi-Lockean epistemology Hutcheson expounded in the Inquiry was coupled with an argument drawn from Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd earl of Shaftesbury, who identified virtue with benevolence, defined as love of others. This emphasis on man's natural virtue separated Hutcheson's theory from that of Hobbes, whose individual was driven by self-interest. Hutcheson's analysis of motivation led him to espouse the notion that virtue resulted in the moral actor doing the greatest good for the greatest number. This provided him with the impetus to develop a series of equations intended to illustrate the relationship between benevolence, self-interest, ability to act, and the quantity of good produced by an action. This flawed conceit was abandoned in the fourth edition (1738). Yet, this sequence indicates how Hutcheson's theory of virtue was situationalist without being relativist, as he recognised that particular circumstances generated moral responses in actors, at the same time as being universalisable, in that all moral actors might be expected to have similar responses to what they witness. He can therefore be understood as arguing for a form of moral realism based on the regularity of the operation of the faculty of judgment.
Hutcheson defended this philosophy against a series of competing schemes, namely the rationalism of Gilbert Burnet, the egoism of Thomas Hobbes, and the paradoxes of Bernard Mandeville's social theory. The first of these rebuttals appeared in the London Journal, while the later two surfaced in the Dublin Weekly Journal, a vehicle for Addisonian civility edited by his friend James Arbuckle (qv). There, Hutcheson wrote under the name ‘Philomeides’, meaning ‘lover of laughter’.
In each of these disputes Hutcheson appealed to the reader's experience in order to claim an empirical foundation for his own theory of benevolence and the capacity of human society to flourish. His dispute with Burnet led him to suggest Hume's dichotomy between statements of fact and statements of value, although he was later to dispute with Hume as to the theological ramifications of this insight. His attack on Hobbes was grounded on his conviction that the seventeenth-century philosopher had simplified the complexity of human emotion by placing too much store on man's drive for power; a point further emphasised in Hutcheson's refutation of Mandeville. There he argued that luxury was commensurate with over-expenditure and was therefore relative to the individual's circumstance.
Hutcheson furthered his moral system in An essay on the nature and conduct of the passions and affections. With illustrations on the moral sense (1728) by providing a system of motivation which revolved around a hierarchy of emotions, and where man was driven by a desire to emulate his moral superiors. In this, Hutcheson tended to multiply the number of internal senses to account for the variety of emotional responses in human experience, providing for a sense of honour, a public sense which encourages patriotism, for example. He also accepted a limited form of free will, overturning the predestinarian theology that informed much of his childhood upbringing. He did, however, argue for the primacy of social norms over individual judgment. In a letter to his father, by now presbyterian minister at Armagh, Hutcheson expanded on this thesis, contending that his adherence to the presbyterian creed was based on his upbringing and his appreciation of tradition.
Professor at Glasgow Hutcheson was inducted as professor of moral philosophy in Glasgow University on 29 October 1730, following his election the previous year. His publications from Glasgow attempted to couple his moral-sense theories with more traditional natural-law theories espoused by Samuel Pufendorf and Gerschom Carmichael, both of whom were part of the curriculum he taught. These included a set of Latin textbooks, which were intended to introduce students to the basic categories in logic and moral philosophy. These may derive from his period teaching these subjects in Dublin, for his attempts to create an overarching moral system ended in failure; he described the manuscript as a ‘farrago’. It was published by his son after his death as A system of moral philosophy (1755). His involvement in kirk affairs led him to pen a pamphlet, Considerations on patronages. Addressed to the gentlemen of Scotland (1735), which defended the Church of Scotland's attempts to settle the patronage question, placing the privilege in the hands of local magnates.
His canon as a whole consisted of an attempt to posit virtue in the frame of the individual and to work out the consequences of a moral-sense theory on the realms of society and the state. His social theory is akin to Joseph Addison's in its emphasis on politeness and civility. His theory of the state is closer to the natural-law theories of Samuel Pufendorf, although he regularly criticised the German for falling into the trap of producing a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive ethics.
As a professor in Glasgow his duties included teaching courses on ‘natural religion, morals, jurisprudence and government. In addition, he gave another lecture three days of the week, in which some of the finest writers of antiquity, both Greek and Latin, on the subject of morals were interpreted’ (Leechman, ‘Preface’, xxxvi). Bureaucratic chores involved him in library acquisition and the guidance of wayward students. Many of these came from Irish backgrounds and some were the offspring of personal friends. He remarked of TCD that they always sent the most troublesome students. His lay work with students and his natural ability as a teacher gained him an impressive reputation as a collegian, and he inspired a generation of thinkers with his ‘new-light’ theology and whiggish politics. He believed that the role of the teacher was to inspire the listener with a sense of virtue, and to posit the possibility of a better life. His method, while drawing heavily on practical examples, was actually opposed to descriptive systems of morality. He gained fame as the first teacher in the university to teach philosophy consistently in English, not the customary Latin.
Members of diverse sections of the Church of Scotland's factional politics were admirers. These included the evangelical minister William Thom, and Alexander Carlyle, who was associated with the latitudinarian moderate party. Even when his theological purity was called into question – first in 1737, when charges were levelled that he contravened the Westminster confession of faith (which he had signed twice), and again, when an anonymous pamphlet, Shaftesbury's ghost conjur'd (1738), documented how his lectures sat ill with those theological tenets – Hutcheson was ultimately left in situ. Indeed some of his students penned a Vindication of their professor in 1738, accusing the original pamphleteer of ‘a stab in the dark’ (Vindication of Mr Hutcheson, 4).
Influence on other writers Hutcheson's most famous pupil (and later a holder of Hutcheson's chair), the moralist and economist Adam Smith, said he was ‘never to be forgotten’ (quoted in E. C. Mossner and I. S. Ross (ed.), The correspondence of Adam Smith (1987), 309). Smith's Theory of moral sentiment can be read as an expansion of Hutcheson's social insights, although the actual content of Hutcheson's moral-sense theory is criticised in the final book as being built around an overly optimistic account of the power of benevolence to incite action, whereas Smith constructed his theory around a notion of propriety that accentuated the way in which society adjudicated and admonished malefactors. For his role in creating a liberal intellectual climate, later commentators have seen him as the father of the Scottish enlightenment, the intellectual movement that flourished in the second half of the eighteenth century. This can be evidenced through the appearance of a review of his System, penned by Hugh Blair, in the short-lived Edinburgh Review (1755).
The sense of beauty outlined in the first treatise places Hutcheson at the head of a long line of eighteenth-century thinkers on aesthetics, which includes David Hume, Edmund Burke (qv), and James Barry (qv). He did not recommend Hume for the post of professor of moral philosophy in Edinburgh University in 1740, apparently believing that Hume lacked ‘warmth in the cause of virtue’ (Hume to Hutcheson, 17 September 1739, in J. Y. T. Grieg (ed.), The letters of David Hume (2 vols, 1932), i, 32). He also opposed Hume's renewed efforts to take on the post in 1745.
Beyond Scotland, Hutcheson's political ideas have resulted in his name being associated with the revolutionary ideas of Thomas Jefferson and the United Irishman William Drennan (qv). Indeed, Jefferson is known to have repurchased Hutcheson's Inquiry after the sale of his collection to the Library of Congress. This political legacy is partly derived from a reading of his System of moral philosophy, wherein he argued that it was acceptable for colonies to seek independence if the links with the mother country were not mutually beneficial. It derives from the moral compend, Philosophiae moralis institutio compendiaria . . . (1742; translated as A short introduction to moral philosophy . . ., 1747), in which Hutcheson addressed the rights of resistance and rebellion, arguing that in any state the people have a right to resist when the ruler exceeds his constitutional power, and invades their rights. Hutcheson has also been cited in the development of anti-slavery arguments.
He maintained a long correspondence with friends in Ireland, including Thomas Drennan, and his cousin-in-law and Dublin publisher William Bruce (qv), in which he suggested books for republication. Other correspondents included the philosophers Lord Kames and David Hume (Hutcheson suggested a publisher for Hume's second instalment of the Treatise on human nature), the politician Lord Islay, and the convinced Newtonian and mathematician Colin MacLaurin. He also aided in the foundation of the Foulis Press in Glasgow, run by Robert Foulis, once Hutcheson's student, which published some forty editions of Hutcheson's writings, both under Robert's sole imprint and alongside his brother Andrew. He also encouraged a number of other academics, notably William Leechman who became professor of divinity at Glasgow, and James Moor, with whom he published a translation of the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (1742). Moor was then university librarian at Glasgow, being raised to the chair of Greek from 1746.
Hutcheson married (1725) his cousin Mary, daughter of Francis Wilson of Longford. One son, Francis (d. 1772), a physician and composer, survived him (see Francis Ireland (qv)). He died of a fever when visiting Dublin on 8 August 1746 and was buried in St Mary's churchyard, Dublin. His obituary, attributed to his colleague James Moor (1712–79), professor of Greek, praised his work and remarked that ‘what he taught, he was.’ There is a portrait (oils) in the NGI and a portrait (oils) by Allan Ramsay (1713–84) in the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow.