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Hutcheson, Francis (1694–1746)

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-DB041-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Francis Hutcheson was an Irish–Scottish moral philosopher. He is best known for his epistemological claim that a disinterested moral sense is the source of our ideas of moral good and evil, and for his psychological claim that human beings are naturally motivated by disinterested benevolence, and not by self-love alone. At the dawn of the Scottish Enlightenment, these claims carried considerable philosophical and theological weight – Hutcheson’s optimism regarding the moral capacities of human nature is particularly noteworthy.

Hutcheson’s arguments in moral epistemology for the reality of a disinterested moral sense are developed in opposition to different versions of ethical rationalism and ethical egoism, and they further oppose Calvinist ideas about the incapacity of corrupt postlapsarian human beings to know moral good and evil. Hutcheson’s arguments in moral psychology for the reality of disinterested benevolence are developed in opposition to different egoistic psychologies which resolve all desires into self-love. For Hutcheson, such debates are intrinsically connected to those on the moral status of human nature: both his defence of the reality of benevolence and his defence of the disinterestedness of the moral sense are directed against conceptions of human nature as morally corrupt. Hutcheson’s ideas about aesthetics and politics, his approach to natural law theories, and the religious dimensions of his philosophy have also attracted scholarly attention.

Hutcheson had an affectionate interest in classical thinkers like Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, and in early modern figures like the Cambridge Platonists and, especially, Shaftesbury. He was inspired by John Locke’s theory of ideas and Samuel Pufendorf’s natural law theory, albeit dealing with those at some critical distance. Like so many of his contemporaries, he attacked Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville. The development of his writings makes manifest his critical engagement with contemporary ethical rationalists like Samuel Clarke, Gilbert Burnet, and John Balguy, and with psychological egoists like John Clarke of Hull and Archibald Campbell. Joseph Butler was a source of inspiration for Hutcheson. Hutcheson himself exerted a considerable influence on the Scottish Enlightenment and beyond: he had a complex relationship with David Hume, he was the teacher of Adam Smith; and various famous thinkers like Richard Price, Thomas Reid, Immanuel Kant, and Jeremy Bentham reacted to Hutcheson’s moral philosophy.

Citing this article:
Maurer, Christian. Hutcheson, Francis (1694–1746), 2018, doi:10.4324/0123456789-DB041-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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