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27 Apr

Hutcheson: the Reality of We

By correctly appreciating Hutcheson’s own project, Mautner is able to show clearly what has eluded so many Hutcheson (and Hume) scholars of a less historical bent: while Hobbes and Mandeville may be the most often named antagonists, the real opponent is that particularly bleak culture of orthodox Scottish Calvinism, a faith that makes a mockery of human free will, that emphasizes the utter corruption of human nature, and that celebrates a theodicy in which humans are held accountable to a standard of moral conduct that is acknowledged to be impossible for us to meet.

David Fate Norton has reminded us that Hutcheson, Hume, and their like-minded colleagues aligned themselves as defenders of the “reality” of ‘We.’ By this they meant that ethical egoism and psychological egoism are both false. Ethical egoism is false because to reduce virtue to self-interest is a mean-spirited mockery of the nobility of virtue. And psychological egoism is false because we can in fact act upon benevolent, non-egoistic motives. Hence, it is possible for human beings truly to be morally virtuous. Thus, virtue is “real.”

Thomas Mautner. Francis Hutcheson: Two Texts on Human Nature reviewed by Mark H. Waymack (pdf)  (originally in Hume Studies , Volume XX, No 2 (November, 1994), pp. 296-297)

Waymack’s review suggests that the main importance of the book is its outline of what Hutcheson believes a moral theory should do. The extract above highlights Hutcheson’s moral project: against both virtue seen as self-interest and the pessimistic belief that people will always act in a self-interested way.

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