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.
Ulster Presbyterianism, at this time, was embroiled in controversy. Believers who were reluctant to subscribe to the ‘man-made’ doctrinal formulations of the Westminster Confession of Faith were clashing with those for whom the Confession embraced all that was sound and crucial in Reformed theology. These ‘Non-subscribing’ presbyterians were to become known as ‘New Light’ believers. They generally put less stress on the ‘biblical’ dogma of ‘sinful human nature’ and more emphasis on the broad human imperative to lead a good and charitable life. Into this theological row stepped the young Francis Hutcheson, fresh from Glasgow. We know that he deputised, one wet and cold Sunday, for his father in the Armagh church. (Mr Hutcheson senior, a sufferer from arthritis, did not wish to risk a soaking) The rain cleared and the father decided to risk a short walk in the direction of the meeting house in order to meet with his son on his return journey. However he met up, first of all, with one gloomy-looking member of the congregation, who said to him….
Your silly loon, Frank, has fashed a’ the congregation wi’ his idle cackle, for he has been babbling this ‘oor about the good and benevolent God, and that the souls o’ the heathen
themsel’s will gang to heaven, if they follow the licht o’ their ain consciences. Not a word does the daft boy ken nor say aboot the gude auld comfortable doctrines o’ election, reprobation, original sin and faith…
An early ill-fated sermon of Francis Hutcheson.
Excerpt from an article on the life of Francis Hutcheson, written by Philip Orr, a local historian and expert on Francis Hutcheson. It was published in the Down Survey in the year 2000 by the Down County Museum
Plaque for Francis Hutcheson, located in Wolfe Tone Square near to The Church, Dublin 1. It was unveiled on the 1st December 2012, due to the organisation of Fergus Whelan on behalf of the Francis Hutcheson Memorial Committee.
Further information here.
A book by Leonard O’Brian exploring the work of five Irish philosophers.
- John Scottus Eriugena
- John Toland
- George Berkeley
- Francis Hutcheson
- Iris Murdoch