Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hutcheson, Francis (1694-1746)

HUTCHESON, FRANCIS (1694–1746), philosopher, son of John Hutcheson, presbyterian minister of Armagh, was born 8 Aug. 1694, probably at Drumalig, a township in Saintfield, co. Down, the residence of his grandfather, Alexander Hutcheson, presbyterian minister of Saintfield. The grandfather had emigrated from Ayrshire, where his family was 'ancient and respectable.' Francis and his brother, Hans, lived with their father at Ballyrea, near Armagh, until in 1702 they were sent, for educational purposes, to live with their grandfather. The grandfather was especially attracted by Francis's sweetness and docility. He afterwards wished to settle some property upon Francis, who peremptorily refused. The two boys were sent to a school of classical reputation kept by a Mr. Hamilton in the old meeting-house at Saintfield. Francis was afterwards moved to an academy of James MacAlpine, Killeleagh, where he worked hard at the scholastic philosophy still taught in Ireland. In 1710 he went to Glasgow, where for six years he studied philosophy, classics, literature, and afterwards theology. He read Samuel Clarke's treatise on the 'Being and Attributes of God,' and sent some criticisms with a request for further explanations to Clarke, who apparently did not answer. Hutcheson always doubted the expediency and validity of the à priori argument stated by Clarke. Upon leaving Glasgow, Hutcheson returned to Ireland, was licensed to preach, and was about to accept the ministry of a small congregation when he was induced to start a private academy in Dublin. He became known to several eminent men, Lord Molesworth [q.v.], Archbishop King (who refused to permit a threatened prosecution of Hutcheson for keeping a school without having subscribed the canons or obtained an episcopal license), and Carteret (afterwards Lord Granville), lord-lieutenant from 1724 to 1730, who, having been struck by his writings, sought him out, and showed him much kindness. Edward Synge, afterwards bishop of Elphin, helped him to revise his papers. He received offers, probably of ecclesiastical preferment, which he felt bound in conscience to refuse. His 'Four Essays' were published anonymously in 1725 and 1728, and his 'Thoughts on Laughter' (attacking Hobbes) and his 'Observations on [Mandeville's] Fable of the Bees' were contributed to 'Hibernicus's Letters' in 1725-7. His treatises led to a controversy with Gilbert Burnet in the 'London Journal' in 1728, and were in the same year attacked by John Balguy [q.v.] in an anonymous treatise called 'The Foundation of Moral Goodness.' Both writers were disciples of Samuel Clarke.

These writings probably led to his unsolicited election in 1729 to the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow, where he succeeded his old teacher, Gersom Carmichael. Here he spent the rest of his life, lecturing five days a week on natural religion, morals, jurisprudence, and government: three days upon the Greek and Latin moralists; and upon Sunday evenings on the evidences of Christianity. The last course attracted many hearers from every faculty, though it appears that his theology was of so liberal a type as to give some offence to the orthodox. Dugald Stewart, in his account of Adam Smith (one of Hutcheson's pupils), says that all Hutcheson's hearers agreed in the extraordinary effect produced by these lectures. Stewart thinks that he must have been far more impressive as a speaker than as a writer, and adds that his influence contributed very powerfully to stimulate the spirit of inquiry in Scotland. Hume, as a young man, corresponded with Hutcheson upon ethical questions, and evidently regarded him as a leading authority in philosophy. Leechman testifies to his vivacity, cheerfulness, and unaffected benevolence. Though quick-tempered he was remarkable for his warmth of feeling and generosity. He helped poor students with money, and admitted them without fees to his lectures. He declined an offer of the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh in 1745, although the salary was higher and the society superior. He died at Glasgow in 1746 of fever, his previous good health having been interrupted only by occasional gout. By his wife, a Miss Wilson, whom he married soon after his settlement at Dublin, he left one son, Francis Hutcheson the younger [q. v.]

Hutcheson was a close follower of the third Lord Shaftesbury, and had a great influence upon the Scottish philosophers of the 'common-sense' school. His first were directed against the selfish and cynical theories of Hobbes and Mandeville. He adopted and developed the 'moral sense' doctrine as given by Shaftesbury in contrast to the egoistic utilitarianism of his time. The moral sense is his equivalent to Butler's conscience, although his optimism gives a very different character to the resulting doctrine. The chief use of the faculty is to affirm the utilitarian criterion, and he was apparently the first writer to use Bentham's phrase, 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number' (Inquiry concerning- Moral Good and Evil, sec. 3 § 8). He may be thus classed as one of the first exponents of a decided utilitarianism as distinguished from 'egoistic hedonism.' The essence of his teaching is given in his early essays, though more elaborately worked out in the posthumous 'system,' where he developes a cumbrous psychology of 'internal senses.' In metaphysics Hutcheson was, in the main, a follower of Locke; but his ethical writings constitute his chief claim to recollection. They did much to promote a psychological study of the moral faculties, though his analysis is superficial, and he is apt to avoid fundamental difficulties. His theology differs little from the optimistic deism of his day. The fullest account of his teaching is Professor Fowler's 'Shaftesbury and Hutcheson.' See also Bain's 'Mental and Moral Science,' pt.ii. pp.580-93.

Hutcheson's works are: 1. 'An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, in two treatises, in which the principles of the late Earl of Shaftesbury are explained and defended against the author of the "Fable of the Bees" and the "Ideas of Moral Good and Evil" are established, according to the sentiments of the Ancient Moralists, with an attempt to introduce a mathematical calculation on subjects of Morality,' 1725. The second edition in 1726 as 'Inquiry concerning Beauty, Order, Harmony, Design,' and 'Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil.' 2. 'Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections,' and 'Illustrations upon the Moral Sense' 1728. 3. 'Thoughts on Laughter' and ' Observations on the Fable of the Bees' (six letters contributed to ' Hibernicus's Letters' a Dublin periodical of 1725-7), with a controversy in the ' London Journal ' of 1728 with Gilbert Burnet, son of the bishop, and collected by Hutcheson in one volume in 1735, were published together by Fowler in 1772. 4. 'De Naturali Hominum Socialitate' (Inaugural Lecture), 1730. 5. 'Considerations on Patronages, addressed to Gentlemen of Scotland' 1735. 6. 'Philosophise Moralis Institutio Compendiaria Ethices et Jurisprudentiae Naturalis Elementa continens, lib. iii. 1742. 7. 'Metaphysicas Synopsis Ontologiam et Pneumatologiam complectens' (anon.), 1742. 8. ' System of Moral Philosophy' in three books, 2 vols. 4to, 1755 (published by his son, and dedicated to Archbishop Synge). 9. 'Logic' not intended for publication, but published by Foulis of Glasgow in 1764.

[Life by Leechman prefixed to Moral Philosophy, 1755; Belfast Monthly Magazine for 1813, i. 110-14; Burton's Hume, i. Ill, 146; Mind, ii. 209-11; Professor Fowler's Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, 1882.]

L. S.