Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
Francis Hutcheson lived from 8 August 1694 to 8 August 1746. He was a philosopher and one of the founding fathers of the intellectual revolution that later became known as the Scottish Enlightenment. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Francis Hutcheson was born into a Scottish presbyterian family living in County Down in Ireland. After schooling in Ireland, he attended the University of Glasgow, where he studied philosophy, classics and general literature, before going on to specialise in theology. He obtained his first degree from Glasgow in 1712, and his license to preach in the presbyterian church in 1716. However, his Irish background and his links with theologian John Simson, at the time under investigation by Scottish ecclesiastical courts, made it difficult for him to obtain a ministry.
Instead he returned to Ireland where he taught for 10 years at the Dublin Academy. He also actively pursued his interest in philosophy and became an eminent figure in Dublin's intellectual circles. While in Dublin, Hutcheson published a series of highly influential essays. The most important was the first, his Inquiry concerning Beauty, Order, Harmony and Design, the Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, which was published in 1725. Oddly, although his essays were published anonymously, it seems their authorship was well known and the essays added greatly to Hutcheson's reputation as a philosopher.
Hutcheson's publications over this period cover metaphysics, logic and ethics, though his most important work was in the field of ethics. He strongly opposed the view of Thomas Hobbes that that concepts of right and wrong were rooted in a simply self interest and calculations of actions likely to give rise to pleasure and pain. He was equally strong in his later opposition to David Hume, who developed the ideas set out by Hobbes. Hutcheson took the opposite view, arguing that people have an innate understanding of good and evil which guides their actions and moral judgements.
In 1729, Hutcheson became the Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, a post he would hold until his death in 1746. Here he made an immediate impact by becoming the first professor at the university to lecture in English rather than in Latin. Although Hutcheson's most important original work was already done by the time he returned to Glasgow, he became a hugely influential figure on the Scottish academic scene and a father of the Scottish Enlightenment, counting Adam Smith amongst his pupils, who went on to develop his work. Less positively, it is often suggested that it was Hutcheson's strong opposition to David Hume that prevented the latter ever gaining an academic appointment in Scotland.