Francis Hutcheson

Hutcheson, Francis, LL.D., the reviver of speculative philosophy in Scotland, was born, 8th August 1694, at Downpatrick, where his father, John Hutcheson, was a minister. He studied theology and followed his father's profession of Presbyterian divine.

His Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas on Beauty and Virtue, a work which made his name widely known, introduced him to the notice of such men as Archbishop King, Dr. Synge (Bishop of Elphin), and Viscount Molesworth.

In 1728 he published his essay on The Passions and Affections, in virtue of which he was the following year promoted to the Chair of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow. His next works were text-books for the use of his classes.

He died at Glasgow in 1747, aged 52.

His System of Moral Philosophy, the work on which his fame as an ethical writer depends, did not appear until 1755. It was edited by his son. An admirable memoir by Dr. Leechman is prefixed thereto.

Dugald Stewart writes:

“The metaphysical philosophy of Scotland, and indeed the literary taste in general which so remarkably distinguished this country during the last century, may be dated from the lectures of Dr. Francis Hutcheson. … Butler and Hutcheson coincided in the two important positions, that disinterested affection and a distinct moral faculty are essential parts of human nature. Hutcheson is a chaste and simple writer, who imbibed the opinions without the literary faults of his master, Shaftesbury. … He was the father of speculative philosophy in Scotland, at least in modern times. We are told by the writer of his life that he had a remarkable rational enthusiasm for learning, liberty, religion, virtue, and human happiness; that he taught in public with persuasive eloquence; that his instructive conversation was at once lively and modest; that he united pure manners with a kind disposition. What wonder that such a man should have spread the love of knowledge and virtue around him, and should have rekindled in his adopted country a relish for the sciences which he cultivated. To him may also be ascribed that proneness to multiply ultimate and original principles in human nature, which characterized the Scottish school till the second extinction of a passion for metaphysical speculation in Scotland. A careful perusal of the writings of this now little-studied philosopher will satisfy the well-qualified reader that Dr. Adam Smith's ethical speculations are not so unsuggested as they are beautiful.”

His person is thus described:

“A stature above middle size, a gesture and manner negligent and easy, but decent and manly, gave a dignity to his appearance. His complexion was fair and sanguine, and his features regular. His countenance and look bespoke sense, spirit, kindness, and joy of heart. His whole person and manner raised a strong prejudice in his favour at first sight.”


167a. Hutcheson, Francis: System of Moral Philosophy. 2 vols. London, 1755.

124. Encyclopaedia Britannica. London, 1860.