Ideas of Francis Hutcheson, by Theme

[British, 1694 - 1746, Born in Ireland. Professor at Glasgow University.]

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2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 1. On Reason
Reason is our power of finding out true propositions
     Full Idea: Reason is our power of finding out true propositions.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 4: The Moral Sense [1728], §I)
     A reaction: This strikes me as a very good definition. I don't see how you can define reason without mentioning truth, and you can't believe in reason if you don't believe in truth. The concept of reason entails the concept of a good reason.
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / b. Intellectualism
Reason is too slow and doubtful to guide all actions, which need external and moral senses
     Full Idea: We boast of our mighty reason above other animals, but its processes are too slow, too full of doubt, to serve us in every exigency, either for our preservation, without external senses, or to influence our actions for good without the moral sense.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §VII.III)
     A reaction: This idea was taken up by Hume, and it must have influence Hume's general scepticism about the importance of reason. What this idea misses is the enormous influence of prior reasoning on our quick decisions.
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / d. Altruism
Human nature seems incapable of universal malice, except what results from self-love
     Full Idea: Human nature seems scarce capable of malicious disinterested hatred, or an ultimate desire of the misery of others, when we imagine them not pernicious to us, or opposite to our interests; ..that is only the effect of self-love, not disinterested malice.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §II.VII)
     A reaction: I suppose it is true that even the worst criminals brooding in prison don't wish the entire population of some foreign country to die in pain. Only a very freakish person would wish the human race were extinct. A very nice observation.
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / g. Self interest
As death approaches, why do we still care about family, friends or country?
     Full Idea: How comes it that we do not lose, at the approach of death, all concern for our families, friends, or country?
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §II.V)
     A reaction: A nice question. No doubt some people do cease to care, but on the whole it raises the 'last round' problem in social contract theory, which is why fulfil your part of a bargain if it is too late to receive the repayment afterwards?
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / g. Consequentialism
My action is not made good by a good effect, if I did not foresee and intend it
     Full Idea: No good effect, which I did not actually foresee and intend, makes my action morally good.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §III.XII)
     A reaction: This is one of the parents of utilitarianism repudiating pure consequentialism. Bentham sharply divided the action (which is consequentialist) from the person (who has useful intentions, but is not particulary important); this division is misleading.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 2. Happiness / a. Nature of happiness
Happiness is a pleasant sensation, or continued state of such sensations
     Full Idea: In the following discourse, happiness denotes pleasant sensation of any kind, or continued state of such sensations.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 4: The Moral Sense [1728], Intro)
     A reaction: This is a very long way from Greek eudaimonia. Hutcheson seems to imply that I would be happy if I got high on drugs after my family had just burnt to death. Socrates points out that scratching an itch is a very pleasant sensation (Idea 132).
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / c. Ethical intuitionism
We approve of actions by a superior moral sense
     Full Idea: By a superior sense, which I call a moral one, we approve the actions of others.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], Intro)
     A reaction: This tries to present moral insight as being on a par with the famous five senses. This doesn't seem quite right to me; separate parts of me can operate individual senses, but the whole of me is required for moral judgements, based on evidence.
We dislike a traitor, even if they give us great benefit
     Full Idea: Let us consider if a traitor, who would sell his own country to us, may not often be as advantageous to us, as an hero who defends us: and yet we can love the treason, and hate the traitor.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §I.VI)
     A reaction: A nice example, which certainly refutes any claim that morality is entirely and directly self-interested. High-minded idealism, though, is not the only alternative explanation. We admire loyalty, but not loyalty to, say, Hitler.
The moral sense is not an innate idea, but an ability to approve or disapprove in a disinterested way
     Full Idea: The moral sense is not an innate idea or knowledge, but a determination of our minds to receive the simple ideas of approbation or condemnation, from actions observed, antecedent to any opinions of advantage or loss to redound to ourselves.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §I.VIII)
     A reaction: This may claim a pure moral intuition, but it is also close to Kantian universalising of the rules for behaviour. It is also a variation on Descartes' 'natural light' of reason. Of course, if we say the ideas are 'received', where are they received from?
We cannot choose our moral feelings, otherwise bribery could affect them
     Full Idea: Neither benevolence nor any other affection or desire can be directly raised by volition; if they could, then we could be bribed into any affection whatsoever toward any object.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §II.IV)
     A reaction: Of course, notoriously, the vast mass of people have often been bribed to love a politician, by low taxes, or bread and circuses. Still, you cannot choose to love or admire someone, you just do. Not much free will there.
Everyone feels uneasy when seeing others in pain, unless the others are evil
     Full Idea: Every mortal is made uneasy by any grievous misery he sees another involved in, unless the person be imagined morally evil.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §V.VIII)
     A reaction: This is the natural compassion on which Hume built his moral theory. This remark emphasises that a concern for justice is just as important as a compassion for pain. Kant was more interested in what we deserve than in what we get.
Can't the moral sense make mistakes, as the other senses do?
     Full Idea: Can there not be a right and wrong state of our moral sense, as there is in our other senses?
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 4: The Moral Sense [1728], §IV)
     A reaction: Hutcheson replies by saying something like they are both fully reliable in normal conditions. It remains, though, a very good question for the intuitionist to face, as the moral sense is supposed to be direct and reliable, but how do you check?
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / d. Courage
Contempt of danger is just madness if it is not in some worthy cause
     Full Idea: Mere courage, or contempt of danger, if we conceive it to have no regard to the defence of the innocent, or repairing of wrongs or self-interest, would only entitle its possessor to bedlam.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §II.I)
     A reaction: If many criminals would love to rob a bank, but only a few have the nerve to attempt it, we can hardly deny that the latter exhibit a sort of courage. The Greeks say that good sense must be involved, but few of them were so moral about courage.
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 1. Deontology
You can't form moral rules without an end, which needs feelings and a moral sense
     Full Idea: What rule of actions can be formed, without relation to some end proposed? Or what end can be proposed, without presupposing instincts, desires, affections, or a moral sense, it will not be easy to explain.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 4: The Moral Sense [1728], §IV)
     A reaction: We have no reason to think that 'instincts, desires and affections' will give us the remotest guidance on how to behave morally well (though we would expect them to aid our survival). How could a moral sense give a reason, without spotting a rule?
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 1. Utilitarianism
That action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest number
     Full Idea: That action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest number; and that worst, which, in like manner, occasions misery.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §III.VIII)
     A reaction: The first use of a phrase taken up by Bentham. This is not just an anticipation of utilitarianism, it is utilitarianism, with all its commitment to consequentialism (but see Idea 6246), and to the maximising of happiness. It is a brilliant idea.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 4. Legal Rights / a. Basis of rights
The loss of perfect rights causes misery, but the loss of imperfect rights reduces social good
     Full Idea: Perfect rights are necessary to the public good, and it makes those miserable whose rights are thus violated; …imperfect rights tend to the improvement and increase of good in a society, but are not necessary to prevent universal misery.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §VII.VI)
     A reaction: This is a very utilitarian streak in Hutcheson, converting natural law into its tangible outcome in actual happiness or misery. The distinction here is interesting (taken up by Mill), but there is a very blurred borderline.
28. God / A. Divine Nature / 6. Divine Morality / a. Divine morality
We are asked to follow God's ends because he is our benefactor, but why must we do that?
     Full Idea: The reasons assigned for actions are such as 'It is the end proposed by the Deity'. But why do we approve concurring with the divine ends? The reason is given 'He is our benefactor', but then, for what reason do we approve concurrence with a benefactor?
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 4: The Moral Sense [1728], §I)
     A reaction: Characteristic of what MacIntyre calls the 'Enlightenment Project', which is the application of Cartesian scepticism to proving the foundations of morals. Proof beyond proof is continually demanded. If you could meet God, you would obey without question.
Why may God not have a superior moral sense very similar to ours?
     Full Idea: Why may not the Deity have something of a superior kind, analogous to our moral sense, essential to him?
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 4: The Moral Sense [1728], §I)
     A reaction: This is Plato's notion of the gods, as beings who are profoundly wise, and understand all the great moral truths, but are not the actual originators of those truths. The idea that God creates morality actually serves to undermine morality.
28. God / A. Divine Nature / 6. Divine Morality / c. God is the good
We say God is good if we think everything he does aims at the happiness of his creatures
     Full Idea: We call the Deity morally good, when we apprehend that his whole providence tends to the universal happiness of his creatures.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §VII.V)
     A reaction: From the point of view of eternity, we might accept that God aims at some even greater good than the happiness of a bunch of miserable little creatures whose bad behaviour merits little reward. The greater good needs to be impressive, though.
28. God / A. Divine Nature / 6. Divine Morality / d. God decrees morality
If goodness is constituted by God's will, it is a tautology to say God's will is good
     Full Idea: To call the laws of the supreme Deity good or holy or just, if these be constituted by laws, or the will of a superior, must be an insignificant tautology, amounting to no more than 'God wills what he wills' or 'His will is conformable to his will'.
     From: Francis Hutcheson (Treatise 2: Virtue or Moral Good [1725], §VII.V)
     A reaction: This argues not only against God as the source of morality, but also against any rules, such as those of the Categorical Imperative. Why should I follow the Categorical Imperative? What has value must dictate the rules. Is obedience the highest value?