The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XI. Berkeley and Contemporary Philosophy

§ 19. Hutcheson

The doctrine of the moral sense led to immediate development, especially at the hands of Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson, a native of Ulster, was educated at the university of Glasgow, and, in 1729, returned there as professor of moral philosophy. Among the more notable British philosophers, he was the first to occupy a professor’s chair; and his lectures are said by Dugald Stewart

  • to have contributed very powerfully to diffuse, in Scotland, that taste for analytical discussion, and that spirit of liberal enquiry, to which the world is indebted for some of the most valuable productions of the eighteenth century.
  • Before his appointment as professor, Hutcheson had published two volumes—An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), and An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense (1726)—each containing two treatises. Text-books on logic, metaphysics and ethics followed; his System of Moral Philosophy (1755) was published after his death. The ideas of Shaftesbury reappear in these works in a somewhat more systematic form and with an increased tendency towards a psychological interpretation of them. Hutcheson maintained the disinterestedness of benevolence; he assimilated moral and aesthetic judgments; he elaborated the doctrine of the moral sense, sometimes speaking of it as merely a new source of pleasure or pain; and he identified virtue with universal benevolence: in the tendency towards general happiness he found the standard of goodness. In this respect, he was, historically, the forerunner of the utilitarians. In his first work, he even used the formula—“the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers”—afterwards, with only a slight verbal change, made famous by Bentham. He anticipated Bentham, also, in the attempt to form a calculus of pleasures and pains.