Giants of the Scottish Enlightenment Part 1: Francis Hutcheson

Uploaded by LearnLiberty on 07.12.2011

In the eighteenth century, something really spectacularly interesting happened in Scotland.
Now this might comes as a surprise because most people don’t think of Scotland as being
a spectacularly interesting place., bBut in the eighteenth century, [inaudible 00:00:15]
it was, because we have the dawn of a the Scottish eEnlightenment. I like to point out
to American audiences that we have yet to have an American eEnlightenment. We just have
thea Scotst's version. So that's what we are going to focus on. aAnd it's spectacular.
You' have a small, dank country covered in hoofshills, sheep, and heather, and it produces
philosophical and economic geniuses who have influenced not just on their compatriots but
have influence on economics and philosophy even today. aAnd one of the giants of the
Scottish Eenlightenment is Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson was not himself Scots,t he was Irish.
But, he moved to Scotland as soon as he possibly could, which is a hallmarkwhole [inaudible
00:01:00] of his obvious genius. Hutcheson was fantastic. Hutcheson is the Scottish eEnlightenment
equivalent of a blue touch paper on a firework. YouIt was light ited and it starts burning,
burning and then suddenly the whole thing just explodes, because Hutcheson has a tremendous
influence on many of his contemporaries. iIn particular, he has influence on Adam Smith
and David Hume.
Moreover Hutcheson's views resonate today. We have many prominent bioethicists who have
the years of precedence presidents, such as Leon Kass with George W. Bush, who offer a
form of Hutchesonianinsonian moral sentimentalism as a justification for their views in bio
ethics. So Hutcheson, writing in the 18th eighteenth century, resonates today and is
still tremendously influential. So what is important about Hutcheson? The most important
thing about Hutcheson is his sentimentalist approach to morality. Hutcheson recognized
and accepted, as everybody in the eighteenth18th century and now does, that people have five
senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and the like. But, Hutcheson held that people
have three further senses: they have a public sense, a sense of honor, and a moral sense.
Now Hutcheson believed that these are genuine senses, but he didn’t think that there wais
anything spooky or mysterious about them. They’re are very straightforward in their
operation. Let's give you an example. Hutcheson believes that persons have a public sense.
You feel pleasure as a person of a person's happiness;, you feel pain over their lack
of success or their misfortune. aAnd this comes perfectly naturally and without any
intermediate judgment. It is, after all, a sense. Aand notice how your, other senses
work.? You smell rotten milk, which is a common experience in Scotland. You don’t sit down
and judge this milk is rotten and then have a scent. yYou just smell it and it hits you,
and you smell the rottenness of the milk. For public sense, for Hutcheison, it works
just like that. You see somebody experiencing misfortune; you feel sadness as a result of
this. You see somebody experiencing good fortune, and you feel happy as a result of this.
This is something that people experience every day, not just with respect to real people
but also with respect to fictional characters. You see movies: the hero does badly, you feel
unhappy. The hero does well, you feel very happy indeed —especially, it seems, if the
hero happens to be a little furryairy dog; people like little fairy furry dogs.
But, notice what the point is for Hutcheison.? People have a genuine public sense.
They also have a sense of honor. aAnd by this Hutcheison means, something quite specific.
You have athe sense of honor when you receive appropriate gratitude for a good deed that
you have done. It makes you feel happy. You don’t sit down and think that gratitude
was appropriate; rather, you simply receive it and you feel happiness as a result. Again,
like the unhappiness or the happiness that you experience from your public sense when
you see the fortune or misfortunes of others, your sense of honor leads you to have certain
aAnd so, too, does your sense operate in this way with respect to your moral sense. aAnd
here is where we move into the core of Hutcheison's moral philosophy. You persons have a moral
sense, claims Hutcheison. You feel approval when you recognize thatwith persons havethat
performed good, virtuous actions. You feel disapproval, naturally, when you feel, believe,
inand sense that they haven’t.
Let's give you a very simple example. You are having —you are out for meal with friends,
and somebody collects the money and then they are supposed to pay your server. They do pay
the server, but they leave a really bad tip. You might feel that's the wrong thing to do.
You feel this almost visceral this real reaction to your friend's poor behavior. You don’t
sit there and think, is this a rational self- interested action or not.? You simply think,
that was not the right thing to do. Your moral sense is offended. Now, you might think, where
does this moral sense come from? Why are we concerned about the interests of other people?
The For Hutchieson the answer is straightforward. We have a calm, stable disposition towards
all the universal benevolence. In this, Hutchieson is reacting against the psychological egoism
of Thomas Hobbes, who held that persons were irrationally self -interested and alwaysmost
acted in their own self interest.
Not at all, claims Hutcheison. People are instead generally benevolent. Moreover, for
Hutcheison, Thomas Hobbes is not onlyany wrong in ascribing rational self interest to agents,
he’s it is also dangerous. Bbecause if we think that we are just purely rationally self
interested and we fail to recognize our natural benevolence, we might not try to develop our
benevolent affections. iIndeed, we might even try to crush them. Now, one might say in response
to Hutcheison, couldn’t we just say that our benevolence works to our advantage? After
all, we tend to likeght to associate with benevolent persons, so if you’re a are benevolent
person, you're going to gain certain social advantages.
Hutcheison's response is straightforward. Not so. Benevolence can't be reduced to self
interest, because benevolence, remember, is simply an affection; it’s a in some moral
sense. We don’t mediate our senses through the will. [inaudible 00:06:40] mMoreover,
there might be certain act of benevolence which actually cut against our obvious self
interest. For example, you might be a donor to the Institute for Humane Studies or to
your alumni association. You could have used something else withof that money, which would
give you more obvious and immediate gratification, but you don’t. Because you think it is important
to support the causes that you believe are worthy or to support your alma mater’s fund-
driving effort. So you act benevolently even if you recognize this might not be strictly
in your self interest.
For Hutchieson, then, that benevolence and self interest are going to come apart. Hutchieson
is incredibly influential. He develops a moral sentimentalist account of morality which influences
David Hume and Adam Smith, two other giants of the Scottish eEnlightenment. HeIt is important
for us today because he influences many of the debates which affect public policy, such
as the views of Leon Kass. aAnd, finally, he’s is simply somebody who offers and an
account of human nature wthat we might like to take on board when we are considering how
to arrange institutions. aAfter all,. Iif Hutchieson is right and people are generally
benevolent, we might want to arrange our institutions very differently thanfor if we considered
people to be in a Hobbesian sense rational, self -interested predators of one another.
So if Hutchieson's view of this is correct, we are going to have a very different view
of society thanwhen if Hobbes is correct. aAnd now, let's turn to Adam Smith and David
Hume and see where they take the Hutchieson firework.