An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense (Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics)

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9780865973879: An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense (Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics)
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Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics

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About the Author:

F Hutcheson; Edited by A Garret

Review:

Francis Hutcheson's Essay and Illustrations, one of the finest examples of moral-theoretical argumentation in the literature of philosophy, has long been hard to find in any form and has never appeared, in its entirety, in a serious scholarly edition . . .The present volume therefore fills a genuine need, and on the whole it does so impressively.

Eighteenth-Century Scotland
Why read Hutcheson? Most students know of him vaguely, mainly as a precursor of Hume. "There is little or nothing in Hume's moral philosophy that cannot be traced to Hutcheson, but in Hume it is all more clear and pointed," wrote Arthur Prior in 1949 (Logic and the Basis of Ethics, 31). Many important strands of Hutcheson's thought do recur in Hume: his defence of the new theory of a moral sense and his rejection of rationalist theories of ethics, for instance, which, having quickly provoked objections from John Clarke, John Balguy and Gilbert Burnet, led to many of the revisions introduced in later editions of these two works. (The present text-critical editions make it possible for the first time to view these changes synoptically.) But Hutcheson's work explores other topics, many of them interesting in their own right, all of them of historical interest.

His central idea is that we have, in addition to the five external senses, also a sense of beauty and a moral sense. These senses were introduced in Inquiry (the two main parts of which, published in 1725, will be referred to as T1 and T2). Over time, the number of senses grew, among them, in Essay (also in two parts [1728]: T3 and T4), the public sense and the sense of honor. Experiences conveyed by these senses determine us, he argued, to judge things good or bad, and to decide for or against a course of action, without regard to self-interest: this anti-egoism mattered most to him.

Hutcheson explores other matters too, of course, in these important volumes. Morals without faith: He disputes the thesis that every action is a sin if it is undertaken without considering God. It would have the repugnant consequence that "the best of men are infinitely evil" (T4: 6.1, 187). The problem of evil: He also argues that contemplating the natural world will lead us to belief in a benevolent God. "How can anyone. . .even question a perfectly good Providence?" (T3: 6.3-4). Moral matters: the "conduct of the passions and affections" (roughly: the emotions and desires) covers a wide range, some of which, like his condemnation of the character traits Hume later described as the "monkish virtues," seems now mainly of historical interest. Others, for example those concerning honor killings and the sense of honor generally (T3: 5.8), have gained renewed relevance. Beauty: He insists, in Inquiry, on the beauty of the theorems and theories (T1: 3) offered by the deductive sciences (mathematics, physics), a kind of beauty neglected by all subsequent writers on aesthetics. (He also mentioned natural law theory like Pufendorf's, but omitted this in the fourth edition of T1.) Hutcheson also maintained that our delight at the works of nature is at least equal to, or else greater than, that inspired by works of art (T3: 6.2, 115).

Like other Liberty Fund publications, these volumes are elegantly designed, excellently produced, and moderately priced. To handle and read them is a pleasure.

Thomas Mautner
Australian National University
Ideas, Esthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era

Volume 11
English moral philosopher Hutcheson (1694-1746) noted criticism and commentary on his first publication, in 1725, when he wrote the double piece here, published in 1728. Garrett (philosophy, Boston U.) says his works were widely influential in England, continental Europe, America, and especially in Scotland after the last Jacobite rising in 1745. This edition is collated with Hutcheson's revision of 1742.

Reference & Research Book News
February 2004

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