In An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense, Francis Hutcheson answers the criticism that had been leveled against his first book Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725). Together the two works constitute the great innovation in philosophy for which Hutcheson is most well known.
The first half of the Essay presents a rich moral psychology built on a theory of the passions and an account of motivation, deepening and augmenting the doctrine of moral sense developed in the Inquiry. The second half of the work, the Illustrations,is a brilliant attack on rationalist moral theories and is the font of many of the arguments taken up by Hume and used to this day.
As editor Aaron Garrett notes, “In the Essay Hutcheson provides his crucial argument against Hobbes and Mandeville, that not just egoistic self-preservation, but also benevolence, is an essential feature of human nature.”
Professor Garrett has constructed a critical variorum edition of this great work. Because there are no manuscripts of the work, this could be done only by comparing all extant lifetime editions. Three such editions exist: those of 1728, 1730 (chiefly a reprint of the 1728 edition), and 1742. The Liberty Fund edition collates the first edition with Hutcheson’s revision of 1742.
"To define Virtue by agreeableness to this moral Sense, or describing it to be kind Affection, may [xvi] appear perhaps too uncertain; considering that the Sense of particular Persons is often depraved by Custom, Habits, false Opinions, Company: and that some particular kind Passions toward some Persons are really pernicious, and attended with very unkind Affections toward others, or at least with a Neglect of their Interests. We must therefore only assert in general, that “every one calls that Temper, or those Actions virtuous, which are approv’d by his own Sense;” and withal, that “abstracting from particular Habits or Prejudices, every one is so constituted as to approve every particular kind Affection toward any one, which argues no want of Affection toward others. And constantly to approve that Temper which desires, and those Actions which tend to procure the greatest Moment of Good in the Power of the Agent toward [xvii] the [xvi] most extensive System to which it can reach;” and consequently, that the Perfection of Virtue consists in “having the universal calm Benevolence, the prevalent Affection of the Mind, so as to limit and counteract not only the selfish Passions, but even the particular kind Affections.”
Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) was an Irish philosopher, a crucial link between the continental European natural law tradition and the emerging Scottish Enlightenment.
Hence, he is a pivotal figure in the Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics series. A contemporary of Lord Kames and George Turnbull, an acquaintance of David Hume, and the teacher of Adam Smith, Hutcheson was arguably the leading figure in making Scotland distinctive within the general European Enlightenment.