Francis Hutcheson’s first book, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, was published in 1725, when its author was only thirty-one, and went through four editions during his lifetime. This seminal text of the Scottish Enlightenment is now available for the first time in a variorum edition based on the 1726 edition.
The Inquiry was written as a critical response to the work of Bernard Mandeville and as a defense of the ideas of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury. It consists of two treatises exploring our aesthetic and our moral abilities.
To His Excellency, John, Lord Carteret,Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
May it please your Excellency,
When I publish’d these Papers, I had so little Confidence of their Success, that I was unwilling to own them; and [iv] what I was unwilling myself to own, I durst not presume to inscribe to any great Name.
Your Excellency’s favourable Reception of them, soon put me out of all Fears about their Success with the wiser and better Part of the World; and since this has given me Assurance to own them, I humbly presume to inscribe them in this second Edition to your Excellency, that I may have at once an Opportunity of expressing the sincerest Gratitude for the Notice you were pleas’d to take of me, and have the Pleasure also of letting the [v] World know that this small Work has your Excellency’s Approbation.
The Praise bestow’d by Persons of real Merit and Discernment, is allow’d by all to give a noble and rational Pleasure. Your Excellency first made me feel this in the most lively manner; and it will be a Pleasure as lasting as it is great: ’twill ever be matter of the highest Joy and Satisfaction to me, that I am Author of a Book my Lord Carteret approves.
I know, my Lord, that much of your Commendation [vi] is to be attributed to your own Humanity: you can entirely approve the Works of those alone, who can think and speak on these Subjects as justly as your self; and that is what few, if any, even of those who spend their Lives in such Contemplations, are able to do. In the Conversation, with which your Excellency has been pleas’d to honour me, I could not, I own, without the utmost surprize, observe so intimate an Acquaintance with the most valuable Writings of contemplative Men, Antient, and Modern; so just a Taste of what is excellent in the ingenious Arts, [vii] in so young a man, amidst the Hurry of an active Life. Forgive me, my Lord, that I mention this part of your Character: ’tis so uncommon that it deserves the highest Admiration; and ’tis the only one which an obscure Philosopher, who has receiv’d the greatest Obligations from your Excellency, can with any Propriety take notice of.
Those other great Endowments which have enabled you, even in Youth, to discharge the most difficult Employments, with the highest Honour to your self, and Advantage to your Country, I dare not presume to de-[viii]scribe. He who attempts to do Justice to so great and good a Character, ought himself to be one of uncommon Merit and Distinction: and yet the ablest Panegyrist would find it difficult to add any thing to your Excellency’s Fame. The Voices of Nations proclaim your Worth. I am,
May it please your Excellency,
Your most obliged,
Most obedient, and
Most devoted humble Servant,
Dublin June 19. 1725
Francis Hutcheson. [ix]
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.