Passions, Perceptions, and Motives: Fault-Lines in Hutcheson’s Account of Moral Sentiment

  • Glen Pettigrove
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


In the 1720s Francis Hutcheson published four treatises, and entered into a series of exchanges in the London Journal and the Dublin Weekly Journal, in which he developed a systematic account of the origin of ethical ideas and the nature of ethical judgement that was rooted in our affections.1 Hutcheson’s aim in writing was not only to describe the relation of affections to ethical judgement and action; it was also to inspire some of these same affections. In a review of his own book published under the pseudonym Philopatris, he indicated that his intention was to ‘raise in Mankind “a Relish for a Beauty in Characters, in Manners,” as well as in other Things’.2 And he complained in the preface to Treatises 1 and 2 that modern writers ‘have made Philosophy, as well as Religion, by our foolish management of it, so austere and ungainly a Form, that a Gentleman cannot easily bring himself to like it …’ (preface to T1 and T2, 9–10). To avoid the shortcomings of his peers, evocative examples are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. This is not merely a stylistic flourish, but is central to his methodology, since he believes that our actions and judgements are a consequence of the sentiments we feel in response to the situations we encounter. Thus, Hutcheson thinks that instructive contributions to the debates carried on in the public sphere (and in the classroom) should be emotionally as well as intellectually engaging.


Moral Judgement Moral Philosophy Ethical Judgement Mathematical Calculation Moral Sense 
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© Glen Pettigrove 2016

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  • Glen Pettigrove

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