Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746)

Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746)

A hugely important figure, Francis Hutcheson is said to have influenced David Hume and Adam Smith among others. He is often dubbed the ‘Father of the Scottish Enlightenment,’ and his time at Glasgow best represents this. Hutcheson was born in Ulster, son of the Presbyterian minister John Hutcheson (d. 1729). He first entered the University of Glasgow as a student in 1710/11. He later attributed his love for the classics to his formative years in Glasgow, where he had his ‘first taste of the immortal sublimities of Homer and Virgil.’

When Hutcheson was training to become a Presbyterian minister, his teacher Robert Simson (1667-1740) was tried for heresy by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The same body would later accuse William Leechman (1706-1785) and Hutcheson himself of heretical teaching. The new methods and philosophies brought about by this generation of thinkers were the beginnings of Glasgow’s Enlightenment, making for a more diverse body of philosophy. It was Hutcheson’s own desire ‘to promote the more moderate and charitable sentiments in religious matters in [Scotland].’ Hutcheson also inaugurated the method of lecturing in English rather than the customary Latin. This went on to become more common across other Scottish universities.

His first philosophical work was An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725); followed by his Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense (1728); and A System of Moral Philosophy, in Three Books (1755). Three of his works in Latin were published by his former students, Robert and Andrew Foulis – two in 1742 and one in 1756. Their printing press went on to become a famous brand throughout Europe. We can also trace Hutcheson’s influence on John Millar (1735-1801), who would go on to adopt Smith’s theories in his attack on slavery. Given that Hutcheson was so active in Glasgow and, indeed, Dublin, the case is easily made that Edinburgh was not necessarily alone in instigating the Scottish Enlightenment.