Chapter 6. "The Sense of Beauty" by Francis Hutcheson

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Hutcheson's Inquiry
The Reading Selection from Hutcheson's Inquiry
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Francis Hutcheson (adapted) portrait by Alan Ramsay

About the author …

Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), born in Ireland, studied philosophy, jurisprudence, and theology and later taught moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. However, his An Inquiry Concerning Beauty, Order, Harmony and Design, as well as the other works for which he is best known, were published anonymously prior to his accepting the moral philosophy chair at Glasgow. During the remainder of his life he became a somewhat controversial, though well-liked, teacher because of his religious dissent from Calvinist doctrine. In particular, Hutcheson thought the right action is that action productive of the greatest good for the greatest number and moral knowlege could be prior to, and independent of, knowledge of God—both beliefs conflicted with the Westminster Confession.

About the work …

In the first major study in Western philosophy devoted exclusively to Šsthetics, An Inquiry Concerning Beauty, Order, Harmony, Design,[1] Hutcheson argues that objects in the world are perceived to be beautiful by specific qualities acting upon our "inner sense" or "sense of beauty." The qualities are framed by a ratio of the uniformity and variety in the objects which form the basis of an absolute standard of beauty. Beauty, then, on this view, is simply the idea "raised" in us via our power or inner sense of receiving this idea. Our inner sense, this sense of beauty, Hutcheson argues, is independent of intellectual judgment, personal utility, volition, or association with other ideas. Ugliness, he thinks, is simply some degree of absence of harmony and uniformity of objects.

Ideas of Interest from Hutcheson's Inquiry

  1. How does Hutcheson define "beauty"?

  2. How does he distinguish between internal and external senses? What is his argument that people have a "sense of beauty"?

  3. What is Hutcheson's distinction between relative and absolute beauty? What are some examples of absolute or "original" beauty? Is this distinction of relative and absolute beauty merely a distinction between beauty in nature and beauty in art?

  4. How does Hutcheson relate standards of beauty to relative or comparative beauty?

  5. Explain Hutcheson's argument concerning the relation of our perception of beauty to the role of custom or education.

  6. In Hutcheson's view, what is the ultimate purpose of our inner sense of beauty?



Francis Hutcheson. An Inquiry Concerning Beauty, Order, Harmony, Design. Part I of An Inquiry Into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. London: J. Barby, et. al. 1725.