Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Hutcheson rejects the notion of innate ideas of beauty, yet apparently his "inner sense" or "sense of beauty" is the methodological equivalent of innate ideas. Clarify as precisely as possible the nature of moral sense and whether or not this inner sense is instinctual in human beings.

  2. Compare Hutcheson's argument in this treatise as to the standards of beauty with Hume's arguments in Hume's "Of the Standard of Taste."[1] (Note that Hutcheson's "sense of beauty" is the same thing as what Hume terms "taste.")

  3. Hutcheson emphasizes in this reading the ubiquity of uniformity and diversity in beautiful objects:

    In every Part of the World which we call Beautiful, there is a vast Uniformity amidst an almost infinite Variety.…The same might be observ'd thro all other Works of Art, even to the meanest Utensil; the Beauty of every one of which we shall always find to have the same Foundation of Uniformity amidst Variety, without which they appear mean, irregular and deform'd.[2]

    Is this observation meaningful in light of the fact that order and difference of objects is not so much intrinsic to the objects themselves as it is a construction of the mind? Also, whether or not objects are beautiful or ugly, uniformity and diversity is present in the contemplation of those objects. How does Hutcheson account for these rather ordinary objections?

  4. Explain how in Hutcheson's view comparative or relative beauty can be more beautiful than the absolute or original beauty upon which it is based? Why wouldn't an argument based on polar concepts be relevant to comparative beauty (i.e., we could not know beauty without thereby knowing what is ugly)? Note that Hutcheson writes, as well, "Deformity is only the absence of Beauty, or deficiency in the Beauty expected in any Species."[3]

  5. Hutcheson writes concerning the origin of the idea of beauty in us:

    As to the Works of Art, were we to run thro the various artificial Contrivances or Structures, we should constantly find the Foundation of the Beauty which appears in them, to be some kind of Uniformity, or Unity of Proportion among the Parts, and of each Part to the Whole.…[4]

    The same might be observ'd thro all other Works of Art, even to the meanest Utensil; the Beauty of every one of which we shall always find to have the same Foundation of Uniformity amidst Variety…[5]

    Clive Bell writes of "significant form" in a similar fashion:

    What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our ęsthetic emotions? … Only one answer seems possible—significant form. In each, lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our ęsthetic emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colours, these ęsthetically moving forms, I call "Significant Form"; and "Significant form" is the one quality common to all works of visual art.[6]

    Compare the two ęsthetic theories of Hutcheson and Bell and trace out the extent to which Hutcheson anticipated Bell's notion of "significant form."

  6. Plotinus describes a faculty of persons distinct from other perceptive faculties which he names "inner vision":

    When he perceives those shapes of grace that show in body, let him not pursue: he must know them for copies, vestiges, shadows, and hasten away towards that they tell of … all this order of things you must set aside and refuse to see: you must close the eyes and call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birth-right of all, which few turn to use.[7]

    In what ways does Plotinus's use of "inner vision" in his ęsthetic theory differ from Hutcheson's use of "inner sense" or "sense of beauty"?



David Hume. "Of the Standard of Taste." In Four Dissertations. London: A Millar. 1757.


Hutcheson. II: IV.


Hutcheson. VI: I.


Hutcheson. III: VIII.


Hutcheson. III: VIII, IX.


Clive Bell. Art. London: Chatto & Windus. 1914.


Plotinus, "Beauty". In The Enneads. Translated by Stephen Mackenna and B. S. Page. London: Faber and Faber. 1917-1924. First Ennead, Sixth Tractate. ¶ 9.