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The Presbytery of Glasgow tried him for teaching, in contravention to the Westminster Confession, the following "false and dangerous" doctrines: (a ) that the standard of moral goodness is the promotion of the happiness of others and (b ) that it is possible to have a knowledge of good and evil without, and prior to, a knowledge of God.Afterward, Hutcheson was able to speak of the matter as the "whimsical buffoonery" about his heresy, but the fact that the charges were brought is doubtless a measure of the effectiveness of his teaching.
Their debate, then, was over the character of the moral faculty.
Hutcheson plucked from Shaftesbury's rhapsodies the notion of a moral sense and endeavored to give a systematic account of it as the moral faculty of humankind.
Hutcheson attributed both the connection between virtue and benevolence and our necessary perception of the virtuousness of benevolence to arrangements superintended by God.
Like sight, the moral sense is universal in humankind.
To see what Hutcheson's claim means, we must first of all consider what led him to make it.
When you see someone doing something that is helpful to another, you say that his action is a virtuous one. It might be said that a helpful action is virtuous because it exhibits benevolence.
In the one he offers a theory of an internal sense by which we perceive beauty, and in the other he offers a theory of a moral sense by which we perceive and approve virtue and perceive and condemn vice.
Hutcheson meant his theory of the moral sense to be a contribution to the contemporary discussion of how to analyze man's moral knowledge. Samuel Clarke and his followers held that moral distinctions are made by reason on the basis of our knowledge of the unchanging and unchangeable fitness of things.
Francis Hutcheson, a moral-sense theorist, was born at Drumalig in County Down, Ulster.
His father and grandfather were Presbyterian ministers.