Hutcheson’s Deceptive Hedonism


Francis Hutcheson’s theory of value is often characterized as a precursor to the qualitative hedonism of John Stuart Mill. In this paper, I seek to argue that this reading is mistaken. The evidence for Hutcheson as a qualitative hedonist is strong and striking. The most commonly cited passages are taken from his posthumous opus, A System of Moral Philosophy. However, a closer look at Hutcheson’s moral psychology, including his account of the interplay between pleasure and the moral and evaluative senses, shows that we do no disservice by reading him as a purely quantitative hedonist. Hutcheson’s hedonism is for that reason deceptive, and deceptively simple.