Regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightenment, Francis Hutcheson was a philosopher born in 1694 at Drumalig, between Saintfield and Carryduff in County Down.

He went to school in Saintfield and later attended the academy or ‘philosophical school’ in Killyleagh before enrolling at the University of Glasgow. Francis returned to Ireland in 1718 as a probationary minister to a congregation in Armagh but his liberal thinking conflicted with the more conservative locals. As a result, he moved to Dublin and set up his own private academy where he was assisted by Thomas Drennan who would later become the minister of First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast.

During his time in Dublin Hutcheson published his most well-known works, albeit anonymously, such as Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty in 1725 and Virtue and the Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections and Illustrations upon the Moral Sense in 1728.

Hutcheson returned to the University of Glasgow in 1729 to become Chair of Moral Philosophy and was the first professor there to lecture in English rather than Latin. His personality and methods, meant that he was well regarded and became one of the most prominent lecturers at the university.

During a visit to Dublin in 1746 Hutcheson died and is buried in an unmarked grave in St Mary’s Churchyard in the city.  Writing in 2000, Philip Orr stated that this was ‘a measure of the obscurity into which this great thinker has fallen’.

Despite his obscurity today, Hutcheson was well known amongst his contemporaries in the eighteenth century. He was described as the ‘never to be forgotten Hutcheson’ by one of his students at the University of Glasgow, Adam Smith. Smith was heavily influenced by Hutcheson’s teachings in moral philosophy and became a prominent philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment and economist who published the highly influential The Wealth of Nations in 1776. As a teacher, Hutcheson also had a profound influence on David Hume, another Scottish philosopher who sought him out in 1737 and the two continued to correspond until Hutcheson’s death. However, Hutcheson was wary of the younger man’s growing religious scepticism. Their debates undoubtedly helped shape and sharpen the intellect of the younger man.

Hutcheson’s works also had a wider impact. His dictum ‘That action is best which produces the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers’ was adopted by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham and continues to influence modern social policy. Hutcheson’s ideas on the rights to resistance and rebellion against oppressive governments resonated in pre-revolutionary America where his writings were widely read. Another of his former students, Francis Allison taught three signatories of the American Declaration of Independence at the College of Philadelphia. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third Presidents of the United States respectively, are known to have been familiar with Hutchinson’s work.

Locally, Thomas Drennan’s son, William, was also inspired by Hutcheson, even quoting his phrase ‘The Greatest Happiness of the Greater Number’ in his advocacy for the establishment of the United Irishmen. William went on to become a founding member in 1791.