New publication to examine life of ‘father of the Scottish enlightenment’

The 18th century philosopher, Saintfield born Francis Hutcheson had a powerful influence both in Ireland and beyond and yet is largely forgotten but a publication, The Secret Chain: Francis Hutcheson and Contemporary Ireland by Philip Orr, hopes to shed new light on the great Ulsterman.

Author Philip Orr with his book The Secret Chain: Francis Hutcheson and Contemporary Ireland
Author Philip Orr with his book The Secret Chain: Francis Hutcheson and Contemporary Ireland

Hutcheson was notable for his humane view of mankind: for him there was an inherent goodness in people, that we, and especially children, should not be crippled by the concept of original sin, and hence did not require repressive government. Indeed he argued that we had a right to resistance against despotism and that colonies if unfairly governed had the right “to justly constitute themselves into an independent state”.

He was an inveterate opponent of slavery.

As a teacher at a dissenting academy in Dublin and then as Professor of Philosophy at Glasgow University he came to be known as “the father of the Scottish enlightenment” but as teacher of students for the Presbyterian ministry in Ireland some of whom came to support the ideals of the United Irishmen he was just as much the father of our own enlightenment.

The plaque commemorating Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) philosopher and teacher on First Saintfield Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Comber Street and the Main Street, Saintfield

Others of his students emigrated to the American colonies and his ideas were hugely influential in the American Revolution.

A spokesperson for Reclaim the Enlightenment who is helping to promote the publication said: “We often celebrate Ulster born American presidents some of whom had at best dubious records, yet we overlook the man whose ideas were central to the creation of the United States.

“Hutcheson was educated in Killyleagh but there is no memorial to him there. There is a statue to Hans Sloane whose fortune was based on slavery.

“It is time to redress the balance and Philip Orr’s essay should provide an illuminating introduction to Hutcheson for many.

Philip Orr's new book The Secret Chain: Francis Hutcheson and Contemporary Ireland

“Reclaim the Enlightenment which in seeking to rediscover our 18th century enlightenment in order to help us progress in the present is delighted to have acted as publisher.”

Speaking of his new publication and how he came to be interest in Hutcheson Philip Orr said: “I first came across Hutcheson when I read a Fortnight magazine supplement in 1992 curated by Damian Smyth, It intrigued me to find a thinker of this stature who was born and grew up where I did in rural Co Down.

“I was pleased at a later stage to liaise with people like Fergus Whelan in Dublin and Martyn Todd in Saintfield who have prized and drawn attention to Hutcheson’s forgotten legacy in the land of his birth.”

Philip was impressed by Hutcheson’s thinking.

He explained: “I was most impressed by Hutcheson’s credentials as a thinker who believed in the power of human solidarity, goodness and the need to oppose human slavery and political tyranny.

“He is someone who has been styled the father of the Scottish Enlightenment but I would suggest that we should see his 18th century career as evidence of an Irish Enlightenment which shaped the Belfast in which the United Irish movement was born.”

The event is free and tickets can be booked in Eventbrite or email - [email protected].

It is being held at St Joseph’s Community Hall in Sailorstown Belfast from 7pm.