“Wisdom denotes pursuing of the best ends by the best means”
The Mission of the Francis Hutcheson Institute is to promote and to recall to public awareness the philosophy and Ideals of Francis Hutcheson of liberal democracy,science and tolerance in a civic society which laid the foundations for modern western political thought.
To promote the ideas and policies that enable Northern Ireland to evolve as an inclusive, tolerant and civic society based on liberal democracy and the rule of law.
A shared civic moral and communal identity is fundamental to overcoming religious division.
Religious belief should therefore become a private matter, removed from the public arena.
Tolerance is a prerequisite to the moral values of a civic society and in creating a shared identity.
This identity and what Hutcheson demanded of the state and individual are reflected in his words:
”that action is best, which accomplishes the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers; and that worst which in like manner, occasions misery”
“A determination to be pleased with happiness of others and to be uneasy at their misery”
These values form the basis of liberal democracy and underpinned the cultural, economic, social and scientific developments of the Enlightenment on which modern society is founded.
The mission and vision will be pursued by, organisation of conferences, delivering talks, commissioning papers on selected topics, establishing working groups to consider major relevant topics, by dissemination of the output through the Institute’s website, and, if required, publications in the media.
Founded in Belfast, 2002, in memory of the moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson (1694 -1746) who, if remembered today, is best known as the ‘Father of the Scottish Enlightenment’, although he came from Ulster (Saintfield, Co. Down) and died in Dublin. Intellectually Hutcheson was a pillar of the Enlightenment, but emphasising the practical and applied aspects of it in political, economic and sociological terms,
Hutcheson’s arguments were for economic development by removing artificial constraints on trade and commerce, e.g. old medieval guild restrictions and state monopolies, to open up ‘free markets’ which all could entre on an equal basis.
Hutcheson thus presaged the civic society: tolerance based on excluding subjective (identity) matters from the public sphere, enabling equal entry and participation to all. Currently, Northern Ireland is following the polar opposite route and has institutionalised its religious divisions into a sectarian society, resulting in disconnected politics and continually failing institutions. The aim of the Institute is thus to recall Ulster’s own indigenous philosophical tradition to examine ways to develop a new politics in Northern Ireland and to overcome its severe sectarian divisions in a positive and progressive manner, one that has been found to work in the rest of the Western world.
The Francis Hutcheson Principles
Keeping religion out of politics and public life, both de facto and de jure, enables one to do this and has become the basis for all modern liberal democracy. Currently, and over the last 200 years, everyone in Ireland seems determined to do the exact opposite which is why both Ireland and the British Isles are now politically divided.
The rise of the liberal left is something I have watched with alarm during 40 years in academia. but the greatest has been the sustained attack on the ideals of the Enlightenment which, ironically, were embraced by Karl Marx. He would almost certainly have treated ‘woke-folk’ with contempt.
The security and livelihoods of Ulster depended on maintaining, unhindered, those British connections that Irish nationalism opposed, and still does. However, this didn’t mean that Ulster workers saw themselves as not Irish.