Hutcheson’s Painless Imagination and the Problem of Moral Beauty

International Philosophical Quarterly 47 (3):349-368 (2007)
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Abstract

A peculiar feature of Hutcheson’s system is his claim that there exist no original pains in the imagination, and hence no real displeasures concerning form or beauty. This position, when set against a clear emphasis upon the pains of the moral sense in apprehending evil, seems to render tenuous his frequent analogies between the experiences of beauty and goodness. In light of this apparent discrepancy in Hutcheson’s argument, the repeated use of the term “moral beauty” presents interpretive difficulties, particularly on the matter of whether, and in what way, goodness is itself a species of beauty. These problems can be surmounted by way of close attention to Hutcheson’s connection and ordering of the various “senses.” On the present interpretation, Hutcheson denies formal displeasure aspart of a broader theological argument concerning the moral function of the imagination. On this view, “moral beauty” is a special type of imaginative pleasure.

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