“Hutcheson and the Experience of Pure Benevolence” by Christina Chuang (14 Feb)

Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) is often associated with moral sentimentalism, which argues that our moral distinctions are determined by sense perceptions, rather than reason. Some contemporary ethicists have claimed to find the origin of non-cognitivism in moral sentimentalism and thus have claimed Hutcheson’s work as one of the first non-cognitivist theories in the history of ethics. But it is debatable whether being a sentimentalist necessarily entails being a non-cognitivist.

In this talk I do not specifically engage the issue of cognitivism but I make a connection between Hutcheson and classical Indian thought as an alternative way of addressing the debate. I argue that Hutcheson’s moral knowledge can be accessed through non-discursive meditation. This is because meditation captures the decisive elements of the experience of benevolence in Hutcheson’s theory: pre-reflective, non-propositional and immediate. Hutcheson’s pure benevolence is analogous to Purusha in Samkhya Philosophy. It is a pre-reflective awareness where things are directly experienced without the attachment of the “I.” There is a deeper connection between ethics and spiritual practice in Hutcheson that scholars have not noticed previously – Hutcheson’s writing style has a meditative element as he employs inductive argument and thought examples to invoke his readers to contemplate their mental states. Meditation cannot inform us of what the “good” is but the “good” has a meditative access.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 14 Feb 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Christina Chuang, Assistant Professor, Philosophy Group, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker: 

Christina received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California, Irvine, in June 2012 and moved to Singapore in August 2012.  Her main research interests are the history of ethics, moral psychology and classical Indian Philosophy.  She is currently working on developing a more holistic account of the nature of moral judgment that incorporates philosophy, psychology and neuroscience.  She is also a certified yoga teacher and an avid rock climber, and hopes that her passion for yoga and philosophy will merge in the near future.