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Hutcheson, Perception, and the Sceptic's Challenge

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Francis Hutcheson's theory of perception, as put forth in his Synopsis of Metaphysics, bears a striking similarity to that of John Locke. In particular, Hutcheson and Locke both have at the centre of their theories the notion of ideas as representational entities acting as the direct objects of all of our perceptions. On first consideration, one might find this similarity wholly unremarkable, given the popularity of Locke's Essay. But the Essay was published in 1689 and the Synopsis in 1742, and during these years Berkeley had published a substantive attack on Locke's representative realism and the sceptical conclusions he saw it implying. Further, Hume had argued in 1739 that in accepting a Lockean account of perception, we (at least when thinking as philosophers in our studies) are left without any sure knowledge of external objects, even their existence. Despite this, Hutcheson apparently feels no obligation to address either Berkeley's idealism or Hume's scepticism in the Synopsis. The question addressed in this article is, Why did he not see any force to such arguments, and thus why did he feel no onus to attempt to offer an explicit refutation of Berkeley and Hume?

Keywords: Berkeley; Hume; Hutcheson; Locke; perception; scepticism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Hendrix College,

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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