“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:

  1. ”that action is best, which accomplishes the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers; and that worst which in like manner, occasions misery”

  2.  “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

Liberal Democracy


Civic Society


Latest News

Killyleagh Stood Plain To The Risin' Ground - Part 2

William Drennan returned to Belfast in 1807 and founded the Belfast magazine which continued the battle for democratic reform, the Rights of Man and Catholic emancipation. However he was becoming alarmed at the increasing influence of the so-called Catholic interest which had no desire to work for reform with progressive Protestants. What Drennan was witnessing was the first stirrings of the rift that would lead to the partition of this island more than 100 years later.

Killyleagh Stood Plain To The Risin' Ground

02 February 2022

After graduating from Glasgow, Hutcheson, Bruce and Drennan senior established a presbyterian academy in Dublin in 1719 which attempted to emulate the school at Killyleagh. Hutcheson’s Dublin school prepared young men for entry to Glasgow and ultimately for the Presbyterian ministry. Hutcheson, Bruce and Rev. Drennan collaborated in forming a study circle which, between 1720 and 1730, published radical material including Hutcheson’s own works and controversial republican writers such as Edmund Ludlow

Absence of an intellectual unionism

19 January 2022

Currently, there is no political party attempting to explain why their ideological goals should be preferred to the others, of what benefits would accrue to all or just a significant portion of the other community’s members.