According to Knud Haakonssen, general editor for this series and also the editor of this work, A System of Moral Philosophy "was Hutcheson's longest and most ambitious work. It contains his most comprehensive account of human nature, the supreme good and greatest happiness, divine providence, natural rights, and civil government. It differs from his other writings in significant ways. For example, in A System Hutcheson attempted to demonstrate that even the weaknesses of mankind seem to have contributed to our greater good and happiness. In contrast with his earlier writings, all weaknesses, frailties, selfish considerations, and turbulent passions found a place in his exposition of human nature in A System. There he proposed that these mental and moral phenomena form part of a providential scheme, a universal system designed by a benevolent God.
"This scheme, elaborated in Book I of A System, formed the basis for the most extensive delineation of rights found in Hutcheson's writings; his exposition of rights-natural and adventitious, real and personal, perfect and imperfect-and the 'special laws of nature' which oblige us to acknowledge them, was outlined in Book II. In Book III of A System Hutcheson explored the conditions of conjugal, domestic, and civil government and the manner in which husbands, fathers, and magistrates may contribute to the greater happiness of mankind within their respective spheres of governance."
A System is the only one of Hutcheson's major works for which a manuscript is known to have survived, and the Liberty Fund edition makes full use of this resource.
Francis Hutcheson was a crucial link between the continental European natural law tradition and the emerging Scottish Enlightenment. Hence, he is a pivotal figure in the Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics series. A contemporary of Lord Kames and George Turnbull, an acquaintance of David Hume, and the teacher of Adam Smith, Hutcheson was arguably the leading figure in making Scotland distinctive within the general European Enlightenment.
Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.