Reportage : Francis Hutcheson talk by Dr James Dingley


Dr James Dingley presenting his talk on Francis Hutcheson at the Dark Horse

Cercle member Eileen Griffiths reports on our last talk given by Dr James Dingley entitled Francis Hutcheson and the foundation of Modern France.

At the Dark Horse on Wednesday 23 October, Dr James Dingley gave a very comprehensive and illuminating talk on the moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson, who was born in Saintfield in 1694 and whose work influenced social and political thinking in Great Britain and Ireland from the 18th century onwards.  He was hailed as the ‘Father of the Scottish Enlightenment’ and his philosophy informed the United Irishmen movement. His influence spread further afield and his ideas of no state religion, with a stress on individual civil and religious liberty and equality, also contributed to the French and American revolutions.

Hutcheson was a Presbyterian minister of the New Light movement, which embraced all ideas of enlightenment and science, believing that studying and obeying the laws of nature brought one closer to God. They also thought that religion should be a private matter, and that better results were obtained when there weren’t the constraints imposed by the hierarchies of an established church. Dr. Dingley explained that this partly accounts for the Presbyterian church being such a rich ground for radical philosophies at that time,  though their position also played a part in that they were excluded from the body politic until the end of the century and were unable to attend the main universities. In fact, Hutcheson did his best work in his ten years at a Dissenting academy in Dublin. These academies taught new sciences and business and were intellectual hothouses, being influenced by the ideas of the English and Continental Enlightenment. All the European thinkers read each other and in Ulster, the more practical philosophy of the English met the more abstract philosophy of the Europeans. Hutcheson was able to benefit from this and to carry the ideas forward to Glasgow university where he taught for the last sixteen years of his life.

After 200 years of religious wars Hutcheson and his peers believed in freeing the individual from constraints and oppression, in taking religion out of the public sphere so that everyone had equal opportunities. They adhered to the view that man is not innately sinful, and that order and harmony would come via inner discipline and through mutual inter-dependence, not from aristocratic or clerical control.  Hutcheson believed in the greatest happiness for the greatest number and that virtue and good behaviour, not greed, self-interest or rights, would yield the greatest happiness. The industrious individual was the model of virtue, order and conduct.

In terms of a French connection, pamphlets of the French revolution reflected Ulster Presbyterian ideals. Hutcheson was a major influence on Voltaire and Rousseau and through them made a large contribution to the French revolution, to the ideas of the separation of law and state and to the no teaching of religion in schools. The French Enlightenment was very pro-Plantation, attracted to the concept of civility and progress. The belief was that trade encouraged civility because people had to learn to liaise and cooperate and create an open space for everyone.  The French language was commonly used for trade in Europe at that time and James pointed out that our local Newsletter carried adverts for French dancing etc.

Hutcheson died in 1746 and James expressed surprise that a man of Hutcheson’s stature, a mentor to such notable figures as Adam Smith and David Hume and a major influencer in Europe and America, should be largely unknown in his homeland, with no statue, only a plaque to celebrate and immortalize his life.  Dr. Dingley said that on his travels abroad he often met people who were much more aware of Hutcheson’s significance, than here at home.  Certainly it seems as though a man of his ilk could be useful in our current crises!

Eileen Griffiths

Eileen's collection of vignettes, Older not Wiser, was published earlier this year by Lupus Books, ISBN 978-1-916031-80-7.  We are grateful to her for writing this piece for our blog and take this opportunity to extend special thanks to James for a "very comprehensive and illuminating talk".
Un très grand merci !


Francis Hutcheson and the foundation of Modern France


James Dingley, pictured at his Durkheim talk last year at the Dark Horse

On Wednesday 23 October James Dingley, having delighted us with his talk last year on Émile Durkheim, returns as our conférencier to illuminate the role played by Francis Hutcheson in the foundation of modern France.
Considered as the father of the Scottish Enlightenment, Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) in fact hailed from Saintfield, County Down.  Well known to the French philosophes such as Voltaire and Rousseau, he had a profound effect on the development of modern France and the ideals it embodied from 1789 on. Although he was a major thinker of the Enlightenment he is now almost forgotten in his native Ulster.
James's talk is sure to both inform and delight and we look forward to welcoming members, old and new, as well as their guests. 

Venez nombreux !

7.30 pm Dark Horse Coffee House, 30-34 Hill Street in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

80 minutes with Seamus Heaney




Saturday 19 October at 2pm – Admission free 

To mark the year that would have been his 80th birthday,
Alliance Française DublinLe Cercle Français de Belfast and the National Library of Ireland are proud to present an evocation by Jim Holland of his friendship
with the poet through anecdotes and readings of early poems in English and French.

Introductions and reading of poems in English by Jim Holland and versions in French

by special readers Maryvonne LeRoyClaudine McKeownAllison Neill-Rabaux, and Chris Tracey.

The event will be launched by the President of Alliance Française Dublin Mr Pat Cox.

National Library of Ireland, Kildare St, Dublin 2



Bulletin mensuel octobre 2019


Chers Amis,
The next meeting of the Cercle Français de Belfast will be …
on Mercredi 9 Octobre 2019 à 19h.30
in Gallaher's Lounge, The Harp Bar, Hill Street Belfast BT1 2LB

Topic: Cercle de lecture: “Eux sur la photo” by Hélène Gestern

Whether you have read this book in French or in English (“The People in the Photo”) or even if you haven't managed to read it yet come along to the Dark Horse on Wednesday evening to what is sure to be a very enjoyable discussion.


French Bal

Bal Feirste, the music group featuring both French and local musicians, invite you to their monthly dance session on ...

Date: Saturday 12th October 2019
Venue: Sunflower Club, Union St, Belfast (upstairs)
Dance workshop: 16.00-16.30
Bal: 16.30 - 18.00 
(this is a free event, donations welcome)
Remember no experience or partner needed. The Bal is a time to practise your moves and guidance will be given at the start of each dance.


Looking forward to seeing you on 9th October.


À bientôt, Philip