Wolfgang Leidhold began to explore the concept of experience when working on his thesis on Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). The Scottish philosopher wanted to give ethics a foundation in experience, but he was convinced that all previous attempts by empiricists such as John Locke had failed. After all, he considered the classical empiricist formula unsuitable. That formula, popular since the time of Aristotle, stated: From the senses comes memory, and from many memories arises one experience. Locke argued that all sensory perceptions are associated with pleasure and pain, thus our moral ideas derive from this origin. Yet Hutcheson was convinced that moral ideas could not arise from sensory perception, and therefore he advocated a multidimensional concept of experience.
Hutcheson noted that many morally good actions are painful, such as risking our lives to save someone from drowning in icy water. Therefore, he claimed that moral ideas arose from an original mode of experience, which he thought to be based on a particular sense he called a moral sense. He believed that the same applies to our aesthetic ideas, which are born out of a sense of beauty. In his final book, “System of Moral Philosophy” he listed more than a dozen senses (Book I, chap. II), including an inner sense responsible for self-perception and reflection. Hutcheson made it clear that there were two traditions in the theory of experience: the monists, who admitted only sensory perception as experience, and the pluralists, who allowed a broad spectrum of distinct experiences. Apart from his dissertation on “Ethics and Politics in Francis Hutcheson” (1982, in German), Leidhold published a critical edition (incl. an introduction) of Hutcheson’s “Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue” (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2nd ed. 2004).