1902 Encyclopedia > Bishop Joseph Butler

Joseph Butler
English bishop
(1692-1752)




JOSEPH BUTLER, Bishop of Durham, one of the most distinguished writers on theology and ethics, and perhaps the man of greatest intellectual power in the English church during the 18th century, was born at Wantage, in Berkshire, on the 18th May 1692. His father was a respectable linen-draper of that town, who had retired from business some time before the birth of Joseph, his youngest son. The family belonged to the Presbyterian community, and it was their wish that young Butler should be educated for the ministry in that church. The boy was placed under the care of the Rev. Philip Barton, master of the grammar school at Wantage, and remained there for some years. He was then sent to a dissenting academy at Gloucester, which was afterward removed to Tewkesbury. The head-master was Mr Samuel Jones, a man of considerable abilities, several of whose pupils afterwards attained to eminence in the church. Butler's fellow-student and most intimate friend was Seeker, who afterwards became archbishop of Canterbury.
While at this academy two important events occurred in Butler's life. He gradually became dissatisfied with the principles of Presbyterianism, and after much deliberation resolved to join the Church of England. In this resolution his father reluctantly acquiesced. About the same time he began to study with care Clarke's celebrated Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, which had been published a few years previously. With great modesty and secrecy Butler, who was then in his twenty-second year, wrote to the author propounding certain difficulties with regard to the proofs of the unity and omnipresence of the Divine Being. Clarke answered his unknown opponent with a gravity and care that showed his high opinion of the metaphysical acuteness displayed in the objections, and published the correspondence in later editions of the Demonstration. Butler acknowledged that Clarke's reply satisfied him on one of the points, and he subsequently gave his adhesion to the other.
In March 1714 he was entered at Oriel College, Oxford. Little is known of his life at the university ; his most attached friend was Edward Talbot, son of Dr William Talbot, afterwards Bishop of Durham. In 1718, on the recommendation of Talbot and Clarke, he was nominated preacher at the Chapel of the Rolls, and continued there till 1726. In 1721 he had been appointed by Bishop Talbot to the living of Houghton, and in 1725 his kind patron presented him to the wealthy rectory of Stanhope. In the following year he resigned his preachership at the Rolls, and published the first edition of the Sermons.
For nearly eight years he remained in perfect seclusion at Stanhope, and our information as to his general mode of life is exceedingly scanty. He was only remembered in the neighbourhood as a man much loved and respected, who used to ride a black pony very fast, and whose known benevolence was much practised upon by beggars. In 1733 he was made chaplain to Lord Chancellor Talbot, and in 1736 prebendary of Rochester. In the same year he was appointed clerk of the closet to Queen Caroline, and began to take part in the brilliant metaphysical society which she loved to gather round her. He met Berkeley frequently, but in his writings does not refer to him.
In 1736 appeared the Analogy, which at once took its place as the completest answer to the general deistical rsasoners of the times, and as the best defence of revealed religion.
In 1736 Queen Caroline died ; on her deathbed she recommended Butler to the favour of her husband. George, however, had not his consort's partiality for metaphysics, and seemed to think his obligation sufficiently discharged by appointing Butler in 1738 to the bishopric of Bristol, the poorest see in the kingdom. The severe but dignified letter in which Butler signified his acceptance of the preferment, must have shown him that the slight was felt and resented. Two years later the bishop was presented to the rich deanery of St Paul's, and in 1746 was made clerk of the closet to the king. In 1747 it is said the primacy was offered to Butler, who declined to accept it, saying that " it was too late for him to try to support a falling church." The story has not the best authority, and though the desponding tone of some of Butler's writings may give it colour, it is not in harmony with the rest of his life ; for in 1750 he accepted the see of Durham, vacant by the death of Dr Edward Chandler. His charge to the clergy of the diocese, the only charge of his known to us, is a weighty and valuable address on the importance of external forms in religion. It gave rise to a most absurd rumour that the bishop had too great a leaning towards Romanism.
Of his life at Durham few incidents are known. He was very charitable, and expended large sums in building and decorating his church and residence. His private expenses were exceedingly small. He did not long survive his promotion. Shortly after the change to Durham his constitution began to break up, and he died on the 16th June 1752, at Bath, whither he had removed for his health. He was buried in the cathedral of Bristol, and over his grave a monument was erected in 1834, with an epitaph by Southey. According to his express orders, all his MSS. were burned after his death.
Butler was never married. His personal appearance has been sketched in a few lines by Hutchinson :—" He was of a most reverend aspect; his face thin and pale; but there was a divine placidness which inspired veneration, and expressed the most benevolent mind. His white hair hung gracefully on his shoulders, and his whole figure was patriarchal."
Underneath the meagre facts of his life, eked out by the few letters left by him or anecdotes told about him, there can be traced the outlines of a great but somewhat severe spirit. He was an earnest and deep-thinking Christian, melancholy by temperament, and grieved by what seemed to him the hopelessly irreligious condition of his age. His intellect was profound and comprehensive, thoroughly qualified to grapple with the deepest problems of meta-physics, but by natural preference occupying itself mainly with the practical and moral. Man's conduct in life, not his theory of the universe, was what interested him. His style has frequently been blamed fos its obscurity and difficulty. These qualities, however, belong not so much to the form as to the matter of his works. The arguments are invariably compressed, and can never be taken individually. All are parts of one organic whole. Constant attention is thus required in order to grasp the relations of each isolated piece of reasoning. Above all, however, the special obscurity of the Analogy results from the difficulty of keeping constantly in mind the exact issue involved. Butler himself resolutely restricts his argument within the narrow limits prescribed for it, but it is difficult for any ordinary reader to keep this constantly in mind.
His great work, The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Course and Constitution of Nature, cannot be adequately appreciated unless taken in connection with the circumstances of the period at which it appeared. It was intended as a defence against the great tide of deistical speculation, which in the apprehension of good men seemed likely to sweep away the restraints of religion, and make way for a general reign of licence. Deism, as a fact in English thought, takes its rise mainly from Locke, though traces of it are not wanting in Herbert of Cherbury. Whether or not the Essay on the Human Understanding should be hold responsible for its results is a disputed question ; but there can be no doubt that from the positions there laid down the general principles of the deists were drawn. Knowledge, in the strict sense of the word, had been restricted by Locke to the perception of the relations among ideas ; reason was defined as the faculty which com-pared and compounded such ideas; and though with regard to God, faith was still admitted, the only part of the divine nature withdrawn from the province of knowledge was the inscrutable essence, which was equally unknown in the case of all real beings. The whole course of nature, including man's moral powers, was therefore subjected to reason; life must be regulated by reason. If, therefore, religion were to enter as a factor into the conduct of man, it must exhibit to reason the title deeds of its existence; Christianity must be reasonable. But with such a view of knowledge it was easy for the deists to make a successful attack upon at least one portion of the Christian scheme. A mystery by its very definition involved elements not capable of being represented in clear ideas ; it was therefore unreasonable, and must be absolutely rejected. Christianity not Mysterious is the title of Toland's most famous work.
The course of their argument soon carried the deists farther. They were willing to grant the fact of God's existence; it was a dictate of reason. But they were not prepared to go beyond that, and the necessary deductions from it. The truths of natural religion thus took the form of inferences drawn from certain premises ; they were displayed in a coherent, perfectly rational system. Revealed religion, on the other hand, was confessedly imperfect, contained things not in accordance with natural reason, inculcated duties on grounds of mere authority, was not universally and completely known, and must therefore be rejected. As Tindal puts it, "No religion can come from a Being of infinite wisdom and perfection but what is absolutely perfect. A religion absolutely perfect can admit of no alteration, and can be capable of no addition or diminution. If God has given mankind such a law, he must likewise have given them sufficient means of knowing it; he would otherwise have defeated his own intent in giving it, since a law, so far as it is unintelligible, ceases to be a law." It was against this whole tendency of thought that Butler directed his Analogy. The method and course of his argument will appear more plainly when it has been considered what were the premises on which he proceeded, and what the object he had in view.
Butler is a typical instance of the English philosophical mind. He will admit no speculative theory of things. To him the universe is no realization of intelligence, which is to be deciphered by human thought; it is a constitution or system, made up of individual facts, through which we thread our way slowly and inductively. Complete knowledge is impossible; nay, what we call knowledge of any part of the system is inherently imperfect. " We cannot have a thorough knowledge of anypart without knowing the whole." So far as experience goes, " to us probability is the very guide of life." Eeasonis certainly to be accepted; it is our natural light, and the only faculty whereby we can judge of things. But it gives no completed system of knowledge, and in matters of fact affords only probable conclusions. In this emphatic declaration, that knowledge of the course of nature is merely probable, Butler is at one with Hume, and some of his expressions are exactly paralleled in the writings of the great sceptic, who was a most diligent student of the bishop's works. What can come nearer Hume's celebrated maxim,—"Anything may be the cause of anything else," than Butler's conclusion, " so that any one thing whatever may, for aught we know to the contrary, be a necessary condition to any other 1"
It is this strong grasp of the imperfect character of our knowledge of nature and of the grounds for its limitation that makes Butler so formidable an opponent to his deistical contemporaries. He will permit no anticipations of nature, no a priori construction of experience. " The constitution of nature is as it is," and no system of abstract principles can be allowed to take its place. He is willing with Hume to take the course of experience as the basis of his reason-ing, seeing that it is common ground for himself and his antagonists. In one essential respect, however, he goes beyond Hume. The course of nature is for him an unmeaning expression, unless it be referred to some author ; and he therefore makes extensive use of the teleological method. This position is assumed throughout the treatise, and as against the deists with justice, for their whole argument rested upon the presupposition of the existence of God, the perfect Buler of the world.
The premises, then, with which Butler starts are the existence of God, the known course of nature, and the necessary limitation of ovir knowledge. What does he wish to prove 1 It is not his intention to prove God's perfect moral government ever the world or the truth of religion. His work is in no sense a philosophy of religion. His purpose is entirely defensive ; he wishes to answer objections that have been brought against religion, and to examine certain difficulties that have been alleged as insuperable. And this is to be effected in the first place by showing that from the obscurities and inexplicabilities we meet with in nature we may reasonably expect to find similar difficulties in the scheme of religion. If difficulties be found in the course and constitution of nature, whose author is admitted to be God, surely the existence of similar difficulties in the plan of religion can be no valid objection against its truth and divine origin. That this is at least in great part Butler's object is plain from the slightest inspection of his work. It has seemed to many to be an unsatisfactory mode of arguing and but a poor defence of religion; and so much the author is willing to allow. But in the general course of his argument a somewhat wider issue appears. He seeks to show not only that the difficulties in the systems of natural and revealed religion have counterparts in nature, but also that the facts of nature, far from being adverse to the principles of religion, are a distinct ground for inferring their probable truth. He endeavours to show that the balance of probability is entirely in favour of the scheme of religion, that this probability is the natural conclusion from an inspection of nature, and that, as rehVion is a matter of practice, we are bound to adopt the course of action which is even probably the right one. If, we may imagine him saying, the precepts of religion are entirely analogous in their partial obscurity and apparent difficulty to the ordinary course of nature disclosed to us by experience, then it is credible that these precepts are true; not only can no objections be drawn against them from experience, but the balance of probability is in their favour. This mode of reasoning from what is known of nature to the probable truth of what is contained in religion is the celebrated method of analogy.
Although Butler's work is peculiarly one of those which ought not to be exhibited in outline, for its strength lies in the organic completeness with which the details are wrought into the whole argument, yet a summary of his results will throw more light on the method than any description can.
Keeping clearly in view his premises—the existence of God and the limited nature of knowledge,—Butler begins by inquiring into the fundamental prerequisite of all natural religion—the immortality of the soul. Evidently the stress of the whole question is here. Were man not immortal, religion would be of little value. Now, Butler does not attempt to prove the truth of the doctrine ; that proof comes from another quarter. The only questions he asks are—Does experience forbid us to admit immortality as a possibility] Does experience furnish any probable reason for inferring that immortality is a fact 1 To the first of these a negative, to the second an affirmative answer is returned. All the analogies of our life here lead us to conclude that we shall continue to live after death ; and neither from experience nor from the reason of the thing can any argument against the possibility of this be drawn. Immortality, then, is not unreasonable; it is probable. If, he continues, we are to live after death, it is of importance for us to consider on what our future state may depend; for we may be either happy or miserable. Now, whatever speculation may say as to God's purpose being necessarily universal benevolence, experience plainly shows us that our present happiness and misery depend upon our conduct, and are not distributed indiscriminately. Therefore no argument can be brought from experience against the possibility of our future happiness and misery likewise depending upon conduct. The whole analogy of nature is in favour of such a dispensation; it is therefore reasonable or probable. Further, we are not only under a government in which actions considered simply as such are rewarded and punished, but it is known from experience that virtue and vice are followed by their natural consequents—happiness and misery. And though the distribution of these rewards is not perfect, all hindrances are plainly temporary or accidental. It may therefore be concluded that the balance of probability is in favour of God's government in general being a moral scheme, where virtue and vice are respectively rewarded and punished. It need not be objected to the justice of this arrangement that men are sorely tempted, and may very easily be brought to neglect that on which their future welfare depends, for the very same holds good in nature. Experience shows man to be in a state of trial so far as regards the present; it cannot, therefore, be unreasonable to suppose that we are in a similar state as regards the future. Finally, it can surely never be advanced as an argument against the truth of religion that there are many things in it which we do not comprehend, when experience exhibits to us such a copious stock of incomprehensibilities in the ordinary course and constitution of nature.
It cannot have escaped observation, that in the foregoing course of argument the conclusion is invariably from experience of the present order of things to the reasonableness or probability of some other system—of a future state. The inference in all cases passes beyond the field of experience; that it does so may be and has been advanced as a conclusive objection against it. The following sen-tences, from one of Hume's Essays, set forth this argument in a clear and forcible manner :—"What must a philosopher think of those vain reasoners who, instead of regarding the present scene as the sole object of their contemplation, so far reverse the whole course of nature, as to render this life merely a passage to something further? .... Whence, do you think, can such philosophers derive their idea of the gods? From their own conceit and imagination surely. For if they derive it from the present phenomena, it would never point to anything further, but must be exactly adjusted to them. That the divinity may possibly be endowed with attributes which we have never seen exerted, may be governed by principles of action which we cannot discover to be satisfied,—all this will freely be allowed. But still this is mere possibility and hypothesis. We never can have reason to infer any attributes or any principles of action in him, but so far as we know them to have been exerted and satisfied. . . . Are there any marks of distributive justice in the world ? If you answer in the affirmative, I conclude that since justice here exerts itself, it is satisfied. If you reply in the negative, I conclude that you have then no reason to ascribe justice in our sense of it to the gods. If you hold a medium between affirma-tion and negation, by saying that the justice of the gods at present exerts itself in part, but not in its full extent, I answer, that you have no reason to give it any particular extent, but only so far as you see it at present exert itself." (Works, ed. 1854, iv. 161-2, cf. p. 160.) In short no argument from experience can ever carry us beyond ex-perience itself. However well grounded this reasoning may be, it altogether misses the point at which Butler aimed, and is indeed a misconception of the nature of analogical argument. Butler never attempts to prove that a future life regulated according to the requirements of ethical law is a reality; he only desires to show that the conception of such a life is not irreconcilable with what we know of the course of nature, and that consequently it is not unreasonable to suppose that there is such a life. Hume, it will be observed, readily grants as much, though he hints at a formidable difficulty which the plan of the Analogy prevented Butler from facing, the proof of the existence of God. Butler seems willing to rest satisfied with his opponents' admission that the being of God is proved by reason, but it would be hard to discover how, upon his own conception of the nature and limits of reason, such a proof could ever be given. It has been said that it is no flaw in Butler's argument that he has left atheism as a possible mode of viewing the universe, because his work was not directed against the atheists. It is, however, in some degree a defect; for his defence of religion against the deists rests on a view of reason which would for ever pre-clude a demonstrative proof of God's existence.
If, however, his premises be granted, and the narrow issue kept in view, the argument may be admitted as perfectly satisfactory. From what we know of the present order of things, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there will be a future state of rewards and punishments, distributed according to ethical law. When the argument from ana-logy seems to go beyond this, a peculiar difficulty starts up. Let it be granted that our happiness and misery in this life depend upon our conduct,—are, in fact, the rewards and punishments attached by God to certain modes of action, the natural conclusion from analogy would seem to be that our future happiness or the reverse will probably depend upon our actions in the future state. Butler, on the other hand, seeks to show that analogy leads us to believe that our future state will depend upon our present conduct. His argument, that the punishment of an imprudent act often follows after a long interval may bo admitted, but does not advance a single step towards the conclusion that imprudent acts will be punished hereafter. So, too, with the attempt to show that from the analogy of the present life we may not unreasonably infer that virtue and vice will receive their respective rewards and punishments hereafter; it may be admitted that virtuous and vicious acts are naturally looked upon as objects of reward or punishment, and treated accordingly, but we may refuse to allow the argument to go further, and to infer a perfect distribution of justice dependent upon our conduct here. Butler could strengthen his argument only by bringing forward prominently the absolute requirements of the ethical consciousness, in which case he would have approximated to Kant's position with regard to this very problem. That he did not do so is, perhaps, due to his strong desire to use only such premises as his adversaries the deists were willing to allow.
As against the deists, however, he may be allowed to have made out his point, that the substantial doctrines of natural religion are not opposed to reason and experience, and may be looked upon as credible. The positive proof of them is to be found in revealed religion, which has disclosed to us not only these truths, but also a further scheme not discoverable by the natural light. Here, again, Butler joins issue with his opponents. Bevealed religion bad been declared to be nothing but a republication of the truths of natural religion (Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation), and all revelation had been objected to as impossible. To show that such objections are invalid, and that a revelation is at least not impossible, Butler makes use mainly of his doctrine of human ignorance. Revela-tion had been rejected because it lay altogether beyond the sphere of reason and could not therefore be grasped by human intelligence. But the same is true of nature; there are in the ordinary course of things inexplicabilities ; indeed we may be said with truth to know nothing, for there is no medium between perfect and completed comprehension of the whole system of things, which we manifestly have not, and mere faith grounded on probability. Is it unreasonable to suppose that in a revealed system there should be the same superiority to our intelligence? If we cannot explain or foretell by reason what the exact course of events in nature will be, is it to be expected that we can do so with regard to the wider scheme of God's revealed providence ? Is it not probable that there will be many things not explicable by us ? From our experience of the course of nature it would appear that no argument can be brought against the possibility of a revelation. Further, though it is the province of reason to test this revealed system, and though it be granted that, should it contain anything immoral, it must be rejected, yet a careful examination of the particulars will show that there is no incomprehensibility or difficulty in them which has not a counterpart in nature. The whole scheme of revealed principles is, therefore, not unreasonable, and the analogy of nature and natural religion would lead us to infer its truth. If, finally, it be asked, how a system professing to be revealed can substantiate its claim, the answer is, by means of the historical evidences such as miracles and fulfilment of prophecy.
It would be unfair to Butler's argument to demand from it answers to problems which had not in his time arisen, and to which, even if they had then existed, the plan of his work would not have extended. Yet it is at least important to ask how far, and in what sense, the Analogy can be regarded as a positive and valuable contribution to theology. What that work has done is to prove to the consistent deist that no objections can be drawn from reason or experience against natural or revealed religion, and, I consequently, that the things objected to are not incredible and may be proved by external evidence. But the deism of the 17th century is a phase of thought that has no living reality now, and the whole aspect of the religious problem has been completely changed. To a generation that has been moulded by the philosophy of Kant and Hegel, and by the historical criticism of Strauss and the later German theology, the argument of the Analogy cannot but appear to lie quite outside the field of controversy. To Butler the Christian religion, and by that he meant the orthodox Church of England system, was a moral scheme revealed by a special act of the divine providence, the truth of which was to be judged by the ordinary canons of evidence. The whole stood or fell on historical grounds. A speculative construction of religion was a thing abhorrent to him, a thing of which he seems to have thought the human mind naturally incapable. The religious consciousness does not receive from him the slightest consideration, whereas it is with its nature and. functions that the scientific theology of the present time is almost entirely occupied. The Analogy, it would appear, has and can have but little influence on the present state of theology; it was not a book for all time, but was limited to the controversies and questions of the period at which it appeared.
Throughout the whole of the Analogy, it is manifest that the interest which lay closest to Butler's heart was the ethical. His whole cast of thinking was practical. The moral nature of man, his conduct in life, is that on account of which alone an inquiry into religion is of importance. The systematic account of this moral nature is to be found in the famous Sermons preached at the Chapel of the Rolls, especially in the first three. In these sermons Butler has made substantial contributions to ethical science, and it may be said with confidence, that in their own department nothing superior in value appeared during the long interval between Aristotle and Kant. To both of these great thinkers he has certain analogies. He resembles the first in his method of investigating the end which human nature is intended to realize; he reminds of the other by the consistency with which he upholds the absolute supremacy of moral law.
In his ethics, as in his theology, Butler had constantly in view a certain class of adversaries, consisting partly of the philosophic few, rjartly of the fashionably-educated many, who all participated in one common mode of thinking. The key-note of this tendency had been struck by Hobbes, in whose philosophy man was regarded as a mere sensitive machine, moved solely by pleasures and pains. Human nature had come to be looked upon as essentially selfish; disinterested actions were sneered at as impossibilities by the many, and were explained away into modifications of selfishness by the scientific moralists. Cudworth and Clarke, it is true, had tried to place ethics on a nobler footing, but their speculations had been of the abstract kind, which was always distasteful to Butler. They were not practical enough, were not sufficiently "applicable to the several particular relations and circumstances of life." He desired to base ethical law not on abstract theory, but on the actual facts of human nature.
The fundamental view of things from which he starts in his inquiry may be called the teleological. " Every work, both of nature and art, is a system; and as every particular thing both natural and artificial is for some use or purpose out of or beyond itself, one may add to what has been already brought into the idea of a system its conduciveness to this one or more ends." Ultimately this view of nature, as the sphere of the realization of final causes, rests on a theological basis ; but Butler does not introduce prominently into his ethics the specifically theological groundwork, and may be thought willing to ground his principle on ex-perience. The ethical question then is, as with Aristotle, what is the re'Xos of man 1 He is placed in the world with many courses of action open to him. What is that line of activity which is correspondent to, or is the realization of, his true nature ] The answer to this question is to be obtained by an analysis of the facts of human nature, whence, Butler thinks, " it will as fully appear that this our nature, i.e., constitution, is adapted to virtue, as from the idea of a watch it appears that its nature, i.e., con-stitution or system, is adapted to measure time." Such analysis had been already attempted by Hobbes, and the result he came to was that man naturally is adapted only for a life of selfishness,—his end is the procuring of plea-sure and the avoidance of pain. A closer examination, however, shows that this at least is false. The truth of the counter propositions, that man is </>vo-ei TTOXLTIKOS, natu-rally social, and that the full development of his being is impossible apart from society, becomes manifest on the slightest examination of the facts. For while self-love plays a most important part in the human economy, there is no less evidently a natural principle of benevolence, prompting actions which have for their end the good of others. Moreover, among the particular passions, appetites, and desires there are some whose tendency is as clearly towards the general good as that of others is towards our own satisfaction. Finally, that principle in man which reflects upon actions and the springs of actions, which approves some and disapproves others, unmistakably sets the stamp of its approbation upon conduct that tends towards the general good. It is clear, therefore, that we were made for society; man is £aW TTOXITLKOV, and from this point of view the sum of practical morals might be given in Butler's own words,—" that mankind is a com-munity, that we all stand in a relation to each other, that there is a public end and interest of society, which each particular is obliged to promote." But deeper questions remain.
The threefold division into passions and affections, self-love and benevolence, and conscience, is Butler's celebrated analysis of human nature. In the handling of the several parts he shows remarkable psychological power, and succeeds in obviating many of the difficulties drawn from the principles of the selfish theory of ethics. He is especially concerned to show that self-love and benevolence are in no sense opposed to one another. This he does by examining the function of self-love and the relation it bears to the passions. The special desires or affections are the expressions of wants in our nature which are to be satisfied by the possession of definite things. The objects of the desires are therefore the things naturally adapted to satisfy them, and not the pleasure which is the ac companiment of satisfaction. The passions tend towards their objects as ultimate ends, and are consequently unselfish or disinterested. On the other hand, self-love aims at procuring happiness for the individual; and happiness means the general satisfaction of desires. Self-love is therefore distinct from the particular desires, but is completely dependent on them. Its end is the attainment of pleasure, and it desires external things only as means towards this. In itself it has no actual content; it only directs the particular passions towards their ends, and frequently, by fixing its attention too much upon its own goal, personal happiness, is in danger of defeating its own endeavours. Self-love is therefore distinct from and in no way opposed to the particular affections which are themselves disinterested. Just as little opposition is there between self-love and disinterested benevolence. An affection which finds its gratification in some external object and rests in it as a final end, is in no sense opposed to self-love. This is one of the most important parts of Butler's ethical psychology.
Up to this point he has merely analyzed the various parts of human nature, and has pointed out the course of action corresponding to each. But in a system or organ-ism the parts do not exist for themselves but for the whole. The idea of human nature is not completely expressed by saying that it consists of reason and the several passions. " Whoever thinks it worth while to consider this matter thoroughly should begin by stating to himself exactly the idea of a system, economy, or constitution of any particular nature ; and he will, I suppose, find that it is one or a whole, made up of several parts, but yet that the several parts, even considered as a whole, do not complete the idea, unless in the notion of a whole you include the relations and respects which these parts have to each other." This fruitful conception of man's ethical nature as an organic unity Butler owes directly to Shaftesbury and indirectly to Aristotle ; it is the strength and clearness with which he has grasped it that gives peculiar value to his system.
The special relation among the parts of our nature to which Butler alludes is the subordination of the particular passions to the universal principle of reflection or con-science. This relation is the peculiarity, the cross, of man ; and when it is said that virtue consists in following nature, we mean that it consists in pursuing the course of conduct dictated by this superior faculty. Man's function is not fulfilled by obeying the passions, or even cool self-love, but by obeying conscience. That conscience has a natural supremacy, that it is superior in kind, is evident from the part it plays in the moral consti-tution. We judge a man to have acted wrongly, i.e., unnaturally, when he allows the gratification of a passion to injure his happiness, i.e., when he acts in accordance with passion and against self-love. It would be impossible to pass this judgment if self-love were not regarded as superior in kind to the passions, and this superiority results from the fact that it is the peculiar province of self-love to take a view of the several passions and decide as to their relative importance.* But there is in man a faculty which takes into consideration all the springs of action, including self-love, and passes judgment upon them, approving some and condemning others. From its very nature this faculty is supreme in authority, if not in power ; it reflects upon all the other active powers, and pronounces absolutely upon their moral quality. Superintendency and authority are constituent parts of its very idea. We are under obligation to obey the law revealed in the judgments of this faculty, for it is the law of our nature. And to this a religious sanction may be added, for " consciousness of a rule or guide of action, in creatures capable of considering it as given them by their Maker, not only raises immediately a sense of duty, but also a sense of security in following it, and a sense of danger in deviating from it." Virtue then consists in following the true law of our nature, that is, conscience. Butler, however, is by no means very explicit in his analysis of the functions to be ascribed to conscience. He calls it the Principle of Reflexion, the Beflex Principle of Approbation, and assigns to it as its province the motives or propensions to action. It takes a view of these, approves or disapproves, impels to or restrains from action. But at times he uses language that almost compels one to attribute to him the popular view of conscience as passing its judgments with unerring certainty on individual acts. Indeed his theory is weakest exactly at the point where the real difficulty begins. We get from him no satisfactory answer to the inquiry, What course of action is approved by conscience? Everyone, he seems to think, knows what virtue is, and a philosophy of ethics is complete if it can be shown that such a course of action harmonizes with human nature. When pressed still further, he points to justice, veracity, and the common good as comprehensive ethical ends. His whole view of the moral government led him tc look upon human nature and virtue as connected by a sort of pre-established harmony. His ethical principle has in it no possibility of development into a system of actual duties; it has no content. Even on the formal side it is a little difficult to see what part conscience plays. It seems merely to set the stamp of its approbation on certain courses of action to which we are led by the various passions and affections; it has in itself no originating power. How or why it approves of some and not of others is left unexplained. Butler's moral theory, like those of his English contemporaries and successors, is defective from not perceiving that the notion of duty can only have real significance when connected with the will or practical reason, and that only in reason which wills itself have we a principle capable of development into an ethical system.
It has frequently been made the ground of objection to Butler's philosophy of man's moral nature that he did not carry his analysis far enough, and that he accepted as ultimate facts what are really compounded of simpler elements. His distinction between self-love and the passions has in particular been rejected on the plea that the end of appetite or desire is not the object suited to satisfy it, but pleasure, or at least the removal of uneasi-ness. This last, however, is fairly included under Butler's expression, " gratification of the passions." The removal of uneasiness no doubt results in pleasure, but it is not the pleasure that removes the uneasiness. What is really sought is the object that will satisfy us, that will fill up the want in our existence, and with which we, so to speak, identify ourselves. With regard to the general objection, even were it granted that self-love and benevolence are developments from the passions, the relations between them would none the less hold good. Self-love is not superior to the passions, because it has been originally created their superior, but because under the sphere of its inspection and decision the particular desires are included ; it stands above them because they form the objects upon which it works. Further, growth or development, deeply considered, does not invalidate authority or superiority in kind. The ethical consciousness, like all other parts of our nature, grows ; it is only by degrees and slowly that man comes to the full recognition of the reason that lies in him and forms his true personality. He is moral at first only Swa/xei, and the varying conditions of experience are requisite in order to afford the means of development from this mere poten-tiality. The customary observances and legal precepts, in which the common ethical consciousness of humanity has given expression to itself, are being continually tested by comparison with the formal requirements of the inner law of duty, and change gradually as they are found at various epochs to be imperfect realizations of reason. The ulti-mate goal of all such progress is that state of ethical observance in which rights and duties come to be recog-nized as the outcome of human personality, and the realiza tion of true freedom.
Bartlett, Memoirs of Butler, 1839. The best edition of Butler's works is that in 2 vols., Oxford. Editions of the Analogy are very numerous ; that by Fitzgerald, 1849, contains a valuable Life and Notes. Whewell has published an edition of the Three Sermons, with Introduction. The analyses of the Analogy by Duke (1847) and Wilkinson (1847), Chalmers's Prelections (posthumous works, ix.), Napier's Lectures, (1864), and Swainson's Handbook may be consulted with advantage. For the history of the religious works contemporary with the Analogy, see Lechler, Ges. d. Engl. Deis-mus ; Pattison, in Essays and Reviews; Hunt's Religious Thought in England, vols. ii. and iii.; A. S. Farrar, Critical History of Free Thought. For Butler's ethics see Mackintosh, Whewell, and Jouff-roy. It is quite surprising that German historians of ethics should ignore Butler. Feuerlein, Fichte, Wuttke, and Trendelenburg totally omit mention of his name ; Vorländer, in his Ges. d. Phil. Moral, Rechts- und Staats-lehre d. Engländer u. Franzosen, de-votes three pages to Butler and fifteen to Bolingbroke. (R. AD.)











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