Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



Butler, Joseph (1692–1752)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB012-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Joseph Butler the moral philosopher is in that long line of eighteenth-century thinkers who sought to answer Thomas Hobbes on human nature and moral motivation. Following the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, he rejects any purely egoistic conception of these. Instead, he analyses human nature into parts, of which he notices in detail appetites, affections, and passions on the one hand and the principles of self-love, benevolence and conscience on the other. His ethics consists in the main in showing the relation of these parts to each other. They form a hierarchy, ordered in terms of their natural authority, and while such authority can be usurped, as when the particular passions overwhelm self-love and conscience, the system that they constitute, or human nature, is rightly proportioned when each part occupies its rightful place in the ordered hierarchy. Virtue consists in acting in accordance with that ordered, rightly proportioned nature.

As a philosopher of religion, Butler addresses himself critically to the eighteenth-century flowering of deism in Britain. On the whole, the deists allowed that God the Creator existed but rejected the doctrines of natural and, especially, revealed religion. Butler’s central tactic against them is to argue, first, that the central theses associated with natural religion, such as a future life, are probable; and second, that the central theses associated with revealed religion, such as miracles, are as probable as those of natural religion. Much turns, therefore, on the success of Butler’s case in appealing to what is present in this world as evidence for a future life.

Citing this article:
Frey, R.G.. Butler, Joseph (1692–1752), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB012-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles