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Butler, Samuel (1835–1902)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC103-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2003
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Butler, in common with so many of his contemporaries, is concerned with two fundamental issues: the problem of religion and that of evolution. Paradox and contradiction run through Butler’s writings. He committed himself neither to religious belief nor to evolution. Initially an exponent of Darwin and The Origin of Species (1859), he exposed what he regarded as Darwin’s limitations. He could never banish the idea of God, become an agnostic or atheist. Obsessed with clarity, a satirist exposing the disingenuous, he was an isolated figure. Concerned with the difference between mechanism and life, asking himself ‘What is a machine?’ and ‘What does it mean to be alive?’, he was preoccupied with the ‘unconscious’ and the ‘conscious’, with what humans inherit from the past, and with what memory reveals about past inheritance.

Citing this article:
Baker, William. Butler, Samuel (1835–1902), 2003, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC103-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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