Joseph Butler Notes
John S Moore
From Book B On Bishop Butler's use of words 'internal'
and 'object' Austin Duncan-Jones (Butler's Moral Philosophy -
1952). writes 'There may surely be passions whose objectives are sought
through purely mental exertions, as in day dreaming'. This is supposed
to be an objection to Butler's thesis that passions etc. are movements
towards external objects. I suspect that Butler, in this particular
has the right not to make himself too clear. Butler is the kind of
whose philosophy could well have become official, it was a viable
a liveable orthodoxy. I can hardly believe he would have made such a
blunder as Duncan-Jones seems to think he did. His distinctions are to
be understood in terms of his philosophy as a whole. The 'objects' of
passions, appetites and affections, the 'principles of least authority'
are called 'external'. External does not mean non mental, material, or
anything of that sort. It just means outside, and the question we
are faced with is 'outside of what?'. Outside human nature considered
a teleological system governed by 'self love' or 'conscience' or
The principles of least authority can all without much distortion of
be said to have objects. These objets are not identical with the well
of the organism as an ultimate whole. This is the object of self-love,
which id defined as a principle of authority. This particular object is
defined as internal because it is direct accordance with 'human nature'
( in Butler's own sense) and cannot be otherwise. That which can be
is in itself irrelevant to human nature and is thus external to it,
it can be organised in accordance with it.
DJ further writes of Butler's idea of self love "He [Butler] probably assumed that most, if not all men could reflect well enough on their own interests if they once set themselves to do so, and that with reflection the general desire for happiness would gain sufficient force. But the third requirement, that self-love should be enlightened by knowledge and good judgement, he seems to have entirely overlooked". Teaching one's grandmother how to suck eggs. Self-love is Butlers own concept, let him define it as he will.. Pursuit of self interest might lead anywhere, depending on one's view of life. An ethic might be said to define a pathway. Whatever happiness materially is, what is important is what can be conceptually grasped. Happiness is not so much a mental state, as something to be desired. It has not yet become as differentiated as the concept of truth with which it has sometimes been identified.
On p.71 DJ writes "To distinguish between the principles of uniformity of conscience and uniformity of duty, would be superfluous only if a certain questionable theory were true, the theory that the sole criterion of duty is compliance with the moral code of one's own time and place". Here again "conscience" is Butler's own conception, and the question is whether belief in it provides a viable system of morality.
I like to see Bishop Butler as a really important self-consistent moral philosopher, the obverse side of the same coin of which de Sade is the reverse. He is delineating a form of life, one which more or less already exists, and which is liveable and complete. De Sade's sadism and perversion achieve their meaning against the background of individual orientated thought like Butler's He cuts the Gordian knot of philosophical obsessions, with the possible exception of the freewill/determinism problem. Because he has a vision of a complete and harmonious form of life, which ideas are made to serve rather than the other way round, I think he deserves a place in any library, I like him because he is an individualist and states all his assumptions clearly. Some appeal to self interest is the only moral principle I can really understand as a starting point. Butler's philosophy is a moral vision first, and a philosophical vision only insofar as it is first a moral vision.
From Book D When Bishop Butler was criticising the hedonistic doctrine that all men act selfishly all of the time he pointed out that we have a word "selfish" and a word "unselfish" and that there does not seem to be much point in coalescing the two. So if all the world's a stage, and all the men and women are merely players, is there any good point in distinguishing what we normally call actors and actresses from the rest of mankind?
A 75, To cohere my desires into an ought is to move into a higher mode than one governed solely by considerations of narrow self interest, or egoism. Ultimately my interest and my morality will chime. See how I was always drawn to Bishop Butler, despite the attraction of De Sade.
Thrasymachus, justice is the interest of the stronger. At least that is an advance on the complete absence of morality. Where it is false is that it contradicts the language of justice if it is introduced into any moral system. What about 'morality is the interest of the morally stronger'?
Ac 6, Human all Too Human, Nietzsche's Spinozism, i.e. his exploration of the doctrines of psychological egoism and determinism, irresponsibility, in all their ramifications, moral and emotional.
As he later wrote, he had not read Spinoza at the time.
But these were ideas which attracted me from a very early age. I argued about them with my mother and my aunt. Psychological hedonism seemed to me blindingly obvious.
Bishop Butler famously refuted it. His refutation recalls Ryle's exorcism of "the ghost in the machine". Demolition of a theory that seems obvious. And how is the theory demolished? By referring us back to the logic of ordinary language. And showing that you don't have to look at it in that way.
Unselfish actions come to seem possible again because people feel they are performing them.
The example my mother gave me was her gong to visit her father-in -law, my grandfather. She felt she did it out of duty, that her motives were entirely altruistic and unselfish.
But the theory of psychological hedonism appears to make a lot of sense. It appears to clarify so much. What Butler shows is that there is another possible way of looking at your experience.
I cannot say I accept psychological hedonism because the other point of view is clearly possible. Kant's position is possible in that it can be thought. Psychological hedonism cannot prove its case to those determined to reject it. The same goes for determinism and irresponsibility.
Ah 91, English freedom was a concept in many people's minds of long-standing origin. Obviously it had its enemies, but there was an ecological niche for them. But English freedom and eccentricity meant that a lot of people had very much their own ideas on religion, within orthodoxy as well as without. Bishop Butler for example, was an interesting and original thinker, orthodox in a technical sense, but espousing what comes very close to an egoistic ethic, quite eccentric in traditional Christian terms.
Ai 262, Hobbes is good, Butler is good. If Butler does not identify morality with egoistic self interest, at least he has not led it astray, like later utilitarianism. After Hobbes people wrote in a time of settled peace. The judgement of and condemnation of natural impulse seemed to come it with the utilitarians. The unhealthy exaltation of benevolence in condemnation of impulse and instinct.
Ai 286, Reading Butler's Sermons. He does not refute Hobbes or La Rochefoucauld, though he claims to do so in the name of common sense. What Hobbes is concerned to deny is not that there is something called benevolence. Butler's deistic world. A fixed order of things. Self love. Up to a point and in a sense he is right, but in another obtuse.
Atomisation of the passions. Ancestor of associationism, behaviourism, utilitarianism and all that. Element of the faux naïf.
Thesis of the will to power. That there is an unconscious will which is a not simply self love, as Butler understands it, but a strength of passion beyond what is explicit. There are hidden motives to be analysed in terms of beliefs held. The deistic model of the universe is static, i.e. there is a psychology which presupposes a given set of beliefs and values.
Ai 290, One rages not against hierarchy as such, but against the domination of irrational values and ideas. Hierarchy not a hierarchy of merit, so much as a mere 'know your place' sort of hierarchy. The upper class fool. Increasingly unredeemed in a work obsessed society by signs of inspiration.
The pain, of which one may be conscious, will not be noticed by those who enjoy its fruits. Butler's psychology fails to acknowledge all the suppression to which it gives support, all the desire that is denied expression. Preach benevolence, peace and love, provided one's own power is not challenged.. Selfishness becomes explicit when all desires and potential desires throughout the system are explicated.
Many of the traits criticised are its creativity.
Explicating all the desires, it cannot be the case that "abundance" would put an end to the will to power, that the will to power is a struggle for scarce resources and that scarcity could be remedied. The very nature of society and social interaction means that the required goods must be scarce. It is as with a dog pack. Not everyone can be leader. This applies in so many fields of human activity..
Am 279, Education. A father's exposure to teenage culture. Ragga music driving the neighbours mad. Crudeness of appetite. The power of appetite driving out all considered thought. Driving out the power of reason. In encouraging egoism, I do not want encourage the sort of egoism I have in mind.
Thinking of the 18th century I am tempted to agree with Butler's attack on psychological hedonism. I believe in a rational egoism. But what one teaches when one teaches the power of nature, had a moral and religious dimension, or anti-moral anti-religious. It is the assertion of a value against an accepted value. And freedom of thought, will to power, perversity, are the main motive in holding that value, not a chafing at mere restraint.
So education presents a difficult problem. One wants to pass on
own values, but passes on something quite different.
123&, From today’s perspective we can see that he was
wrong in defending the historicity of the Christian revelation. Clever
as his arguments
are for believing in the miraculous testimony, they are wrong. Given
being honest there must have been factors affecting him which clouded
judgment. That said, his views are tolerant and not unattractive.
book is addressed to Deists, but not all of it..
‘Thus I have argued upon the principles of the Fatalists, which I do not believe: and have omitted a thing of the utmost importance which I do believe,
the moral fitness and unfitness of actions, prior to all will whatever; which I apprehend as certainly to determine the Divine conduct, as
speculative truth and falsehood necessarily determine the Divine judgment.’
His idea of the moral consensus
of humanity, especially of Christendom,
one imagines as going right back to Anglo Saxon England.
Certainly the moral idea, language, implanted from childhood to support religion. Natural religion which he accepts, religion itself, largely argued in terms of support for morality.
In his dissertation Of Personal Identity he employs old ideas of substance.
The moral intuitions about freedom and desert, that can tend to usurp religion. The atmosphere on which Kant drew.
Sin and retribution. Personal identity. Being punished for past sins. The primitiveness of the concepts.
Ideas of guilt which are embedded in language. And from the persistence of guilt to original sin is not too large a step. It is only one way of looking at morality and perhaps a childish one,
Aw 137, On personal identity. Being blamed for actions committed a long time ago. Original sin, past lives, inherent guilt. Relation of this to Kafka, and
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