Butler, Joseph Lld
Butler, Joseph Ll.D., bishop of Durham, was born at Wantage, in Berkshire, May 18„ 1692, and brought up as a Presbyterian, his father being a respectable shopkeeper of that persuasion. He was educated by a Presbyterian named Jones, who kept a school first at Gloucester and afterward at Tewkesbury, and who numbered among his students, at the same time, Secker and Butler. Here his aptitude for metaphysical speculations and accuracy of judgment first manifested themselves. He finally determined to conform to the Church of England, and on the 17th of March, 1714, removed to Oriel College, Oxford. In 1718 he was appointed preacher at the Rolls, where he continued until 1726. In the mean time he was presented to the rectory of Houghton, near Darlington, and to that of Stanhope (in 1725), to which he retired when he resigned the preachership of the Rolls Chapel, and lived there seven years. About 1732 the Lord Chancellor Talbot, at the instigation of Secker, appointed Butler his chaplain, and four years afterward he became clerk of the closet to Queen Caroline, in which year he presented to her his celebrated work, The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature, previously to its publication. In 1738 he was raised to the see of Bristol; and, after various other preferments, was translated to Durham in 1750, upon the death of Chandler, who had also been his fellow-pupil at the Dissenting academy at Tewkesbury. Owing to a charge which he delivered to his clergy of the diocese of Durham, in which he exhorted them to be careful to maintain the outward form and face of religion with decency and reverence, he was foolishly charged with "Romanizing tendencies;" and one anonymous writer did not scruple, fifteen years after the good bishop's death, to slander him as having died in the Romish communion. He died June 16, 1752. Besides the immortal "Analogy," he left a volume of Sermons, in which the true theory of ethics was first fully set forth. His contributions to a correct theory of morals consist, 1. In his distinction between self-love and the primary appetites; and, 2. In his clear exposition of the existence and supremacy of conscience. The objects of our appetites and passions are outward things, which are sought simply as ends; thus food is the object of hunger, and drink the object of thirst. Some of the primary desires lead directly to our private good, and others to the good of the community. Hunger and thirst, above cited, are instances of the former; the affection for one's child is an instance of the latter. They may be considered as so many simple impulses which are to be guided and controlled by our higher powers. Pleasure is the concomitant of their gratification, but, in their original state, is no separate part of the aim of the agent. All these primary impulses are contemplated by self-love, as the material out of which happiness is to be constructed. Self-love is a regard for our happiness as a whole; such a regard is not a vice, but a commendable quality. Self-love is not selfishness. Selfishness is destructive of human happiness, and, as such, self-love condemns it. The so-called benevolent affections are consequently disinterested, as likewise are (in their incomplex manifestations) our physical appetites and malevolent feelings. But, besides these principles of our nature, there is one which is supreme over all others — this is conscience. Shaftesbury had before pointed out the emotional character of conscience under the term moral sense, but its distinguishing attribute of supremacy he had failed to notice. Butler, acknowledging the correctness of his lordship's partial view, combined with it the element necessary to make an entire truth-the character of conscience, as the highest tribunal of man's nature, "which surveys, approves, or disapproves the several affections of our mind, and passions of our lives." The practical weakness of conscience does not destroy its authority, and, though its mandates are often disregarded, yet the obligations to render it obedience remain unimpaired.
In this view of the several principles within us, and their relations to each other, virtue may be said, in the language of the ancients, to consist in following nature; that is, nature correctly interpreted and understood.
In the Analogy of Religion, Butler vindicates the truths both of natural religion and of Christianity by showing that they are paralleled by the facts of our experience, and that nature, considered as a revelation of God, teaches (though to a more limited extent and in a more imperfect way) the same lessons as the Scriptures. He proves that the evidence is the same as that upon which we act in our temporal concerns, and that perhaps it is left as it is, that our behavior with regard to it may be part of our probation for a future life. Nor does the aim of the "Analogy" stop here. The opinion has very extensively prevailed that the utility of the work consists solely in answering objections. Dr. Reid, the Scotch philosopher, has so expressed himself. Of a like purport is the happily-conceived language of Dr. Campbell: "Analogical evidence is generally more successful in silencing objections than in evincing truth. Though it rarely refutes, it frequently repels refutation; like those weapons which, though they cannot kill the enemy, will ward his blows." The outward form of the "Analogy," to be sure, gives some countenance to this view, for the objector is followed through all the mazes of his error. But, besides the effect of particular analogies, there is the effect of the "Analogy" as a whole of the likeness so beautifully developed between the system of nature and the system of grace. Every one who has received the total impression of the argument is conscious that he has derived therefrom new convictions of the truth of religion, and that these convictions rest on a basis peculiarly their own. On this point Butler's own language is quite definite: "This treatise will be, to such as are convinced of religion upon the proof arising out of the two last- mentioned principles [liberty and moral fitness], an additional proof, and a confirmation of it; to such as do not admit those principles, an original proof of it, and a confirmation of that proof. Those who believe will here find the scheme of Christianity cleared of objections, and the evidence of it in a peculiar manner strengthened; those who do not believe will at least be shown the absurdity of all attempts to prove Christianity false, the plain, undoubted credibility of it, and, I hope, a good deal more" (part 2, chap. 8). His books are more pregnant with thought than any uninspired volumes of their size in the English language. He was an Arminian in theology. The best edition of the "Analogy" is that edited ly R. Emory and G. R. Crooks (New York, Harper & Brothers), to which is prefixed a thoroughly logical analysis. Of the Ethical Discourses, a new and excellent edition, by Passmore, appeared in Philadelphia in 1855. It was the opinion of Sir James Mackintosh that the truths contained in these sermons are more worthy of the name of discovery than any other with which we are acquainted, if we ought not, with some hesitation, to except the first steps of the Grecian philosophers toward a theory of morals." The best edition of his Complete Works is that of Oxford (1849, 2 vols. 8vo). See Mackintosh, Hist. of Eth. Phil., p. 113; Whewell, Hist. of Morals, lect. 8; Lond. Qu. Rev. 43, 182; 64:183; Meth. Qu. Rev. 1, 556; 3, 128; 11:247; Am. Bib. Repos. 10:317; Christ. Rev. 9, 199; Bartlett, Mem. of Butler (Lond. 1839, 8vo); Brit. Qu. Rev., July, 1863, art. 6; Allibone, Dict. of Authors, 1, 312; Am. Presb. Rev., Oct. 1863.