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Joseph Butler

(1692—1752) moral philosopher and theologian


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(1692–1752)

English moral philosopher. Born of a Presbyterian family, Butler was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, and became a minister of the Church of England, where he rose to be Bishop of Durham, as well as the spiritual adviser of Queen Caroline and George II. His moral philosophy is contained in his Fifteen Sermons (1726), while his theology is contained in The Analogy of Religion (1736). His moral philosophy is an attempt to ground ethics on a proper understanding of human nature, and as such continues the tradition of Aristotle, Hobbes, and Shaftesbury. Butler's refutation of ethical egoism is a classic of moral thought. He carefully distinguishes self-love, benevolence, and the impact of conscience, although the authority of the last of these remains unclear. Butler has been well described as ‘Aristotle clad in a diaphanous mantle made of Christianity’.

Subjects: Philosophy


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