Philosophy 56 (218):517-532 (1981)

Edward W. James
Bridgewater State University
Butler refused to be satisfied with just one leading principle, or rational basis for human action, but in the end settled for three: self-love, to provide for our ‘own private good’; benevolence, to consider ‘the good of our fellow creatures’ ; and conscience, ‘to preside and govern’ over our lives as a whole . By so doing he hoped to ensure a completeness to our ethical scheme, so that nothing would be omitted from our moral deliberations. Yet by so doing he also exposed himself to severe criticism. For any such appeal to a plurality of principles, as Green remarked, is ‘repugnant both to the philosophic craving for unity, and to that ideal of “singleness of heart” which we have been accustomed to associate with the highest virtue’. More specifically, by appealing to a plurality of principles Butler faced the charges of circularity, where the principles come to define and defend each other; inconsistency, where the principles ‘take turns’ at being primary and hence render each other superfluous; and incompleteness, where the ‘primary principle’ is itself undefined or undefended. As the tale has been told Butler stands accused of all three of these errors
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1017/S0031819100050555
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 54,715
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

The Homiletical Context of Butler's Moral Philosophy.Alan Brinton - 1993 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 1 (2):83 – 107.
Too Soon to Say.Edward James - 2012 - Philosophy 87 (3):421-442.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Butler, Fanaticism and Conscience.Edward W. James - 1981 - Philosophy 56 (218):517 - 532.
Essays Toward an Interpretation of Butler's Ethics.Wendell Mark O'brien - 1992 - Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University
Bishop Butler's View of Conscience.D. Daiches Raphael - 1949 - Philosophy 24 (90):219-238.
Conscience and Religious Morality.John Donnelly - 1973 - Religious Studies 9 (2):189 - 199.
Butler on Conscience and Virtue.Brian Hebblethwaite - 1992 - In Christopher Cunliffe (ed.), Joseph Butler's Moral and Religious Thought: Tercentenary Essays. Oxford University Press. pp. 197--207.
Conscience and Self-Love in Butler's Sermons.Alan R. White - 1952 - Philosophy 27 (103):329 - 344.
Two Views of Conscience for the Australian People.Matthew Beard - 2011 - Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics 1 (1):Article 4.
Mr.Matthew Beard - 2011 - Solidarity 1 (1).
Justifying Subversion: Why Nussbaum Got (the Better Interpretation of) Butler Wrong.Ori J. Herstein - 2010 - Buffalo Journal of Gender, Law and Social Policy 18:43-73.
Conscientious Conviction and Conscience.Thomas E. Hill - 2016 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 10 (4):677-692.


Added to PP index

Total views
36 ( #277,366 of 2,386,841 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #262,029 of 2,386,841 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes