Joseph Butler.

Human Nature, and Other Sermons online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryJoseph ButlerHuman Nature, and Other Sermons → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Transcribed from the 1887 Cassell & Co. edition by David Price, email
[email protected]





HUMAN NATURE
AND
OTHER SERMONS


BY
JOSEPH BUTLER
BISHOP OF DURHAM.

CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED:
_LONDON_, _PARIS_, _NEW YORK & MELBOURNE_.
1887




INTRODUCTION.


Joseph Butler was born in 1692, youngest of eight children of a
linendraper at Wantage, in Berkshire. His father was a Presbyterian, and
after education at the Wantage Free Grammar School Joseph Butler was sent
to be educated for the Presbyterian ministry in a training academy at
Gloucester, which was afterwards removed to Tewkesbury. There he had a
friend and comrade, Secker, who afterwards became Archbishop of
Canterbury. Butler and Secker inquired actively, and there was
foreshadowing of his future in the fact that in 1713, at the age of
twenty-one, Butler was engaged in anonymous discussion with Samuel Clarke
upon his book on the _a priori_ demonstration of the Divine Existence and
Attributes.

When the time drew near for call to the ministry, Butler, like his friend
Secker, had reasoned himself into accordance with the teaching of the
Church of England. Butler's father did not oppose his strong desire to
enter the Church, and he was entered in 1714 at Oriel College, Oxford. At
college a strong friendship was established between Butler and a fellow-
student, Edward Talbot, whose father was a Bishop, formerly of Oxford and
Salisbury, then of Durham. Through Talbot's influence Butler obtained in
1718 the office of Preacher in the Rolls Chapel, which he held for the
next eight years. In 1722 Talbot died, and on his death-bed urged his
father on behalf of his friend Butler. The Bishop accordingly presented
Joseph Butler to the living of Houghton-le-Spring. But it was found that
costs of dilapidations were beyond his means at Houghton, and Butler had
a dangerous regard for building works. He was preferred two years
afterwards to the living of Stanhope, which then became vacant, and which
yielded a substantial income. Butler sought nothing for himself, his
simplicity of character, real worth, and rare intellectual power, secured
him friends, and the love of two of them - Talbot first, and afterwards
Secker, who made his own way in the Church, and became strong enough to
put his friend as well as himself in the way of worldly advancement,
secured for Butler all the patronage he had, until the Queen also became
his active friend.

Joseph Butler was seven years at Stanhope, quietly devoted to his parish
duties, preaching, studying, and writing his "Analogy of Religion,
Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature." In
1727, while still at Stanhope, he was appointed to a stall in Durham
Cathedral. Secker, having become chaplain to the Queen, encouraged her
in admiration of Butler's sermons. He told her that the author was not
dead, but buried, and secured her active interest in his behalf. From
Talbot, who had become Lord Chancellor, Secker had no difficulty in
obtaining for Butler a chaplaincy which exempted him from the necessity
of residence at Stanhope. Butler, in accepting it, stipulated for
permission to live and work in his parish for six months in every year.
Next he was made chaplain to the King, and Rector of St. James's, upon
which he gave up Stanhope. In 1736 Queen Caroline appointed him her
Clerk of the Closet, an office which gave Butler the duty of attendance
upon her for two hours every evening. In that year he published his
"Analogy," of which the purpose was to meet, on its own ground, the
scepticism of his day. The Queen died in 1737, and, in accordance with
the strong desire expressed in her last days, in 1738 Butler was made a
Bishop. But his Bishopric was Bristol, worth only 300 or 400 pounds a
year. The King added the Deanery of St. Paul's, when that became vacant
in 1740, and in 1750, towards the close of his life, Joseph Butler was
translated to the Bishopric of Durham. He died in 1752.

No man could be less self-seeking. He owed his rise in the Church wholly
to the intellectual power and substantial worth of character that
inspired strong friendship. Seeing how little he sought worldly
advancement for himself, while others were pressing and scrambling,
Butler's friends used their opportunities of winning for him the
advancement he deserved. He was happiest in doing his work, of which a
chief part was in his study, where he employed his philosophic mind in
strengthening the foundations of religious faith. Faith in God was
attacked by men who claimed especially to be philosophers, and they were
best met by the man who had, beyond all other divines of his day - some
might not be afraid to add, of any day - the philosophic mind.

H. M.




SERMON I. UPON HUMAN NATURE.


ROMANS xii. 4, 5.

_For as we have many members in one body_, _and all members have not
the same office_: _so we_, _being many_, _are one body in Christ_,
_and every one members one of another_.

The Epistles in the New Testament have all of them a particular reference
to the condition and usages of the Christian world at the time they were
written. Therefore as they cannot be thoroughly understood unless that
condition and those usages are known and attended to, so, further, though
they be known, yet if they be discontinued or changed, exhortations,
precepts, and illustrations of things, which refer to such circumstances
now ceased or altered, cannot at this time be urged in that manner and
with that force which they were to the primitive Christians. Thus the
text now before us, in its first intent and design, relates to the decent
management of those extraordinary gifts which were then in the Church,
{1} but which are now totally ceased. And even as to the allusion that
"we are one body in Christ," though what the apostle here intends is
equally true of Christians in all circumstances, and the consideration of
it is plainly still an additional motive, over and above moral
considerations, to the discharge of the several duties and offices of a
Christian, yet it is manifest this allusion must have appeared with much
greater force to those who, by the many difficulties they went through
for the sake of their religion, were led to keep always in view the
relation they stood in to their Saviour, who had undergone the same: to
those, who, from the idolatries of all around them, and their
ill-treatment, were taught to consider themselves as not of the world in
which they lived, but as a distinct society of themselves; with laws and
ends, and principles of life and action, quite contrary to those which
the world professed themselves at that time influenced by. Hence the
relation of a Christian was by them considered as nearer than that of
affinity and blood; and they almost literally esteemed themselves as
members one of another.

It cannot, indeed, possibly be denied, that our being God's creatures,
and virtue being the natural law we are born under, and the whole
constitution of man being plainly adapted to it, are prior obligations to
piety and virtue than the consideration that God sent his Son into the
world to save it, and the motives which arise from the peculiar relation
of Christians as members one of another under Christ our head. However,
though all this be allowed, as it expressly is by the inspired writers,
yet it is manifest that Christians at the time of the Revelation, and
immediately after, could not but insist mostly upon considerations of
this latter kind.

These observations show the original particular reference to the text,
and the peculiar force with which the thing intended by the allusion in
it must have been felt by the primitive Christian world. They likewise
afford a reason for treating it at this time in a more general way.

The relation which the several parts or members of the natural body have
to each other and to the whole body is here compared to the relation
which each particular person in society has to other particular persons
and to the whole society; and the latter is intended to be illustrated by
the former. And if there be a likeness between these two relations, the
consequence is obvious: that the latter shows us we were intended to do
good to others, as the former shows us that the several members of the
natural body were intended to be instruments of good to each other and to
the whole body. But as there is scarce any ground for a comparison
between society and the mere material body, this without the mind being a
dead unactive thing, much less can the comparison be carried to any
length. And since the apostle speaks of the several members as having
distinct offices, which implies the mind, it cannot be thought an
allowable liberty, instead of the _body_ and _its members_, to substitute
the _whole nature_ of _man_, and _all the variety of internal principles
which belong to it_. And then the comparison will be between the nature
of man as respecting self, and tending to private good, his own
preservation and happiness; and the nature of man as having respect to
society, and tending to promote public good, the happiness of that
society. These ends do indeed perfectly coincide; and to aim at public
and private good are so far from being inconsistent that they mutually
promote each other: yet in the following discourse they must be
considered as entirely distinct; otherwise the nature of man as tending
to one, or as tending to the other, cannot be compared. There can no
comparison be made, without considering the things compared as distinct
and different.

From this review and comparison of the nature of man as respecting self
and as respecting society, it will plainly appear that _there are as real
and the same kind of indications in human nature_, _that we were made for
society and to do good to our fellow-creatures_, _as that we were
intended to take care of our own life and health and private good_: _and
that the same objections lie against one of these assertions as against
the other_. For,

First, there is a natural principle of _benevolence_ {2} in man, which is
in some degree to _society_ what _self-love_ is to the _individual_. And
if there be in mankind any disposition to friendship; if there be any
such thing as compassion - for compassion is momentary love - if there be
any such thing as the paternal or filial affections; if there be any
affection in human nature, the object and end of which is the good of
another, this is itself benevolence, or the love of another. Be it ever
so short, be it in ever so low a degree, or ever so unhappily confined,
it proves the assertion, and points out what we were designed for, as
really as though it were in a higher degree and more extensive. I must,
however, remind you that though benevolence and self-love are different,
though the former tends most directly to public good, and the latter to
private, yet they are so perfectly coincident that the greatest
satisfactions to ourselves depend upon our having benevolence in a due
degree; and that self-love is one chief security of our right behaviour
towards society. It may be added that their mutual coinciding, so that
we can scarce promote one without the other, is equally a proof that we
were made for both.

Secondly, this will further appear, from observing that the _several
passions_ and _affections_, which are distinct {3} both from benevolence
and self-love, do in general contribute and lead us to _public good_ as
really as to _private_. It might be thought too minute and particular,
and would carry us too great a length, to distinguish between and compare
together the several passions or appetites distinct from benevolence,
whose primary use and intention is the security and good of society, and
the passions distinct from self-love, whose primary intention and design
is the security and good of the individual. {4} It is enough to the
present argument that desire of esteem from others, contempt and esteem
of them, love of society as distinct from affection to the good of it,
indignation against successful vice - that these are public affections or
passions, have an immediate respect to others, naturally lead us to
regulate our behaviour in such a manner as will be of service to our
fellow-creatures. If any or all of these may be considered likewise as
private affections, as tending to private good, this does not hinder them
from being public affections too, or destroy the good influence of them
upon society, and their tendency to public good. It may be added that as
persons without any conviction from reason of the desirableness of life
would yet of course preserve it merely from the appetite of hunger, so,
by acting merely from regard (suppose) to reputation, without any
consideration of the good of others, men often contribute to public good.
In both these instances they are plainly instruments in the hands of
another, in the hands of Providence, to carry on ends - the preservation
of the individual and good of society - which they themselves have not in
their view or intention. The sum is, men have various appetites,
passions, and particular affections, quite distinct both from self-love
and from benevolence: all of these have a tendency to promote both public
and private good, and may be considered as respecting others and
ourselves equally and in common; but some of them seem most immediately
to respect others, or tend to public good; others of them most
immediately to respect self, or tend to private good: as the former are
not benevolence, so the latter are not self-love: neither sort are
instances of our love either to ourselves or others, but only instances
of our Maker's care and love both of the individual and the species, and
proofs that He intended we should be instruments of good to each other,
as well as that we should be so to ourselves.

Thirdly, there is a principle of reflection in men, by which they
distinguish between, approve and disapprove their own actions. We are
plainly constituted such sort of creatures as to reflect upon our own
nature. The mind can take a view of what passes within itself, its
propensions, aversions, passions, affections as respecting such objects,
and in such degrees; and of the several actions consequent thereupon. In
this survey it approves of one, disapproves of another, and towards a
third is affected in neither of these ways, but is quite indifferent.
This principle in man, by which he approves or disapproves his heart,
temper, and actions, is conscience; for this is the strict sense of the
word, though sometimes it is used so as to take in more. And that this
faculty tends to restrain men from doing mischief to each other, and
leads them to do good, is too manifest to need being insisted upon. Thus
a parent has the affection of love to his children: this leads him to
take care of, to educate, to make due provision for them - the natural
affection leads to this: but the reflection that it is his proper
business, what belongs to him, that it is right and commendable so to
do - this, added to the affection, becomes a much more settled principle,
and carries him on through more labour and difficulties for the sake of
his children than he would undergo from that affection alone, if he
thought it, and the cause of action it led to, either indifferent or
criminal. This indeed is impossible, to do that which is good and not to
approve of it; for which reason they are frequently not considered as
distinct, though they really are: for men often approve of the action of
others which they will not imitate, and likewise do that which they
approve not. It cannot possibly be denied that there is this principle
of reflection or conscience in human nature. Suppose a man to relieve an
innocent person in great distress; suppose the same man afterwards, in
the fury of anger, to do the greatest mischief to a person who had given
no just cause of offence. To aggravate the injury, add the circumstances
of former friendship and obligation from the injured person; let the man
who is supposed to have done these two different actions coolly reflect
upon them afterwards, without regard to their consequences to himself: to
assert that any common man would be affected in the same way towards
these different actions, that he would make no distinction between them,
but approve or disapprove them equally, is too glaring a falsity to need
being confuted. There is therefore this principle of reflection or
conscience in mankind. It is needless to compare the respect it has to
private good with the respect it has to public; since it plainly tends as
much to the latter as to the former, and is commonly thought to tend
chiefly to the latter. This faculty is now mentioned merely as another
part in the inward frame of man, pointing out to us in some degree what
we are intended for, and as what will naturally and of course have some
influence. The particular place assigned to it by nature, what authority
it has, and how great influence it ought to have, shall be hereafter
considered.

From this comparison of benevolence and self-love, of our public and
private affections, of the courses of life they lead to, and of the
principle of reflection or conscience as respecting each of them, it is
as manifest that _we were made for society_, _and to promote the
happiness of it_, _as that we were intended to take care of our own life
and health and private good_.

And from this whole review must be given a different draught of human
nature from what we are often presented with. Mankind are by nature so
closely united, there is such a correspondence between the inward
sensations of one man and those of another, that disgrace is as much
avoided as bodily pain, and to be the object of esteem and love as much
desired as any external goods; and in many particular cases persons are
carried on to do good to others, as the end their affection tends to and
rests in; and manifest that they find real satisfaction and enjoyment in
this course of behaviour. There is such a natural principle of
attraction in man towards man that having trod the same tract of land,
having breathed in the same climate, barely having been born in the same
artificial district or division, becomes the occasion of contracting
acquaintances and familiarities many years after; for anything may serve
the purpose. Thus relations merely nominal are sought and invented, not
by governors, but by the lowest of the people, which are found sufficient
to hold mankind together in little fraternities and copartnerships: weak
ties indeed, and what may afford fund enough for ridicule, if they are
absurdly considered as the real principles of that union: but they are in
truth merely the occasions, as anything may be of anything, upon which
our nature carries us on according to its own previous bent and bias;
which occasions therefore would be nothing at all were there not this
prior disposition and bias of nature. Men are so much one body that in a
peculiar manner they feel for each other shame, sudden danger,
resentment, honour, prosperity, distress; one or another, or all of
these, from the social nature in general, from benevolence, upon the
occasion of natural relation, acquaintance, protection, dependence; each
of these being distinct cements of society. And therefore to have no
restraint from, no regard to, others in our behaviour, is the speculative
absurdity of considering ourselves as single and independent, as having
nothing in our nature which has respect to our fellow-creatures, reduced
to action and practice. And this is the same absurdity as to suppose a
hand, or any part, to have no natural respect to any other, or to the
whole body.

But, allowing all this, it may be asked, "Has not man dispositions and
principles within which lead him to do evil to others, as well as to do
good? Whence come the many miseries else which men are the authors and
instruments of to each other?" These questions, so far as they relate to
the foregoing discourse, may be answered by asking, Has not man also
dispositions and principles within which lead him to do evil to himself,
as well as good? Whence come the many miseries else - sickness, pain, and
death - which men are instruments and authors of to themselves?

It may be thought more easy to answer one of these questions than the
other, but the answer to both is really the same: that mankind have
ungoverned passions which they will gratify at any rate, as well to the
injury of others as in contradiction to known private interest: but that
as there is no such thing as self-hatred, so neither is there any such
thing as ill-will in one man towards another, emulation and resentment
being away; whereas there is plainly benevolence or good-will: there is
no such thing as love of injustice, oppression, treachery, ingratitude,
but only eager desires after such and such external goods; which,
according to a very ancient observation, the most abandoned would choose
to obtain by innocent means, if they were as easy and as effectual to
their end: that even emulation and resentment, by any one who will
consider what these passions really are in nature, {5} will be found
nothing to the purpose of this objection; and that the principles and
passions in the mind of man, which are distinct both from self-love and
benevolence, primarily and most directly lead to right behaviour with
regard to others as well as himself, and only secondarily and
accidentally to what is evil. Thus, though men, to avoid the shame of
one villainy, are sometimes guilty of a greater, yet it is easy to see
that the original tendency of shame is to prevent the doing of shameful
actions; and its leading men to conceal such actions when done is only in
consequence of their being done; _i.e._, of the passion's not having
answered its first end.

If it be said that there are persons in the world who are in great
measure without the natural affections towards their fellow-creatures,
there are likewise instances of persons without the common natural
affections to themselves. But the nature of man is not to be judged of
by either of these, but by what appears in the common world, in the bulk
of mankind.

I am afraid it would be thought very strange, if to confirm the truth of
this account of human nature, and make out the justness of the foregoing
comparison, it should be added that from what appears, men in fact as
much and as often contradict that _part_ of their nature which respects
_self_, and which leads them to their _own private_ good and happiness,
as they contradict that _part_ of it which respects _society_, and tends
to _public_ good: that there are as few persons who attain the greatest
satisfaction and enjoyment which they might attain in the present world,
as who do the greatest good to others which they might do; nay, that
there are as few who can be said really and in earnest to aim at one as
at the other. Take a survey of mankind: the world in general, the good
and bad, almost without exception, equally are agreed that were religion
out of the case, the happiness of the present life would consist in a
manner wholly in riches, honours, sensual gratifications; insomuch that
one scarce hears a reflection made upon prudence, life, conduct, but upon
this supposition. Yet, on the contrary, that persons in the greatest
affluence of fortune are no happier than such as have only a competency;
that the cares and disappointments of ambition for the most part far
exceed the satisfactions of it; as also the miserable intervals of
intemperance and excess, and the many untimely deaths occasioned by a
dissolute course of life: these things are all seen, acknowledged, by
every one acknowledged; but are thought no objections against, though
they expressly contradict, this universal principle - that the happiness
of the present life consists in one or other of them. Whence is all this
absurdity and contradiction? Is not the middle way obvious? Can
anything be more manifest than that the happiness of life consists in
these possessed and enjoyed only to a certain degree; that to pursue them
beyond this degree is always attended with more inconvenience than
advantage to a man's self, and often with extreme misery and unhappiness?
Whence, then, I say, is all this absurdity and contradiction? Is it
really the result of consideration in mankind, how they may become most
easy to themselves, most free from care, and enjoy the chief happiness
attainable in this world? Or is it not manifestly owing either to this,
that they have not cool and reasonable concern enough for themselves to


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryJoseph ButlerHuman Nature, and Other Sermons → online text (page 1 of 11)