The Development of Ethics: Volume 2: From Suarez to Rousseau

The Development of Ethics: Volume 2: From Suarez to Rousseau
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Butler offered the analogy of Cartesian physiology. Cartesian physiology applies Cartesian geometry to living bodies. But one needs a probable hypothesis to move from the abstract truths of Cartesian geometry to actual bodies and diseases. The mechanism itself as represented abstractly is a certain geometrical relationship. But in order to apply the mechanism to blood and guts, one needs to have a probable, i.

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A similar problem arises when applying eternal and abstract relations to particular moral circumstances and actions. The need for a hypothesis as to how the relations might fit actual actions rendered the evaluation of the action merely probable even though the rightness and wrongness to which the action was to conform — the eternal fitness — was known certainly. But Butler argued that a probable course of action could still be morally obligatory. He claimed that probable reasoning could result in sufficient certainty for moral action when an action could be shown to be more probably good than either inaction or an opposed action.

Lacking further evidence the more probably good action is morally obligatory. This suggested a way in which probable evidence, for example probable evidence for the existence of an afterlife, could be obliging on us and was crucial to his arguments for the reasonableness of basic Christian teachings in the Analogy. Because of the absence of a priori demonstrative premises, a moral philosopher arguing from matters of fact had to have detailed knowledge of the principles of action in human nature and of moral psychology as well as arguments to show how these principles had bearing on virtue and vice.

Human beings, according to Butler, had within their nature various instincts and principles of action: desires for particular pleasures, benevolence, self-love, and conscience. The practitioner of moral science aimed to discover what these principles are and the ways in which these desires, reasons, and motivations fit together. This is difficult in practice since the actions that we observe in ourselves and in others almost always draw on more than one principle. For example both self-love and the particular passions often go into the motivation or justification for particular actions.

Nature N1 can refer to any principle or element that belongs to or motivates human beings. It can also refer N2 to the strongest among a group of principles, i. Finally it can refer N3 to natural supremacy, i. Butler suggests that whatever is naturally supreme unites various principles in a teleological system. N1 principles can be identified piecemeal, particular passions that belong to the human frame. N2 principles are relational, i. N3 principles are relational as well but they are also rational and they unify other sorts of principles.

By educing a hierarchy in the principles of human nature, and by showing that the hierarchy is independent of the strength N2 of the principles as motivations for action, we can demonstrate that what we ought to do morally N3 may differ from what we are most strongly motivated to do N2 without reflection. Just as a clock is not an individual gear, or a pile of gears, but is what it is due to the ways in which the gears move together towards an end, so too human nature is not a particular principle of action, or a bundle of principles, but the interaction of principles, desires, and reasons, as a system towards ends.

That our nature is structured towards ends, which Butler takes to be empirically evident, gives evidence of a hierarchy of principles to attain the ends, a hierarchy where some principles must be naturally subordinate to others N3. This shows that there is something natural to us in the sense of N3, in addition to N1 and N2 both of which are a matter of observed fact. The governing faculty has authority. By analogy, when forceful principles and passions N2 go against authoritative principles N3 , or when the principles and passions no longer bear the same relations or are in conflict this goes against our nature and is unnatural.

The analogy suggests that it is unnatural when a N2 principle overpowers a N3 principle. The subordination of N2 principles to N3 principles is natural and preserves and guides our natures. N3 principles are what we ought to act on or act in accordance with. The supremacy of conscience in human nature can also be shown by a comparison of the constitutions and natures of animals with human nature.

Animals are driven by principles similar to or identical to those that give rise to human actions: they share many of our passions and they too are driven by self-interest. When animals act according to these principles they act appropriately to their natures in senses N1 and N2. But humans have a principle, conscience, which animals lack.

This suggests that humans do not act suitably to what is distinctive to their whole nature, and in particular suitable to that end which draws on many of the principles of human nature when they act only from those principles that they share with animals and not according to conscience. On this account what human beings ought to be or ought to do follows from what they were designed for. Humans were designed for virtue and so they ought to be virtuous.

Others suggest that the argument has support without recourse to theological arguments, and that the teleological facts about human nature imply norms and values that are obliging without reference to design Wedgwood ; Irwin Like Shaftesbury, Butler held that conscience is a reflective principle.

There are a number of elements in the natural supremacy of conscience that help us to understand the nature of its authority. First, according to Butler conscience has a unique authority among the principles belonging to human nature. As evidenced in the civil constitution analogy, we recognize that it should direct other principles and not vice-versa and that the authority is proper to conscience and no other principle.

Further we recognize that any ordinary reasonable person has a conscience and ought to obey it. In the legal context it had the sense of acting minimally as an ordinary reasonable person would and maximally as a fully informed, ideal reasoner would see Garrett Next, conscience is closely connected to autonomy: when we act according to conscience we act as a law unto ourselves or according to a law of our own nature.

Butler criticized those forms of natural law and Hobbesian accounts of motivation that held that I am morally motivated and given an authoritative reason for acting by a law sanctioned with rewards and punishments by a divine or civil legislator.

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He argued that insofar as sanctions are superadded to the moral rightness or wrongness of the act there is no connection between the sanction and the rightness or wrongness of the action beyond the arbitrary will of the legislator. This connection is insufficient for moral motivation. When I act primarily or only due to an external sanction I am not acting from a law unto myself see Darwall That an authoritative principle dictates that we ought to intend a good action does not depend on external factors that might prevent or mitigate the desired prudential outcome but see McNaughton As previously discussed the hierarchy is natural.

On one reading conscience is authoritative over the other main principles discussed by Butler — self-love and benevolence if it is a principle — see Section 5 — and all when properly understood promote the same actions in accordance with our nature. When we seek our own goods and those of others in accordance with conscience or reflection we act virtuously and we also promote our private happiness.

But, there are also passages that suggest that Butler held self-love to be a principle on par with conscience Sidgwick III. And there are passages where Butler suggests that benevolence contains all the virtues, and consequently this too seems to be a principle on par with or identical with conscience. Consequently there are multiple plausible hierarchies.

Here are few of the problems. If the latter, then it is hard to see what justifies this arbitrary authority. A related objection is that since both conscience and self-love are rational principles and in general cannot be in conflict, conscience just dictates whatever self-love dictates and vice-versa.

Consequently conscience cannot have a distinctive authority. Sturgeon identified a different circularity connected with the justification of the supremacy of conscience. So it must be a conflict with the next highest principle: self-interest. But then conscience just asserts what self-interest dictates, and so the testimony of conscience is redundant and has no special authority. Put differently, Butler assumes that his argument that virtue is natural entails an argument for the supremacy of conscience.

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Editorial Reviews. Review. "For it truly is a great book, and I doubt that we will see a history of ethics similar in scope and ambition for some time to come. This is the second of three volumes which together comprise a selective The Development of Ethics: Volume 2: From Suarez to Rousseau.

But there is no good reason to assume the entailment — in fact the two are not only independent, but in conflict. There have been a number of responses to Sturgeon. As previously noted Butler discusses two other important constituents of human nature in addition to conscience and the particular passions: self-love and benevolence. This mistake is connected to another: confusing the principle of self-love, which has the happiness of the self as its object, with particular passions and desires.

Passions do make us happy or unhappy. But that we have an interest in being happy or unhappy is distinct from the particular passions, their objects, or the happiness arising from the passions — although it may be a reason to prefer one passion over another. They have particular ends whereas self-love is our general interest in securing our happiness. Like Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson, Butler thought it prima facie evident that human beings had benevolent motivations, and he thought it obvious that these benevolent motivations could make us happy and be consistent with self-interest.

The onus was on advocates of the selfish theory to provide a compelling case against. But once a compassionate motivation is recast as a selfish motivation, for Hobbes as a type of fear, it conflicts with the sense of the term being explained to the point that it engenders contradiction.

The development of ethics : a historical and critical study. Vol. 2, From Suarez to Rousseau

For example: we feel compassion strongly towards our friends. Which was not to deny of course that people act from selfishness, self-partiality, and confused self-interest. Selfishness and self-partiality often mix with benevolent motivations to give rise to benevolent and even compassionate actions Sermon V Note 1.

Unlike Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, Butler stressed that human beings often act from mixed and opaque motives as will be discussed in Section 6.

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See vol. They too are based on express or tacit pacts, with no natural basis beside the qualifying suitability of some persons to rule and others to be ruled DJN VI. Knudsen, and P. British Journal for the History of Philosophy Grabmann, Martin. Louvain-la-Neuve: Peeters,

But the existence of mixed motivations presumes non-interested motivations with which selfishness is mixed, not the reducibility of all motivations to selfishness or self-partiality. Butler further suggests that self-love can be pursued better and worse, and that it is best reflected on via reason in a cool and impartial way. Self-love worked best and our interest was best served when we impartially seek what is truly in our interest.

When understood in this way it can clearly suggest actions that conflict with selfishness.