Philosophy 433 History of Ethics Darwall Winter 2008
strategy (theological). To the idea
that our psyches are teleological/functional wholes, Butler adds the
that they are designed to be by God. The
specific principles mentioned above (from 1.7) "are plainly instruments in the hands of another, in the hands of
II. Filling out the teleological picture: private/public. Now Butler believes that all appetites, passions, and other principles, when functioning properly, tend to the promotion of individual good and/or public good. There is no principle in us, he thinks, whose function is to produce harm, either to ourselves or others. He grants, of course, that people act, on affections that they really have, sometimes to the detriment of themselves, sometimes to the detriment of others. But in no case, when they do so, are they motivated by a principle whose function is to produce evil. It follows that people bring evil to themselves or to others only when they are not functioning properly: "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 . . . " (1.12)
As we shall
see in more detail in Sermons IV and V,
III. Principle of reflection (conscience). So far this picture has not brought out what Butler regards to be our distinctively moral nature: the principle of reflection or conscience. He describes this in the following way: "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 upon them." (1.8)
We get a clearer idea of what he has in mind when we examine the example he gives to convince us that we in fact have such a conscience: "Suppose a man . . .to need being confuted."
(1.8) Note the following elements:
(i) it is reflexive.
(ii) it is a capacity for dispassionate reflection;
(iii) it is a capacity for disinterested reflection.
IV. Authority of conscience/the teleological argument. Thus far, Butler has only considered conscience "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." But "the particular place [is] assigned to it by nature, what authority it has, and how great influence it ought to have, shall be hereafter considered." (1.8)
This is the task he turns to beginning in Sermon II. Here he takes it that he has already shown that we are so designed as to "do good to others, when we are led this way, by benevolence or reflection." But, this is not enough to validate "virtue and religion". To do that he needs to show, he says, "that the whole character be formed upon thought and reflection; that every action be directed by some determinate rule, some other rule than the strength and
prevalency of any principle or passion." (2.3)
What I have been calling
(a) Just as it is evident that the eye's function is to see, so is it evident that conscience's function is to govern.
(b) Therefore, we ought to acknowledge this authority and be governed by conscience (or, alternatively, govern ourselves by conscience). That is, we ought to act on motives which on reflection we approve (disinterestedly and dispassionately).
Now, how do we get from (a) to (b)?
consists in the
will of God.
that the obligation to follow conscience depends on our nature's being intended. I say this because his many remarks to the effect that our having a principle of
reflection makes us a law to ourselves, and that following conscience is the law of our nature, seem to depend only on what our nature intrinsically is, and not
on its being designed or intended.
Alternatively, we might think that
conscience, we will therefore only flourish or realize our good by recognizing the authority of conscience and using it to guide our lives. But this suggestion
is not without problems
either. First, it seems to make
conscience's authority conditional on its exercise realizing our good. And, while
various places that there cannot be any conflict between duty and interest (in the longest run) [e.g.: "Reasonable self-love and conscience are the chief or
superior principles in the nature of man: because an action may be suitable to this nature, though all other principles be violated; but becomes unsuitable, if
either of those are. Conscience and self-love, if we understand our true happiness, always lead us the same way." (2.9)], he also says frequently that
conscience is authoritative by its very nature (and this, it would seem, is independent of whether conscientious conduct realizes our good). Second, in
the Preface, he explicitly takes Shaftesbury to task for this very position: "The not taking into consideration this authority, which is implied in the idea of
reflex approbation or disapprobation, seems a material deficiency or omission in Lord Shaftesbury's Inquiry concerning Virtue. He has shewn beyond all
contradiction, that virtue is naturally the interest or happiness, and vice the misery, of such a creature as man, placed in the circumstances which we are in
this world." (Pr.26)
possibility might be that he thinks that, since the function of
to govern, it is fitting that it do so.
but such an approach belongs to the "other" of the two methods of ethics than the one he is pursuing in the Sermons. "One begins from inquiring into the
abstract relations of things: the other from a matter of fact, namely, what the particular nature of man is, its several parts, their economy or constitution;
from whence it proceeds to determine what course of life it is, which is correspondent to this whole nature. In the former method the conclusion is
expressed thus, that vice is contrary to the nature and reason of things; in the latter, that it is a violation or breaking in upon our own nature." (Pr.12)
[There is a more subtle version of (2) that