Butler, Joseph

Butler, Joseph, 1692–1752, English bishop and exponent of natural theology. Butler held a series of church offices, ending his career as bishop of Durham. His principle writings are Fifteen Sermons (1726), in which he set forth his moral philosophy, and The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736), aimed at combating the influence of deism in England. Both works became standard references in the education of Anglican and other clergy until the late 19th cent. In ethics, Butler was part of the 17th and 18th cent. attempt to find a foundation for morals without appeal to the divine will; he insisted on the complexity of human nature against one-sided accounts by Thomas Hobbes and Anthony Ashley Cooper (see Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3d earl of). In his natural theology he attempted to show that revealed religion was no less probable than the limited affirmations made of God by the deists.

See studies by E. C. Mossner (1936, repr. 1971), A. E. Duncan-Jones (1952), and P. A. Carlson (1964).

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