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A discussion of the concepts reason, revelation and nature in Bishop Butler’s moral philosophy

MacLaren, Marilyne A. (1973) A discussion of the concepts reason, revelation and nature in Bishop Butler’s moral philosophy. Masters thesis, Durham University.



This thesis is a study of the three concepts Reason, Revelation and Nature in the moral philosophy of Bishop Butler. Butler was a Christian apologist who wanted to provide an empirical theory of morals in keeping with the secular tone of his age, yet which did not exclude the divine. His method of study was to investigate the constitution of human nature, and from this he concluded that to follow nature was to follow the path of virtue. Although his method of study appears consistently empirical, Butler's use of speculative reason and admittance of revealed knowledge indicates that he was not a strict empiricist in conviction. Butler's naturalism is firmly grounded in religion, by his belief that man is the work of God, is naturally virtuous, and that this, together with the commands of conscience, leads man to act a just and good role in life. It is in Butler's conception of conscience that we most clearly see how Reason, Revelation and Nature are related to each other in his philosophy. I interpret Butler's view of conscience as a moral faculty with two operational levels, the rational part which takes note of all the facts in a moral situation, and the intuitional part by which a moral pronouncement is made. This latter process is easier to understand when it is realized that conscience for Butler is a medium of communication between God and man. Butler's contribution to moral philosophy stems not only from his interesting analysis of conscience, but also from the way he reconciles self-interest and duty. According to Butler, men act virtuously, because they are secure in the knowledge that they are obeying God and so will be ultimately rewarded. There is an additional sanction in acting virtuously, we have a better chance of happiness because it is obeying our own nature to so do. Thus a man knows his obligations not only through the revelatory medium of the Scriptures, but through the nature of man, and specifically through the divinely implanted moral faculty.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1973
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:41

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