Ideas of Joseph Butler, by Theme

[British, 1692 - 1752, Bishop of Durham.]

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9. Objects / F. Identity among Objects / 5. Self-Identity
Everything is what it is, and not another thing
     Full Idea: Everything is what it is, and not another thing.
     From: Joseph Butler (works [1732]), quoted by Georges Rey - Contemporary Philosophy of Mind 2.4
9. Objects / F. Identity among Objects / 9. Sameness
A tree remains the same in the popular sense, but not in the strict philosophical sense
     Full Idea: When a man swears to the same tree having stood for fifty years in the same place, he means ...not that the tree has been all that time the same in the strict philosophical sense of the word. ...In a loose and popular sense they are said to be the same.
     From: Joseph Butler (Analogy of Religion [1736], App.1)
     A reaction: A helpful distinction which we should hang on. Of course, by the standards of modern physics, nothing is strictly the same from one Planck time to the next. All is flux. So we either drop the word 'same' (for objects) or relax a bit.
16. Persons / B. Nature of the Self / 4. Presupposition of Self
Despite consciousness fluctuating, we are aware that it belongs to one person
     Full Idea: Though the successive consciousnesses which we have of our own existence are not the same, yet they are consciousnesses of one and the same thing or object; of the same person, self, or living agent.
     From: Joseph Butler (Analogy of Religion [1736], App.1)
     A reaction: Butler's arguments seems to be that he appears to be the same person, so he is the same person. He is explicitly disagreeing with Locke.
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 2. Mental Continuity / a. Memory is Self
If consciousness of events makes our identity, then if we have forgotten them we didn't exist then
     Full Idea: Though consciousness of what is past does ascertain our personal identity to ourselves, yet to say that it makes personal identity, or is necessary to our being the same persons is to say a person has not existed a single moment but what he can remember.
     From: Joseph Butler (Analogy of Religion [1736], App.1)
     A reaction: An over-cautious scepticism has crept in about the reliability of bodily identity. Now we can have photographs and CCTV to prove that we experienced events we have forgotten. Butler is right.
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 2. Mental Continuity / c. Inadequacy of mental continuity
Consciousness presupposes personal identity, so it cannot constitute it
     Full Idea: One would think it really self-evident that consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity, any more than knowledge can presuppose truth, which it presupposes.
     From: Joseph Butler (Analogy of Religion [1736], App.1)
     A reaction: It rather begs the question to dogmatically assert that mere consciousness presupposes a self, especially after Hume's criticisms. That consciousness implies a subject to experience needs arguing for. Is it the best explanation?
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 5. Concerns of the Self
If the self changes, we have no responsibilities, and no interest in past or future
     Full Idea: If personality is a transient thing ...then it follows that it is a fallacy to charge ourselves with any thing we did, or to imagine our present selves interested in any thing which befell us yesterday, or what will befall us tomorrow.
     From: Joseph Butler (Analogy of Religion [1736], App.1)
     A reaction: We seem to care about the past and future of our children, without actually being our children. Can't my future self be my descendant, a close one, instead of me?
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / c. Ethical intuitionism
Butler exalts conscience, but it may be horribly misleading
     Full Idea: Butler exalts conscience, but appears ignorant that a man's conscience may tell him to do the vilest things.
     From: comment on Joseph Butler (Fifteen Sermons [1726]) by G.E.M. Anscombe - Modern Moral Philosophy p.176
     A reaction: That would appear to be the end of conscience. To make conscience work, it must have a huge authority to back it, and also a fairly infallible means of knowing what it truly says, and that an impostor hasn't replaced it (e.g. via a bad upbringing).