Analogy and Apology: A Study of Berkeley, Butler, Wesley and Hume
Berkeley, Butler, Wesley and Hume. Three Anglican priests and a Scottish sceptic. They were contemporaries, but hardly the colleagues that history has made them. By calling them colleagues, I mean that they form a constellation of stars by which the following generations of those who have thought about philosophy and religion in English have navigated.
This enquiry concerns what would have happened if Berkeley, Butler, Wesley and Hume had been able to get together for a "free and uninhibited" exchange of views on religion, virtue, and life in general.
The concept is not entirely fanciful. Hume, the youngest, did write a dialogue that is often assumed to represent Butler and Samuel Clarke as well as Hume himself. Butler and Wesley had a famous meeting which we know only from Wesley's notes. Berkeley and Butler seem to have been friends, are said to have been friends, but we know little of their relationship. Hume tells us how much he respected Butler, and how much Butler praised him. Butler contributed to Wesley's work and Wesley urged the reading of Butler's Analogy.
There must have been much more to the association; and there might have been much more to it were it not for the press of business and the obvious fact that, while they all expected some degree of fame, these four could not have anticipated the roles they were to play in history. It is what happened in history that makes their chance association in 18th century England so interesting--and frustrating.
The philosopher of religion is necessarily writing (at least) three books simultaneously. One is a continuation of and contribution to the historical and on-going conversations which are constitutive of philosophy of religion. The topics of this "discipline" are constantly changing as the interests and circumstances of the participants change. The second is a, sometimes implicit, revision of the received rhetoric of philosophy, and the third is the production of a religious (or anti-religious) artifact. No one understood these roles and their relations better than Butler.
"Not Dead, but Buried"
- The real-life eighteenth-century Butler is forever lost to us,
both for the general reasons of cultural change and also for
various special circumstances that are of some interest in their
- Every word that Butler wrote was written with specific
individuals in mind, usually persons at least somewhat known to
him, and every document he produced was subordinate to his career
path in the early Hanoverian ecclesiastical system.
- The early Letters to Clarke were written
anonymously, and Butler took great care to conceal his identity.
The initial series of correspondence began with Butler's letter
dated November 4, 1713, and ended with Clarke's fifth reply, April
8, 1714. These five letters and replies went through seven
editions, published by Knapton with Clarke's Boyle lectures, from
1716 to 1749. In the first of four additional letters that have
survived, Butler reveals his identity, but writes as if he and
Clarke have never met. The next letter, and the first written from
Oriel College, just as clearly shows that Butler had by then
consulted with Clarke in person. Three of the last four letters
were published in 1802, and in 1804, more than half a century after
Butler's death, the original five letters were at last publicly
revealed as his. The 1804 Edinburgh edition is the first collected
edition of Butler's whole works1 and includes an editorial note that
though "not generally known" the five "letters to Clarke were
written by Butler."
After taking his B.A. from Oxford in October of 1718, Butler was ordained by Bishop Talbor in St. James, Westminster, where Clarke was then rector. The next summer, Clarke, and Bishop Talbot's son Edward, who had been friends with Butler at Oriel, urged the Master of the Rolls, Sir Joseph Jekyll, to appoint Butler, by now 27 years old,2 Preacher at the Rolls Chapel. This was something of a plum position, and Butler, to say the least, made the most of it. Berkeley was less successful with Clarke, but eventually became a bishop before Butler did.
- The Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel
have held a secure place in the canon of British moral philosophy
for more than a century now. These sermons are the only sermons in
English that are still routinely discussed in secular studies of
ethics, but in these studies, Butler is almost always understood as
primarily in conversation with Hobbes, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson,
Hume, or even Plato and Kant, while the actual congregation at the
Rolls Chapel is entirely forgotten, except for the occasional
observation that the legalistic tone of the sermons may be
explained by their having been composed for an audience of
initial auditors of these now so meticulously studied sermons were
hardly innocent. Not one of them has left any record of what, if
any, impression Butler's preaching made before the published
version appeared. Butler himself contributed to our frustration in
trying to comprehend his meaning by losing, or perhaps willfully
destroying, all other sermons he preached at the Rolls, and by
telling us that the selection and bizarre ordering of the surviving
fifteen is of no significance, indeed, warning us not to look for
The initial publication of Butler's first five letters to Clarke, and of his fifteen Rolls sermons is best explained by nothing more than his ambition for an ecclesiastical career and Clarke's well known desire to assist him in those aspirations. Berkeley, Butler, Wesley and Hume were all men of extraordinary ambition, but of the four, only Hume was consumed by literary ambition.
Butler, it seems, gave no thought at all to readers beyond his first-hand audience, and it is somewhat ironic that the three people known to have published praise for the Sermons in particular are Tindal, Hume and, much later, Coleridge. Prior to the late nineteenth-century revival of interest in Butler's sermons, they were known, if at all, as ancillary to the Analogy and as having been written by the "illustrious author of the Analogy."
- Before taking up the difficult and controversial matter of the
initial and intended audience for the Analogy, i.e.,
before considering the early eighteenth-century conversation of
which it was a part, and as many have claimed, the summation and
consummation, I want to turn to the second track mentioned above,
the contribution that Butler made to the rhetoric of philosophy in
his time, i.e., how he changed the rules of the game.
The metaphilosophy of Butler's work is already clear and explicit in the letters and the sermons. Not only is it stated, explicitly, it is put into practice. As would seem entirely appropriate for an ambitious clergyman, Butler's main professional concern was the advancement of virtue and piety. He seems to have understood human development as consisting of, ideally, two "attainments." One advances from the "brute" level to membership in the moral institution of life by ridding oneself of the illusions of egoism and of fatalism. As has often been observed, Butler's theory of moral autonomy is similar to Kant's. What is not so often noted, but is most essential, is that to attain membership in the moral institution is not a matter of adopting some theory or other, but of living in a certain way, actually being an inhabitant of the kingdom of ends.5 That such is Butler's main point regarding morals is somewhat obscured by his extended discussion of rewards and punishments, especially rewards and punishments extending after death. Analogous to his moral theory of autonomy is his religious theory of autonomy.
Assuming, what seems to be the case anyway, that the Alciphron and the Analogy were written in hope of impressing Queen Caroline and her circle and thus advancing the author's career, what follows critically? Those who are interested in biblical theology might see yet another reason for rejecting all rational theology as sham and pretense, and "pure" philosophers may say that the arguments speak for themselves and that authorial intentions are of no account. Those who share my goals of trying to follow the primary discussion as well as the parallel metadiscussions of philosophy and religion, have no choice but to look for a third principle.
Throughout the previous (i.e., twentieth) century, it was assumed by most philosophers that Berkeley's theory of knowledge and Butler's ethics could be studied and discussed with profit without paying any attention to the author's religious motivation. I will not attempt a positive statement of this third way; the main point is that both the purely biblical and the purely philosophical standards have to be rejected because they do not and cannot function as standards at all. The Bible only exists as a canonical text because a religious community has canonized it. One cannot study the Bible apart from the context of the church and its theology any more than one can visit London without going to England. Butler's book had an especially great influence, not only among Anglicans but also with Methodists, Unitarians and Anglo-Catholics. And when we consider the status that Berkeley and Hume hold in philosophy, that Wesley has in the history of American religion, and that Butler did have in nineteenth-century British theology, we begin to see that these authors are part of the foundation on which we stand even if the foundation is wholly invisible to us.
As against the "pure" philosophers, I would argue that what they reject is nothing but a man of straw. We cannot, of course, take a text and then infer from the text the ideal form of the intention in the author's mind. No such ideal form exists; it is entirely possible that the intention Butler had in writing the Analogy was little more than that of becoming a bishop. At the very least, we know he was ambitious, that several of those whom he considered peers were already bishops, and that the production of such a work, i.e., a work that gave expression to the resentment felt by the orthodox against those who ridiculed religion, was both something he could do (given his success with Clarke and at the Rolls) and something that would serve to advance his ambitions. Having rejected this crude version of the intentional fallacy, I would argue that there is a much richer intentional validity that needs to be pursued.
The interpretation of the Analogy is simply whatever explains Butler's attitude toward Berkeley, Wesley and Hume on the one hand, and whatever explains the vast influence that particular book had at one time, but did not have at a later time. The significant effects of Butler on Berkeley, Wesley and Hume are not what opinions they happened to hold of his ideas, but what they did about them in pursuit of their own ambitions. And the influence of the Analogy with the wider public is, as stated before, not primarily to be found in the text, but in what people thought of the text.
The greatest influence of the Analogy was probably among those who did not or even could not read it with any understanding, but who took it as an icon of "deep orthodoxy." In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, this icon served to inspire confidence in the faithful, and contributed to their positive expressions of their own sense of the divine presence. By the late nineteenth century, this same icon came to represent a stale, tired, even moribund form of religion that strongly motivated serious students to seek anything that could serve as an alternative to Butler.
Thus, to understand the political dynamic of the Episcopal Church today, especially with regard to Bishop Spong's efforts to address the general public in the authentic voice of Christianity, it really is necessary to go back to the details of the lives and writings of those who have created the present climate of opinion, and to see in some detail how that climate was created.
Especially with regard to Butler, a great deal of the record has been lost, perhaps beyond recovery, but, as I shall argue below, plenty enough remains to prove that much of what we know about Butler just isn't so.
Around 1836, i.e., a century after the Analogy first appeared in print, the centrality of Butler's Analogy as the intellectual icon of orthodox, respectable Christianity was simply taken for granted by a great many theologians, philosophers, and, most importantly, students who encountered Butler as required reading in college. Typically, in the U. S., the Analogy was taught to seniors in a capstone course led by the college president. In some quarters, this attitude of veneration continued even to the end of the century, as symbolized by Gladstone's magisterial edition of Butler's works, including, very significantly, a third volume of his own commentary mostly in defense of Butler but replying to the critics of the previous generation, and of Thomas Ruggles Pynchon's great effort to install a portrait of Butler at Trinity College, Hartford. Pynchon, the president of Trinity, called Butler "a religious philosopher for all time," and had the college agree in writing that the picture would hang forever in the Hall of Philosophy. Soon after Pynchon's death, the portrait was taken down, relegated to deep storage, and the building itself was torn down.
Both during their lives and long after their deaths, Butler, Berkeley, Wesley and Hume suffered rejection, disappointment, ridicule, scorn and neglect. Much of this was religiously motivated and, whether we like it or not, is part of our religious heritage. Irrational religious hatred is today manifestly apparent not only in the "clash of civilizations" but even along the seemingly least significant of party lines within a particular denomination.
- The early Letters to Clarke were written anonymously, and Butler took great care to conceal his identity. The initial series of correspondence began with Butler's letter dated November 4, 1713, and ended with Clarke's fifth reply, April 8, 1714. These five letters and replies went through seven editions, published by Knapton with Clarke's Boyle lectures, from 1716 to 1749. In the first of four additional letters that have survived, Butler reveals his identity, but writes as if he and Clarke have never met. The next letter, and the first written from Oriel College, just as clearly shows that Butler had by then consulted with Clarke in person. Three of the last four letters were published in 1802, and in 1804, more than half a century after Butler's death, the original five letters were at last publicly revealed as his. The 1804 Edinburgh edition is the first collected edition of Butler's whole works1 and includes an editorial note that though "not generally known" the five "letters to Clarke were written by Butler."
- During the nineteenth century, the friends and foes of Butler
united to create a myth that is now so hardened that the original
can never be restored for public view. This is all the more to be
regretted since it is the effect that Butler had on certain early
readers that is of greatest interest, as he anticipates at the
beginning of the Analogy. In particular, the now
universal characterization of Butler's Analogy as
being a "reply to the deists," is especially problematic.
To get a clearer view of the actual relationship of Butler, Berkeley, Wesley and Hume, it is necessary to clear some brush from the received view of the history of the Analogy. By the received view, I mean the line that Berkeley and Butler were good men in a bad time, that they produced important works of epistemology and ethics, respectively, that can be studied with profit in abstraction from their author's religious work; that Butler continued and perfected the apologetic strategy of Berkeley's Alciphron and totally routed the deists, but was then himself defeated by the sceptic Hume, who, together with Kant, brought an end to "natural theology" as it had been practiced for centuries; and that just as Butler was oblivious to the defects in his logic, so too he was largely oblivious to the spiritual needs of his own people, needs which were met by Wesley, who brought about the eventual triumph of "enthusiasm," a form of religion that Butler detested as much as deism. degree necessary for participation
The main thing that is wrong with the received view historically is that it identifies Butler's Analogy as a reply to the deists along the lines of Berkeley's Alciphron. A few doubters have caught on and noticed that the Analogy can hardly be the knock-out punch to the deists it is said to be since, English deism was already knocked-out in 1736, and, on a broader understanding of what deism was, it was still alive and well at the end of the eighteenth century.
I suggest the following three-fold classification: (i) The Analogy that appeared in 1736 had little to do with the deists and was not seen as a "reply to the deists." (ii)The Analogy that reigned in the nineteenth century had nothing to do with the deists. (iii) The Analogy that came to be neglected and rejected in the twentieth century was nothing but a reply to the deists.
My evidence is as follows:
- No recent writer has expressed any doubt that the Analogy was a reply to the deists. Those who have noticed the historical discrepancies have challenged the Analogy's success as a reply to the deists. The axiomatic nature of this recent understanding is best shown in David Brown. Wanting to defend Butler as relevant to theology today, Brown resorts to declaring that the deists are still active and still in need of refutation.
- There was considerable reaction to the Analogy when it appeared in 1736. No deists answered it. No one answered it on behalf of the deists. Only a few remarks, one of them Wesley's, even associated the Analogy with deism.
- The single passage that is a reply to the deists is plainly identified by Butler, even though he does not mention any deists or use the word "deism". (see 2.1.1-2) If the whole book were a reply to the deist's, why would they be referenced only in this one passage?
- If the Analogy were based on the assumption of natural religion, which the deists were willing to grant, why does Butler devote half of the book (Part I) to the defense of natural religion?
- At the end of the eighteenth century, right at the time that the Analogy was becoming established as required reading in Scotland, England and America, Leland produced his massive summary and review of the deistic controversy. The book makes no mention of Butler. Nor is Butler mentioned in the second, corrected, edition.
- The Analogy was in print throughout the eighteenth century, but it was published without ancillary matter. During the nineteenth century, an essay by Samuel Halifax was added. The essay makes no reference to deism, and would give the innocent reader no clue that the Analogy is primarily a reply to deists.
- In addition to the problems (1) of the nature of Butler's writing and (2) the status of his reputation, there are additional problems of recovery. In particular, so many original documents have been lost or destroyed, or never existed at all, that it is difficult to answer some of the most basic questions about Butler, for example, how he talked his family into allowing him to conform to the Church of England, how he was educated, and what in said in his many unpublished sermons and in the discarded drafts of the Analogy. There really is very little contemporary literature on how the Analogy was received, and almost none on the sermons. Even reader reactions from the late nineteenth century have been lost. Most vexing is the fact that despite the fragmentary nature of the primary evidence regarding Butler's relationships to Berkeley, Wesley and Hume, many commentators assume that he is primarily to be contrasted with Wesley and Hume.
- Every word that Butler wrote was written with specific individuals in mind, usually persons at least somewhat known to him, and every document he produced was subordinate to his career path in the early Hanoverian ecclesiastical system.
- The effort to see as much as we can of the whole work and influence of Butler is worthwhile, since he presents a unique blend of probability, analogy, mysticism (or at least mystery) and pastoral philosophy.
Pastoral PhilosophyBelow the level of common human life is the natural life of brute creatures and the unnatural life of the insane. Humans have the capacity to rise above the ordinary human life and enter the moral and religious institutions of life. Since how well they do is up to them, they are said to be in a state of probation. The probation is moral and intellectual. Those who are successful in intellectual virtue will work out the truths of religion or at least have sufficient reason to accept the testimony of scripture. Once the facts given in revelation are known, one needs only a properly working conscience to come into the right relationship with God. There are, or may be some higher beings who are not subject to human ignorance and probation since they have a better understanding of the administration of the universe, and in any case, there is God, for whom nothing is merely probable.
Pastoral philosophy is so called because the motivation for work on any philosophical problem must be moral or religious, and the solution need go only so far as to resolve the matter in practice, i.e., of successfully analogizing the moral or religious problem to an accepted or received practice. There is no place in this scheme for the reversal that so many commentators, including strong supporters, have mentioned.
The theme of pastoral philosophy is clearly stated by Berkeley at the end of PHK:
156 For after all, what deserves the first place in our studies, is the consideration of God, and our duty; which to promote, as it was the main drift and design of my labours, so shall I esteem them altogether useless and ineffectual, if by what I have said I cannot inspire my readers with a pious sense of the presence of God: and having shewn the falseness or vanity of those barren speculations, which make the chief employment of learned men, the better dispose them to reverence and embrace the salutary truths of the Gospel, which to know and to practice is the highest perfection of human nature.
J. B. Schneewind makes a similar point with regard to the intent of Butler's sermons:
His aim in reflecting on the issues of moral philosophy was to lead those he addressed to improve their behavior. Whatever was not essential for that purpose could be ignored. The moral life, he thought, can be lived quite well without answers to most philosophical questions. After all, the Scripture is not "a book of theory and speculation, but a plain rule of life for mankind" (XII.3), and its teaching must surely be sufficient. To be virtuous, however, we do need, if not to understand our own nature, at least not to misunderstand it completely. Bad philosophy can, consequently, endanger morality. When it does, only good philosophy can set things to rights.6
When Berkeley introduces analogy in PHK, he uses it in the grammatical sense and as opposed to the use of rules in learning a language. It may be possible to read Butler as actually doing what Berkeley suggests: reading the book of nature.
The Johnson and Swift type jokes about Berkeley are not worth considering as philosophy, but they give a good clue as to why Berkeley's work was never that popular as apologetics.
- To participate in Butler's texts requires that we treat him as a colleague and subject his arguments to the most searching scrutiny, but also that we develop the appropriate criteria for doing so.
The criterion adopted here is that of a thought-experiment imagining a trial in which Mr. or Ms. Christian stands accused of being ridiculous. The mob has already found them guilty and administered punishment in the form of ridicule. The reader is invited to participate as a member of the jury, or in some cases as the judge. If the Christian is acquitted, which is to say if it is shown that Christianity is not known to be ridiculous, then it is the scoffers who will be exposed as fools. By "Christian" or "Christianity" what is meant here is the life of the ordinary Christian, so to say that Christianity is not ridiculous is to say that the reasons for being Christian are good enough to satisfy the man on the Clapham omnibus, no more but no less. Butler's role, of course, is that of advocate for the defense. Sometimes he addresses the jury or the judge directly, and in other cases he examines or cross-examines witnesses, but in no case does he make a direct appeal to authority.
Merely showing that Christianity has not been proved to be ridiculous may seem a less than ambitious project for one who is celebrated as the greatest Anglican apologist of the eighteenth century. The task is not quite that easy since the ground rules not only exclude appeals to authority, they also exclude any appeal to freedom of religion or the right to believe as one pleases. The justification on behalf of the Christian must meet the standards of our everyday ethics of belief. Furthermore, although the ridicule can be argued against vigorously, it must still be argued against and not just dismissed as rude or offensive.
Berkeley and Wesley are represented here as supporting Butler's advocacy. Butler must be careful not to articulate in such a way that he becomes an object of ridicule, as Berkeley and Wesley did. (Historically, Butler was controversial mainly because of his imagined "Romish" tendencies. The charges were probably unfair to Butler, but J. H. Newman credits Butler for his conversion to Rome.) Butler must also be careful to maintain the respect of Berkeley and Wesley. In particular, his arguments must be up to Berkeley's standard, and his spirituality must be up to Wesley's. Hume, of course, will speak for the prosecution.
Using the format of a trial in discussing religion is, of course, a commonplace. Historically, it has been used more or less literally in both primary and secondary sources. My point has been that for an interpretation of Butler to be taken seriously, it must supply a plausible reason why Butler's work was so highly revered, especially in the early nineteenth century. Something about Butler's work must have had the effect of quieting the doubts that many people were feeling about the received faith. Since these people were typically both educated and intelligent, the appeal must have been to reason in some form. Certainly it was not to the scholastic form of reason, even if Butler was using a variation on the scholastic form of analogy.7 And it is hardly credible, as argued above, that a work whose main point was to pull the logical rug out from under the deists would become an object of devotion. My claim is that Butler's vision was very similar to Berkeley's, or Wesley's, but that he succeeded in expressing it in commonplace terms rather than in paradoxes, or seeming paradoxes, and that he moved some readers at the deepest level of emotion without in the least appearing to have departed from reason. In other words, Butler succeeded in doing just what a skillful advocate is expected to do at trial.
Butler brought about his effect by engaging the contemporary discussion directly. Often his opponents are unnamed, and it may be that he had in mind words that were in the air rather than on any specific piece of paper, but as Butler himself stresses, he is not bringing anything new into the argument, neither by way of premise nor conclusion. His premises are the commonplaces of human nature and the physical nature of the world; his conclusion is the practice of the received, orthodox Christian faith. "If the reader should meet here with anything which he had not before attended to, it will not be in the observations upon the constitution and course of nature, these being all obvious; but in the application of them ..." (The very first words of the Analogy.)
By pleading on behalf of the ordinary believer, who had been subjected to ridicule, but took on an initially sympathetic client. What he needed to do with the rhetoric of his argument, was not just to win the case, but to persuade his readers at a deep level of conviction. In the criticisms of Hume, we see what happens to Butler's argument if it is considered only from a logical point of view. What gave Butler's argument the edge it needed to be all the more persuasive than merely logic, yet without resorting to a strongly emotional appeal, was the use he made of forensic rhetoric.
Not just one or twice, but throughout his work, Butler appeals to five notions that were sufficiently familiar, especially in legal practice, so as not to appear to be rhetorical trickery. Most of those who have tried to interpret Butler since about 1850, have missed some or all of these features.
- Appeal to Probability.
Everyone knows that Butler appealed to probability, but what is often missed, even though it is stated explicitly enough, is that Butler did not appeal only to the greater probability. Someone who seeks to improve his or her position in business may apply for a job knowing there is only a one in four chance of success, i.e., far less than an even chance. Such a person is not acting ridiculously. Indeed, it would be ridiculous not to pursue the opportunity with maximum application as long as the alternatives, one's present position and other positions for which one could apply, were considered less satisfactory. But if such a job-seeker is not ridiculous, then neither is the Christian, considered under analogous circumstances.
- Appeal to the Burden of Proof.
Appeals to the burden of proof do not usually work well in philosophy. There are no clear conventions for assigning the burden of proof, since usually either side can be represented with a positive or a negative statement. Those who ridicule are, however, commonly understood as having the burden of proof. Ridicule adds a strong element beyond denial, and that strong element needs to be defended. Not only is there the obvious advantage to being favored with a presumption on one's side, there is also the particular advantage that to remove objections is as good as proving one's case. Thus the critics who complain that Butler merely removed objections have failed to understand the full rhetorical strategy being used.
- Conclusion as Practice.
A fundamental principle of pastoral philosophy is that speculative issues matter only insofar as they affect practice. The Christian imagined to be on trial, is on trial for the practice of Christianity, and not for the mere profession of it. And, most importantly, the scoffers who are prosecuting the Christian for being ridiculous are not asked to themselves adopt Christianity, even if that outcome would be welcome, and, in Butler's opinion, warranted. All they are asked to do, if the prosecution fails, is to stop the ridicule. After reading Butler, the scoffers who are impressed with his appeal, need do no more than stop scoffing, and the believers who are similarly impressed, need do no more than continue to practice their religion, but now with renewed confidence. Thus Butler is as easy as he can be in what he demands of his readers, yet all along he is arguing for the vigorous practice of religion. Butler saw very clearly the advantage of stressing practice over speculation. Speculative sceptics did not have to be refuted at all, and some even claimed that Butler was "one of us," whereas those who might be tempted to give verbal assent to his claims without the corresponding amendment of life, were excluded from the start. All this would seem familiar and proper to those who thought of a trial in terms of the accused either being punished or released, without there necessarily ever being a conclusive finding on the facts of the case.
- Appeal to the Cumulative Case.
From first to last, Butler insisted that his case be considered as a whole before any judgment was made, and this practice generally fits better in the context of a trial than that of a conversation. Just as Butler did not become involved in the rules of probability, so he had no interest in the principles of judging a cumulative case. To consider the whole body of evidence impartially, one must avoid premature judgment, and psychologically, it may be that the effect of the whole case will never be felt unless one suspends judgment as best one can during the presentation.
- The Adversarial Context
Butler also had a knack for the dialectical encounter. By such simple techniques as not naming his opponents, questioning their motives, and ranking them as to how seriously we should take their arguments, Butler succeeds both at giving himself an advantage, especially in the context of an imagined trial, and yet appearing to be fair, or even more than fair to his opponents. On the one hand, he has what Walter Lippmann called "lucidity of mind" in that he is able to differentiate his opponents according to fine details, but on the other, they never appear as full personalities with whom the reader is likely to sympathize.
My claim is that to miss these rhetorical points is to miss the peculiar for of Butler's argument and to miss the best explanation of why Butler's work was so popular during the early nineteenth century. Some will still see these strategies as "merely rhetorical" and will dismiss the whole as a "tissue of fallacies," as Coleridge said of the Analogy. My point about the court image is that such an image renders these strategies familiar, related and accepted, so within forensics, at least, Butler has achieved his purpose of drawing an analogy between ordinary life (accepted without challenge) and religion, natural and revealed, which is in dispute. With Butler, the reader is not confronted directly, but is asked to be impartial and detached, yet is called on to make an entirely practical decision in the verdict, i.e., that the Christian should be free of scorn and insult as long as the case against the Christian cannot be proved.
Berkeley's apologetic strategy has many points of similarity with Butler's, but Berkeley asked more of the reader metaphysically. In comparing Butler and Wesley below, I shall enquire whether Butler asked enough religiously.
Butler was eclectic enough to use scholastic arguments when they suited him, but his method and the guiding principles of his method were at odds with the theme of "faith seeking understanding." Butler's doctrine of ignorance rules out any real understanding. What Butler sought was a life of virtue and piety lived in good faith, i.e,, with the full assent of a person's whole nature: emotional, intellectual and social. The differences between Berkeley and Butler are therefore very much like the differences one would expect between two lawyers pleading the same side in the same case.
The shape of the whole body of Butler's work does not at first appear to be much suited for a textbook of apologetics. Not only is the language sometimes difficult and the logic rather finely chopped, but the organization is peculiar.
There is no reason why what I have called pastoral philosophy should not begin at the entry level and work on proving God's existence. Butler seems to have anticipated the strategy of Hume's Philo, or perhaps Hume had Butler in mind as much as some have claimed. In any case, unlike the scholastics, the Boyle lecturers and Berkeley, Butler does not want to discuss the details of the proof of God's existence any more than he had done in the letters to Clarke. The letters were in print, but Butler's identity as the author was not generally known. Butler's first, and rather dramatic gambit, is to cite a number of proofs of God and simply declare that the existence of God is beyond dispute. Butler may have been right in his sense that nothing was to be gained by presenting a detailed proof, even if there were more atheists then than is generally thought. What eventually happened was that Butler's opponents eventually took up the line that Butler did not present a proof because he did not have one and that he needed the deistic concession of a first cause to get his arguments going. Those who mistake book one of the Analogy for a proof of God's existence are wrong, but at least their mistake is understandable.
Butler and Berkeley probably had nearly the same feelings about the sense of God's presence and the importance of feeling that presence. Here they made equal and opposite errors. Berkeley tied the sense of God's presence to a metaphysical argument that itself was open to ridicule. It makes no difference that the jokes about Berkeley not believing in matter are bad philosophy; they nevertheless point to a flaw in Berkeley's advocacy. For his part, Butler allowed his thoughts about the nearness of God to remain in some of his less often read sermons and to be associated with his doctrine of ignorance. Even the efforts of such a well known philosophical historian as Lewis White Beck to call attention to these sermons were themselves ignored.
After a brief but clear exposition of the method of probability as used in ordinary life, Butler cites Origen and goes on to apply probability to religion. Interestingly, the context of the quotation from Quintilian on Butler's title page is the same grammatical sense of analogy appealed to by Berkeley. Some critics have complained about this, but at least it shows that people routinely use analogy in speaking correctly without necessarily being conscious they are using analogical reasoning.
With these preliminaries kept to a minimum, Butler begins his exposition of natural religion, the longest sustained passage in the Analogy. The first chapter, on a future life, employs another dramatic burden of proof strategy: we do not know enough about the nature of death to be certain that it will be the end of us, and if we are not certain that we will end, then reason (as opposed to insanity) requires that we prepare for the future, or in this case, the future life. The obscure (then as now) debate on personal identity is relegated to an appendix, which Butler's acknowledges as a strategic move.
The next two chapters take up the divine attributes of intelligence and of morality. Butler does not seem at all concerned with what it means to call God wise and good, but only with whether the experienced course and constitution of nature gives us sufficient reason to call God wise and good. In these chapters, Butler takes it for granted, i.e., as already established, that God is the author of nature, so he now goes ahead to guide us in reading the book of nature as God's book. If nature is an intelligent and moral system, as these observations seem to show, the the author (or governor) of nature is intelligent and righteous, and we therefore have an appropriate object for the affection called the "love of God," which was the motivation for this enquiry in the first place. At I.3 Butler inserts the dissertation on virtue, so the systematic reader might also want to bring in the sermons (1726) and their preface (1729) at this point as well.
The sermons treat specific aspects of human nature just as chapters 2 and 3 of part one treat the whole of (known) physical nature. Like Berkeley, Butler acknowledges the Stoic sources of the notion that morality consists in following nature. But here we come to an important strategic difference if not a difference in doctrine. Butler's main concern was to show that human nature is adapted to virtue, and he therefore draws out at great length the teleological function of several passions of the soul. Butler thought that once people came to see that they were adapted to virtue, it would be an easy step (given the existence of God as already granted) to accepting that they were made for virtue, and, of course, the point of it all, to the actual practice of virtue. Berkeley's goal of encouraging practical virtue was the same, but his argument dwells at length on the social benefits of virtue. Butler and Berkeley equally disagreed with Mandeville, but Butler does not even mention him by name even though two of his best known sermons are directed against his position.
Many of the points made by Butler and Berkeley on the social value of virtue are similar, but in Butler the drift is always that one ought to be virtuous since we humans are made for virtue and, so far as we know, virtue is not contrary to interest. Berkeley, by contrast, argues that we are made for society and that without virtue there would be no orderly society. Berkeley certainly has a persuasive argument, it is one that is frequently repeated today in one form or another, but Butler's argument helps the reader to see physical nature as a system designed expressly to nurture the development of human nature as it grows in virtue, just like a seed in the soil, and he encourages us to see that this is especially apparent when we think of this world as a womb compared to the life to come.
So I think the case can be made that, contrary to what some of his later admirers may have claimed, Butler was able to naturalize the main religious doctrines to a degree that would satisfy Hume, and yet retain the religious significance required by Wesley.
The stage is now set for another grand oration by Butler on behalf of the Christian. He now argues that, given the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the moral constitution thus far developed, we can go on to see this world as a state of probation-- the vale of soul-making.
Only the last two chapters of part one deal entirely with objections, and they will be recognized as the same objections Aquinas took up in his article on the five ways. Also like Aquinas, Butler now goes on to use the natural religion so far established as the basis of his defense of revealed religion.