Shop: The Works of Bishop Butler

Bishop Butler

His life, writing & theology.

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Portrait of Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752).

Joseph Butler: Fact Sheet

Basic facts on Butler's life and work.
  • English bishop, moralist and divine
  • Born at Wantage, Berkshire, England, May 18, 1692
  • Died in Bath, unmarried, June 16, 1752

Education

First attended King Alfred's Latin school in Wantage, then the dissenting academy in Tewkesbury. Graduated Oriel College, Oxford, 1718.

Career

Publications

Butler's letters concerning Samuel Clarke's Boyle Lectures were published with Dr. Clarke's works from 1716. A selection of sermons preached at the Rolls Chapel appeared as Fifteen Sermons in 1726, with a preface added for the second edition (1729). His chief work was The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature, 1736. Some of his sermons as Bishop of Bristol were collected as Six Sermons in 1749, and his Charge to the Clergy at Durham was printed in 1751. The first collected edition of his works appeared in 1804, and the standard edition, edited by J.H. Bernard, in 1900. W. E. Gladstone produced an edition of Butler's works with full commentary after retiring from politics (1896). A new annotated edition, edited by David White, was published by the University of Rochester Press, 2006.

Influence

The Fifteen Sermons were widely studied by other British moralists, and David Hume named Butler as one of the founders of modern moral philosophy. When the Analogy of Religion appeared, it quickly rose to the top rank of orthodox Anglican apologetics, and by the early nineteenth century it was required reading throughout the English-speaking world. Butler's work was held in highest regard by Victorian political leaders, historians, literary critics and educators as well as by those working in philosophy and theology. His influence on J. H. Newman and the Oxford movement was profound. After about 1850, the influence of the Analogy gradually declined, but numerous popular editions appeared in the U.S. and the U.K. up through the early twentieth century, and the sermons on human nature continue to be read by students of ethics and scholars.

Major Works on Butler since 1930

  • C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory (1930)
  • E. C. Mossner, Bishop Butler and the Age of Reason (1936)
  • A. Duncan-Jones, Butler's Moral Philosophy (1952)
  • P. A. Carlsson, Butler's Ethics (1964)
  • A. Jeffner, Butler and Hume on Religion (1966)
  • T. Penelhum, Butler (1985)
  • D. E. White, The Works of Bishop Butler, Edited, with an introduction and notes.