Joseph Butler's Moral and Religious Thought: Tercentenary Essays

Joseph Butler's Moral and Religious Thought: Tercentenary Essays

Joseph Butler's Moral and Religious Thought: Tercentenary Essays

Joseph Butler's Moral and Religious Thought: Tercentenary Essays

Synopsis

The essays in this book mark the tercentenary of the birth of Bishop Joseph Butler, the leading Anglican theologian of the eighteenth century and also an important moral philosopher. They cover the full range of Butler's theological and philosophical writings--from his Christian apologetic against the deists to his discussion of the role of their historical context and suggestion of their relevance to contemporary religious and philosophical issues. At a time of renewed interest in Butler's thought, as well as in the theological positions he was opposing, it is timely and appropriate that these detailed studies of Butler's thought should now be made available.

Excerpt

Bishop Butler untimely death shortly after his sixtieth birthday meant that he scarcely had time to make his mark as bishop of Durham. He appears in what is now the list of sixty-nine bishops (stretching over almost 1,000 years) for a mere two years--1750- 2. Just over 200 years later another philosopher and theological thinker who was to become bishop of Durham published in 1957 a small book entitled Religious Language. In it, Professor Ian Ramsey set out: 'To show how the contemporary philosophical interest in language, far from being soul-destroying, can be so developed as to provide a novel inroad into the problems and controversies of theology, illuminating its claims and reforming its apologetic' (p. 11).

Theological thinking, Ramsey argued, could only benefit from facing the challenges posed by the then prevailing logical empiricism. These challenges were 'to state a case for religious language' and 'to try to elucidate the logic of some of its characteristic claims'. To face these challenges, he wrote, we need to ask 'at the outset, and as a leading question: to what kind of situation does religion appeal? What kind of empirical anchorage have theological words?' He goes on, 'to answer that question, let our memories first go back toJoseph Butler who in the eighteenth century and in his own way likewise attempted Christian apologetic in the face of contemporary empiricism' (p. 14).

Ramsey then proceeds to argue that in introducing the argument of his Analogy by a discussion on Immortality, Butler is developing a vital point about the basic characteristic about religious thinking, awareness, and attitudes.Ramsey points out that Butler, in summarizing his chapter Immortality when concluding part 1 of the Analogy, argues it is 'contrary to experience' to suppose that 'gross bodies' are ourselves. Ramsey then goes on:

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