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Human Nature and Other Sermons by Joseph Butler

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can contemplate itself, and our affections be exercised upon
themselves by reflection, so may each be employed in the same manner
upon any other mind; and since the Supreme Mind, the Author and
Cause of all things, is the highest possible object to Himself, He
may be an adequate supply to all the faculties of our souls, a
subject to our understanding, and an object to our affections.

Consider then: when we shall have put off this mortal body, when we
shall be divested of sensual appetites, and those possessions which
are now the means of gratification shall be of no avail, when this
restless scene of business and vain pleasures, which now diverts us
from ourselves, shall be all over, we, our proper self, shall still
remain: we shall still continue the same creatures we are, with
wants to be supplied and capacities of happiness. We must have
faculties of perception, though not sensitive ones; and pleasure or
uneasiness from our perceptions, as now we have.

There are certain ideas which we express by the words order,
harmony, proportion, beauty, the furthest removed from anything
sensual. Now what is there in those intellectual images, forms, or
ideas, which begets that approbation, love, delight, and even
rapture, which is seen in some persons' faces upon having those
objects present to their minds?--"Mere enthusiasm!"--Be it what it
will: there are objects, works of nature and of art, which all
mankind have delight from quite distinct from their affording
gratification to sensual appetites, and from quite another view of
them than as being for their interest and further advantage. The
faculties from which we are capable of these pleasures, and the
pleasures themselves, are as natural, and as much to be accounted
for, as any sensual appetite whatever, and the pleasure from its
gratification. Words to be sure are wanting upon this subject; to
say that everything of grace and beauty throughout the whole of
nature, everything excellent and amiable shared in differently lower
degrees by the whole creation, meet in the Author and Cause of all
things, this is an inadequate and perhaps improper way of speaking
of the Divine nature; but it is manifest that absolute rectitude,
the perfection of being, must be in all senses, and in every
respect, the highest object to the mind.

In this world it is only the effects of wisdom and power and
greatness which we discern; it is not impossible that hereafter the
qualities themselves in the supreme Being may be the immediate
object of contemplation. What amazing wonders are opened to view by
late improvements! What an object is the universe to a creature, if
there be a creature who can comprehend its system! But it must be
an infinitely higher exercise of the understanding to view the
scheme of it in that mind which projected it before its foundations
were laid. And surely we have meaning to the words when we speak of
going further, and viewing, not only this system in His mind, but
the wisdom and intelligence itself from whence it proceeded. The
same may be said of power. But since wisdom and power are not God,
He is a wise, a powerful Being; the divine nature may therefore be a
further object to the understanding. It is nothing to observe that
our senses give us but an imperfect knowledge of things: effects
themselves, if we knew them thoroughly, would give us but imperfect
notions of wisdom and power; much less of His being in whom they
reside. I am not speaking of any fanciful notion of seeing all
things in God, but only representing to you how much a higher object
to the understanding an infinite Being Himself is than the things
which He has made; and this is no more than saying that the Creator
is superior to the works of His hands.

This may be illustrated by a low example. Suppose a machine, the
sight of which would raise, and discoveries in its contrivance
gratify, our curiosity: the real delight in this case would arise
from its being the effect of skill and contrivance. This skill in
the mind of the artificer would be a higher object, if we had any
senses or ways to discern it. For, observe, the contemplation of
that principle, faculty, or power which produced any effect must be
a higher exercise of the understanding than the contemplation of the
effect itself. The cause must be a higher object to the mind than
the effect.

But whoever considers distinctly what the delight of knowledge is
will see reason to be satisfied that it cannot be the chief good of
man: all this, as it is applicable, so it was mentioned with regard
to the attribute of goodness. I say goodness. Our being and all
our enjoyments are the effects of it: just men bear its
resemblance; but how little do we know of the original, of what it
is in itself? Recall what was before observed concerning the
affection to moral characters--which, in how low a degree soever,
yet is plainly natural to man, and the most excellent part of his
nature. Suppose this improved, as it may be improved, to any degree
whatever, in the SPIRITS OF JUST MEN MADE PERFECT; and then suppose
that they had a real view of that RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS AN
EVERLASTING RIGHTEOUSNESS, of the conformity of the Divine will to
THE LAW OF TRUTH in which the moral attributes of God consist, of
that goodness in the sovereign Mind which gave birth to the
universe. Add, what will be true of all good men hereafter, a
consciousness of having an interest in what they are contemplating--
suppose them able to say, THIS GOD IS OUR GOD FOR EVER AND EVER.
Would they be any longer to seek for what was their chief happiness,
their final good? Could the utmost stretch of their capacities look
further? Would not infinite perfect goodness be their very end, the
last end and object of their affections, beyond which they could
neither have nor desire, beyond which they could not form a wish or

Consider wherein that presence of a friend consists which has often
so strong an effect as wholly to possess the mind, and entirely
suspend all other affections and regards, and which itself affords
the highest satisfaction and enjoyment. He is within reach of the
senses. Now as our capacities of perception improve we shall have,
perhaps by some faculty entirely new, a perception of God's presence
with us in a nearer and stricter way, since it is certain He is more
intimately present with us than anything else can be. Proof of the
existence and presence of any being is quite different from the
immediate perception, the consciousness of it. What then will be
the joy of heart which His presence and THE LIGHT OF HIS
COUNTENANCE, who is the life of the universe, will inspire good men
with when they shall have a sensation that He is the sustainer of
their being, that they exist in Him; when they shall feel His
influence to cheer and enliven and support their frame, in a manner
of which we have now no conception? He will be in a literal sense

When we speak of things so much above our comprehension as the
employment and happiness of a future state, doubtless it behoves us
to speak with all modesty and distrust of ourselves. But the
Scripture represents the happiness of that state under the notions
SEEING FACE TO FACE. These words are not general or undetermined,
but express a particular determinate happiness. And I will be bold
to say that nothing can account for or come up to these expressions
but only this, that God Himself will be an object to our faculties,
that He Himself will be our happiness as distinguished from the
enjoyments of the present state, which seem to arise not immediately
from Him but from the objects He has adapted to give us delight.

To conclude: Let us suppose a person tired with care and sorrow and
the repetition of vain delights which fill up the round of life;
sensible that everything here below in its best estate is altogether
vanity. Suppose him to feel that deficiency of human nature before
taken notice of, and to be convinced that God alone was the adequate
supply to it. What could be more applicable to a good man in this
state of mind, or better express his present wants and distant
hopes, his passage through this world as a progress towards a state
of perfection, than the following passages in the devotions of the
royal prophet? They are plainly in a higher and more proper sense
applicable to this than they could be to anything else. I have seen
an end of all perfection. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And
there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee. My
flesh and may heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever. Like as the hart desireth the water-
brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul is athirst
for God, yea, even for the living God: when shall I come to appear
before Him? How excellent is Thy loving-kindness, O God! and the
children of men shall put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings.
They shall be satisfied with the plenteousness of Thy house: and
Thou shalt give them drink of Thy pleasures, as out of the river.
For with Thee is the well of life: and in Thy light shall we see
light. Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest, and receivest unto
Thee: he shall dwell in Thy court, and shall be satisfied with the
pleasures of Thy house, even of Thy holy temple. Blessed is the
people, O Lord, that can rejoice in Thee: they shall walk in the
light of Thy countenance. Their delight shall be daily in Thy name,
and in Thy righteousness shall they make their boast. For Thou art
the glory of their strength: and in Thy lovingkindness they shall
be exalted. As for me, I will behold Thy presence in righteousness:
and when I awake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with
it. Thou shalt shew me the path of life; in Thy presence is the
fulness of joy, and at Thy right hand there is pleasure for


{1} 1 Cor. xii

{2} Suppose a man of learning to be writing a grave book upon HUMAN
NATURE, and to show in several parts of it that he had an insight
into the subject he was considering, amongst other things, the
following one would require to be accounted for--the appearance of
benevolence or good-will in men towards each other in the instances
of natural relation, and in others. {2a} Cautions of being deceived
with outward show, he retires within himself to see exactly what
that is in the mind of man from whence this appearance proceeds;
and, upon deep reflection, asserts the principle in the mind to be
only the love of power, and delight in the exercise of it. Would
not everybody think here was a mistake of one word for another--that
the philosopher was contemplating and accounting for some other
HUMAN ACTIONS, some other behaviour of man to man? And could any
one be thoroughly satisfied that what is commonly called benevolence
or good-will was really the affection meant, but only by being made
to understand that this learned person had a general hypothesis, to
which the appearance of good-will could no otherwise be reconciled?
That what has this appearance is often nothing but ambition; that
delight in superiority often (suppose always) mixes itself with
benevolence, only makes it more specious to call it ambition than
hunger, of the two: but in reality that passion does no more
account for the whole appearances of good-will than this appetite
does. Is there not often the appearance of one man's wishing that
good to another, which he knows himself unable to procure him; and
rejoicing in it, though bestowed by a third person? And can love of
power any way possibly come in to account for this desire or
delight? Is there not often the appearance of men's distinguishing
between two or more persons, preferring one before another, to do
good to, in cases where love of power cannot in the least account
for the distinction and preference? For this principle can no
otherwise distinguish between objects than as it is a greater
instance and exertion of power to do good to one rather than to
another. Again, suppose good-will in the mind of man to be nothing
but delight in the exercise of power: men might indeed be
restrained by distant and accidental consideration; but these
restraints being removed, they would have a disposition to, and
delight in, mischief as an exercise and proof of power: and this
disposition and delight would arise from, or be the same principle
in the mind, as a disposition to and delight in charity. Thus
cruelty, as distinct from envy and resentment, would be exactly the
same in the mind of man as good-will: that one tends to the
happiness, the other to the misery, of our fellow-creatures, is, it
seems, merely an accidental circumstance, which the mind has not the
least regard to. These are the absurdities which even men of
capacity run into when they have occasion to belie their nature, and
will perversely disclaim that image of God which was originally
stamped upon it, the traces of which, however faint, are plainly
discernible upon the mind of man.

If any person can in earnest doubt whether there be such a thing as
good-will in one man towards another (for the question is not
concerning either the degree or extensiveness of it, but concerning
the affection itself), let it be observed that WHETHER MAN BE THUS,
PARTICULAR is a mere question of fact of natural history not
provable immediately by reason. It is therefore to be judged of and
determined in the same way other facts or matters of natural history
are--by appealing to the external senses, or inward perceptions
respectively, as the matter under consideration is cognisable by one
or the other: by arguing from acknowledged facts and actions for a
great number of actions in the same kind, in different
circumstances, and respecting different objects, will prove to a
certainty what principles they do not, and to the greatest
probability what principles they do, proceed from: and, lastly, by
the testimony of mankind. Now that there is some degree of
benevolence amongst men may be as strongly and plainly proved in all
these ways, as it could possibly be proved, supposing there was this
affection in our nature. And should any one think fit to assert
that resentment in the mind of man was absolutely nothing but
reasonable concern for our own safety, the falsity of this, and what
is the real nature of that passion, could be shown in no other ways
than those in which it may be shown that there is such a thing in
SOME DEGREE as real good-will in man towards man. It is sufficient
that the seeds of it be implanted in our nature by God. There is,
it is owned, much left for us to do upon our own heart and temper;
to cultivate, to improve, to call it forth, to exercise it in a
steady, uniform manner. This is our work: this is virtue and

{2a} Hobbes, "Of Human Nature," c. ix. 7.

{3} Everybody makes a distinction between self-love and the several
particular passions, appetites, and affections; and yet they are
often confounded again. That they are totally different, will be
seen by any one who will distinguish between the passions and
appetites THEMSELVES, and ENDEAVOURING after the means of their
gratification. Consider the appetite of hunger, and the desire of
esteem: these being the occasion both of pleasure and pain, the
coolest self-love, as well as the appetites and passions themselves,
may put us upon making use of the PROPER METHODS OF OBTAINING that
pleasure, and avoiding that pain; but the FEELINGS themselves, the
pain of hunger and shame, and the delight from esteem, are no more
self-love than they are anything in the world. Though a man hated
himself, he would as much feel the pain of hunger as he would that
of the gout; and it is plainly supposable there may be creatures
with self-love in them to the highest degree, who may be quite
insensible and indifferent (as men in some cases are) to the
contempt and esteem of those upon whom their happiness does not in
some further respects depend. And as self-love and the several
particular passions and appetites are in themselves totally
different, so that some actions proceed from one and some from the
other will be manifest to any who will observe the two following
very supposable cases. One man rushes upon certain ruin for the
gratification of a present desire: nobody will call the principle
of this action self-love. Suppose another man to go through some
laborious work upon promise of a great reward, without any distinct
knowledge what the reward will be: this course of action cannot be
ascribed to any particular passion. The former of these actions is
plainly to be imputed to some particular passion or affection; the
latter as plainly to the general affection or principle of self-
love. That there are some particular pursuits or actions concerning
which we cannot determine how far they are owing to one, and how far
to the other, proceeds from this, that the two principles are
frequently mixed together, and run up into each other. This
distinction is further explained in the Eleventh Sermon.

{4} If any desire to see this distinction and comparison made in a
particular instance, the appetite and passion now mentioned may
serve for one. Hunger is to be considered as a private appetite,
because the end for which it was given us is the preservation of the
individual. Desire of esteem is a public passion; because the end
for which it was given us is to regulate our behaviour towards
society. The respect which this has to private good is as remote as
the respect that has to public good; and the appetite is no more
self-love than the passion is benevolence. The object and end of
the former is merely food; the object and end of the latter is
merely esteem; but the latter can no more be gratified without
contributing to the good of society, than the former can be
gratified without contributing to the preservation of the

{5} Emulation is merely the desire and hope of equality with or
superiority over others with whom we compare ourselves. There does
not appear to be any other GRIEF in the natural passion, but only
THAT WANT which is implied in desire. However, this may be so
strong as to be the occasion of great GRIEF. To desire the
attainment of this equality or superiority by the PARTICULAR MEANS
of others being brought down to our own level, or below it, is, I
think, the distinct notion of envy. From whence it is easy to see
that the real end, which the natural passion emulation, and which
the unlawful one envy aims at, is exactly the same; namely, that
equality or superiority: and consequently, that to do mischief is
not the end of envy, but merely the means it makes use of to attain
its end. As to resentment, see the Eighth Sermon.

{6} Ephes. ii. 3.

{7} Every man in his physical nature is one individual single
agent. He has likewise properties and principles, each of which may
be considered separately, and without regard to the respects which
they have to each other. Neither of these is the nature we are
taking a view of. But it is the inward frame of man considered as a
SYSTEM or CONSTITUTION: whose several parts are united, not by a
physical principle of individuation, but by the respects they have
to each other; the chief of which is the subjection which the
appetites, passions, and particular affections have to the one
supreme principle of reflection or conscience. The system or
constitution is formed by and consists in these respects and this
subjection. Thus the body is a SYSTEM or CONSTITUTION: so is a
tree: so is every machine. Consider all the several parts of a
tree without the natural reselects they have to each other, and you
have not at all the idea of a tree; but add these respects, and this
gives you the idea. This body may be impaired by sickness, a tree
may decay, a machine be out of order, and yet the system and
constitution of them not totally dissolved. There is plainly
somewhat which answers to all this in the moral constitution of man.
Whoever will consider his own nature will see that the several
appetites, passions, and particular affections have different
respects amongst themselves. They are restraints upon, and are in a
proportion to, each other. This proportion is just and perfect,
when all those under principles are perfectly coincident with
conscience, so far as their nature permits, and in all cases under
its absolute and entire direction. The least excess or defect, the
least alteration of the due proportions amongst themselves, or of
their coincidence with conscience, though not proceeding into
action, is some degree of disorder in the moral constitution. But
perfection, though plainly intelligible and unsupportable, was never
attained by any man. If the higher principle of reflection
maintains its place, and as much as it can corrects that disorder,
and hinders it from breaking out into action, this is all that can
be expected in such a creature as man. And though the appetites and
passions have not their exact due proportion to each other, though
they often strive for mastery with judgment or reflection, yet,
since the superiority of this principle to all others is the chief
respect which forms the constitution, so far as this superiority is
maintained, the character, the man, is good, worthy, virtuous.

{8} Chap. iii., ver. 6.

{9} Job xiii. 5.

{10} Eccles. x. 3.

{11} Prov. x. 19.

{12} Mark xii. 38, 40.

{13} There being manifestly this appearance of men's substituting
others for themselves, and being carried out and affected towards
them as towards themselves; some persons, who have a system which
excludes every affection of this sort, have taken a pleasant method
to solve it; and tell you it is NOT ANOTHER you are at all concerned
about, but your SELF ONLY, when you feel the affection called
compassion, i.e. Here is a plain matter of fact, which men cannot
reconcile with the general account they think fit to give of things:
they therefore, instead of that manifest fact, substitute ANOTHER,
which is reconcilable to their own scheme. For does not everybody
by compassion mean an affection, the object of which is another in
distress? instead of this, but designing to have it mistaken for
this, they speak of an affection or passion, the object of which is
ourselves, or danger to ourselves. Hobbes defines PITY,
FROM THE SENSE (he means sight or knowledge) OF ANOTHER MAN'S
CALAMITY. Thus fear and compassion would be the same idea, and a
fearful and a compassionate man the same character, which every one
immediately sees are totally different. Further, to those who give
any scope to their affections, there is no perception or inward
feeling more universal than this: that one who has been merciful
and compassionate throughout the course of his behaviour should
himself be treated with kindness, if he happens to fall into
circumstances of distress. Is fear, then, or cowardice, so great a
recommendation to the favour of the bulk of mankind? Or is it not
plain that mere fearlessness (and therefore not the contrary) is one
of the most popular qualifications? This shows that mankind are not
affected towards compassion as fear, but as somewhat totally

Nothing would more expose such accounts as these of the affections
which are favourable and friendly to our fellow-creatures than to
substitute the definitions, which this author, and others who follow
his steps, give of such affections, instead of the words by which
they are commonly expressed. Hobbes, after having laid down that
pity or compassion is only fear for ourselves, goes on to explain
the reason why we pity our friends in distress more than others.
Now substitute the word DEFINITION instead of the word PITY in this
place, and the inquiry will be, why we fear our friends, &c., which
words (since he really does not mean why we are afraid of them) make
no question or sentence at all. So that common language, the words
TO COMPASSIONATE, TO PITY, cannot be accommodated to his account of
compassion. The very joining of the words to PITY OUR FRIENDS is a
direct contradiction to his definition of pity: because those
words, so joined, necessarily express that our friends are the
objects of the passion; whereas his definition of it asserts that
ourselves (or danger to ourselves) are the only objects of it. He
might indeed have avoided this absurdity, by plainly saying what he
is going to account for; namely, why the sight of the innocent, or
of our friends in distress, raises greater fear for ourselves than
the sight of other persons in distress. But had he put the thing
thus plainly, the fact itself would have been doubted; that THE
place it would immediately have occurred to every one that the fact
now mentioned, which at least is doubtful whether, true or false,
was not the same with this fact, which nobody ever doubted, that THE
THAN THE SIGHT OF OTHERS IN DISTRESS: every one, I say, would have
seen that these are not the same, but TWO DIFFERENT inquiries; and,
consequently, that fear and compassion are not the same. Suppose a
person to be in real danger, and by some means or other to have
forgot it; any trifling accident, any sound might alarm him, recall
the danger to his remembrance, and renew his fear; but it is almost
too grossly ridiculous (though it is to show an absurdity) to speak
of that sound or accident as an object of compassion; and yet,
according to Mr. Hobbes, our greatest friend in distress is no more
to us, no more the object of compassion, or of any affection in our
heart: neither the one nor the other raises any emotion in one
mind, but only the thoughts of our liableness to calamity, and the
fear of it; and both equally do this. It is fit such sort of
accounts of human nature should be shown to be what they really are,
because there is raised upon them a general scheme, which undermines
the whole foundation of common justice and honesty. See Hobbes of
Human Nature, c. 9. section 10.

There are often three distinct perceptions or inward feelings upon
sight of persons in distress: real sorrow and concern for the
misery of our fellow-creatures; some degree of satisfaction from a
consciousness of our freedom from that misery; and as the mind
passes on from one thing to another it is not unnatural from such an
occasion to reflect upon our own liableness to the same or other
calamities. The two last frequently accompany the first, but it is
the first ONLY which is properly compassion, of which the distressed
are the objects, and which directly carries us with calmness and
thought to their assistance. Any one of these, from various and
complicated reasons, may in particular cases prevail over the other
two; and there are, I suppose, instances, where the bare SIGHT of
distress, without our feeling any compassion for it, may be the
occasion of either or both of the two latter perceptions. One might
add that if there be really any such thing as the fiction or
imagination of danger to ourselves from sight of the miseries of
others, which Hobbes specks of, and which he has absurdly mistaken
for the whole of compassion; if there be anything of this sort
common to mankind, distinct from the reflection of reason, it would
be a most remarkable instance of what was furthest from his
thoughts--namely, of a mutual sympathy between each particular of
the species, a fellow-feeling common to mankind. It would not
indeed be an example of our substituting others for ourselves, but
it would be an example of user substituting ourselves for others.
And as it would not be an instance of benevolence, so neither would
it be any instance of self-love: for this phantom of danger to
ourselves, naturally rising to view upon sight of the distresses of
others, would be no more an instance of love to ourselves than the
pain of hunger is.

{14} Ecclus. xxxii. 28.

{15} Ecclus. xlii. 24.

{16} Ver. 4, 5.

{17} Ver. 6.

{18} Micah vi.

{19} Chap. xxii. 12.

{20} Ver. 21.

{21} Chap. iv.

{22} Chap. xxv.

{23} Chap. xxxi.

{24} Chap. ii.

{24a} In the Cassell edition the sermons jump from sermon VII to XI
with no explanation as to where VIII, IX and X are. I've left the
numbering as is in case there is a good reason for it.--DP

{25} P. 137.

{26} Matt. v. 48.

{27} 1 Cor. xiii.

{28} For instance as we are not competent judges, what is upon the
whole for the good of the world, there MAY be other immediate ends
appointed us to pursue, besides that one of doing good or producing
happiness. Though the good of the Creation be the only end of the
Author of it, yet he may have laid us under particular obligations,
which we may discern and feel ourselves under, quite distinct from a
perception, that the observance or violation of them it for the
happiness or misery of our fellow-creatures. And this is in fart
the ease, for there are certain dispositions of mind, and certain
actions, which are in themselves approved or disapproved by mankind,
abstracted from the consideration of their tendency to the happiness
or misery of the world approved or disapproved by reflection, by
that principle within, whirls is the guile of life, the judge of
right and wrong. Numberless instances of this kind might be
mentioned. There are pieces of treachery, which in themselves
appear base and detestable to every one. There are actions, which
perhaps can scarce have any other general name given them than
indecencies, which yet are odious and shocking to human nature.
There is such a thing as meanness, a little mind, which as it is
quite distinct from incapacity, so it raises a dislike and
disapprobation quite different from that contempt, which men are too
apt to have, of mere folly. On the other hand, what we call
greatness of mind is the object of another most of approbation, than
superior understanding. Fidelity, honour, strict justice, are
themselves approved in the highest degree, abstracted from the
consideration of their tendency. Now, whether it be thought that
each of these are connected with benevolence in our nature, amid so
may he considered as the same thing with it, or whether some of them
he thought an inferior kind of virtues and vices, somewhat like
natural beauties and deformities, or lastly, plain exceptions to the
general rule, thus such however is certain, that the things now
instanced in, and numberless others, are approved or disapproved by
mankind in general, in quite another view than as conducive to the
happiness or misery of the world.

{29} St. Austin observes, Amor ipse ordinate amandus est, quo bene
amatur quod amandum sit, ut sit in nobis virtue qua vivitur bene,
i.e. The affection which we rightly have for what is lovely must
ordinate justly, in due manner end proportion, become the object of
a new affection, or be itself beloved, in order to our being endued
with that virtue which is the principle of a good life. Civ. Dei,
1. xv. c. 22.

{30} Job xxii.

{31} Job ix. 2.

{32} Eccius. xliii. 50.

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