Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy


Robert Cavalier

Philosophy Department
Carnegie Mellon

Part I History of Ethics

Preface: The Life of Socrates
Section 1: Greek Moral Philosophy
Section 2: Hellenistic and Roman Ethics
Section 3: Early Christian Ethics
Section 4: Modern Moral Philosophy
Section 5: 20th Century Analytic Moral Philosophy

Part II Concepts and Problems

Preface: Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics
Section 1: Ethical Relativism
Section 2: Ethical Egoism
Section 3: Utilitarian Theories
Section 4: Deontological Theories
Section 5: Virtue Ethics
Section 6: Liberal Rights and Communitarian Theories
Section 7: Ethics of Care
Section 8: Case-based Moral Reasoning
Section 9: Moral Pluralism

Part III Applied Ethics

Preface: The Field of Applied Ethics
Section 1: The Topic of Euthanasia
Multimedia Module: A Right to Die? The Dax Cowart Case
Section 2: The Topic of Abortion
Multimedia Module: The Issue of Abortion in America
Postscript: Conflict Resolution

Search this site:






Excerpts from R.G. Frey's entry on Joseph Butler (1692-1752) in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (General Ed. Edward Craig)


Critique of Psychological Egoism

Joseph Butler the moral philosopher is in that long line of eighteenth-century thinkers who sought to answer Thomas Hobbes on human nature and moral motivation. Following the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, he rejects any purely egoistic conception of these. Instead, he analyses human nature into parts, of which he notices in detail appetites, affections, and passions on the one hand and the principles of self-love, benevolence and conscience on the other. His ethics consists in the main in showing the relation of these parts to each other.... .........

...Self-love is a general desire for one?s happiness, and it is ?inseparable? from any creature ?who can reflect upon themselves and their own interest or happiness, so as to have that interest an object to their minds? (Sermons, XI: 3). It is thus, unlike passion, a reflective or rational principle. As such, it provides us a measure of control and regulation of the passions, in which task it is assisted by conscience, and it is a calculative principle, ranging over the likely consequences of acts to determine which are likely to be in our (long-term) interest. Butler?s emphasis is always on restraining the passions, else they usurp the authority of self-love and conscience and so motivate us at the expense of our interest and judgment. Significantly, too, whereas the passions are occurrent - particular desires for this or that thing - self-love is an abiding, general desire for our own happiness.

******* The refutation of psychological egoism ... psychological hedonism is the view that each of us pursues exclusively our own pleasure. Were this view true, all of our desires would have the same object, pleasure, and this is plainly false. As a doctor who desires to cure my patient, I do not desire pleasure; I desire that my patient be made better. In other words, as a doctor, not all my particular desires have as their object some facet of myself; my desire for the well-being of my patient does not aim at alteration in myself but in another. My desire is other-regarding; its object is external to myself.

Of course, pleasure may arise from my satisfied desire in such cases, though equally it may not; but my desire is not aimed at my own pleasure. The same is true of happiness or interest: my satisfied desire may make me happy or further my interest, but these are not the objects of my desire. Here, Butler simply notices that desires have possessors - those whose desires they are - and if satisfied desires produce happiness, their possessors experience it. The object of a desire can thus be distinguished from the possessor of the desire: if, as a doctor, my desire is satisfied, I may be made happy as a result; but neither happiness nor any other state of myself is the object of my desire. That object is other-regarding, my patient?s well-being. Without some more sophisticated account, psychological egoism is false. ******* See Butler, J. (1726) Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel, London.(One of the classics of British moral philosophy.)




Copyright: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London: Routledge
Top of page
Copyright 2002 (first published 1/96)

caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80130/