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“KEEPING THE HEART”: NATURAL AFFECTION IN JOSEPH BUTLER'S APPROACH TO VIRTUE

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Abstract:

ABSTRACT

This essay considers eighteenth-century Anglican thinker Joseph Butler's view of the role of natural emotions in moral reasoning and action. Emotions such as compassion and resentment are shown to play a positive role in the moral life by motivating action and by directing agents toward certain good objects—for example, relief of misery and justice. For Butler, moral virtue is present when these natural affections are kept in proper proportion by the “superior” principles of the moral life—conscience, self-love, and benevolence—which involve the capacity for reasonable reflection. For contemporary thinkers, Butler's approach suggests that natural emotion should not be viewed as the enemy of moral reasoning; in fact, it challenges ethicists to pay attention to and account for the significant role of the emotions in the moral life.

Keywords: Joseph Butler; benevolence; conscience; emotion; reason; self-love; virtue

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9795.2009.00404.x

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy and ReligionThe University of MississippiP.O. Box 1848University, MS 38677-1848662.701.8134, Email: smoses@olemiss.edu

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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