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Friday, June 1, 2018

Butler and Grice on conversational self-love and conversational benevolence


Butler discusses two important constituents of human nature in addition to conscience and the particular passions:

self-love and benevolence.

Central to Butler’s analysis of “self-love” is his extremely influential dismissal of psychological egoism — in C. D. Broad’s words, “Butler kills the theory so thoroughly that he sometimes seems to the modern reader to be flogging dead horses” (Broad 1930, 55; but see Penelhum 1985; Henson 1988; Sober 1992).

For Butler, the kind of egoism exemplified for him by Hobbes — “the selfish theory” in eighteenth century parlance — rests on the failure to distinguish principles from passions. There is a trivial sense in which all of our passions are our own and the pleasure we have in discharging or pursuing any passion is “self” love.

But it is also uninteresting: we can’t conclude much from the fact that every passion we take pleasure in is our passion. We certainly can’t conclude that human beings are always motivated by selfishness.

That selfish theorists thought we could was due in part to their confusing the “ownership of an impulse with its object” (Broad 1930, 65)—the inference from that the passions are ours to that we are the objects of the passions. Although the passions belong to us it does not therefore follow that our “self”, or our self-gratification, is the object of the passion.
This mistake is connected to another: confusing the principle of self-love, which has the happiness of the self as its object, with particular passions and desires. Once we recognize that “the pain of hunger and shame, and the delight from esteem, are no more self-love than they are any thing in the world” (Sermon I, Note 3) — they are particular passions and desires with particular objects — we see that from the fact that we take pleasure in our passions and that they are our passions it does not follow that we are guided by selfish principles. Passions do make us happy or unhappy. But that we have an interest in being happy or unhappy is distinct from the particular passions, their objects, or the happiness arising from the passions — although it may be a reason to prefer one passion over another. This was connected to Butler’s belief that passions are not interested in themselves. They have particular ends whereas self-love is our general interest in securing our happiness.
Like Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson, Butler thought it prima facie evident that human beings had benevolent motivations, and he thought it obvious that these benevolent motivations could make us happy and be consistent with self-interest. The onus was on advocates of the selfish theory to provide a compelling case against. Butler placed more stress on the exceptions than Shaftesbury had and stressed that they are “naturally” consistent, i.e. that they are consistent in our nature and the natural course of things although the unnatural and intemperate actions of others might interfere locally (Analogy III §5; §27). He saw Hobbes’ reduction of all other-directed motivations -- such as compassion -- to selfish motivations in disguise to deny an evident matter of fact for theoretical reasons, i.e. in order to reconcile benevolence and compassion with Hobbes’ general hypothesis about human nature. But once a compassionate motivation is recast as a selfish motivation, for Hobbes as a type of fear, it conflicts with the sense of the term being explained to the point that it engenders contradiction. For example: we feel compassion strongly towards our friends. If compassion were a fear then we would fear our friends strongly, which seems to conflict with the agreed use of the word “compassion”.
Which was not to deny of course that people act from selfishness, self-partiality, and confused self-interest. Selfishness and self-partiality often mix with benevolent motivations to give rise to benevolent and even compassionate actions (Sermon V Note 1). Unlike Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, Butler stressed that human beings often act from mixed and opaque motives (as will be discussed in Section 6). But the existence of mixed motivations presumes non-interested motivations with which selfishness is mixed, not the reducibility of all motivations to selfishness or self-partiality. This also has the virtue of being a simpler explanation than the more complicated selfish motivations offered by Hobbes’ theory.
According to Butler, once clarified self-love is properly understood as “regard to our own Interest, Happiness, and private Good” (Sermon IX §8). Butler further suggests that self-love can be pursued better and worse, and that it is best reflected on via reason in a cool and impartial way. By “cool” Butler understood “impartial” in the sense of not being swayed away from the truth by particular loves and hates or by self-partiality. And by “reason” Butler understood the faculty of discerning truth (Sermon XIII §5). Self-love worked best and our interest was best served when we impartially seek what is truly in our interest. When understood in this way it can clearly suggest actions that conflict with selfishness. Conversely resolute selfishness and self-partiality are not the best course for self-love. To satisfy a particular desire may or may not make us happy in either the short or long-term and may not educe to our private good. And although satisfying a desire may make us happy, and all of our happiness may be the result of particular passions, no particular passion has happiness in general as its object.
Conversely we might fruitlessly seek our interest but have no particular object in mind. Or we might obsess over our interest to such a degree that we would continually be exercising the principle of self-love but not actually satisfying our particular passions and consequently not be happy. “Happiness consists in the Gratification of certain Affections, Appetites, Passions, with Objects which are by Nature adapted to them,” (Sermon IX §16). Self-love is a principle governing actions leading to the satisfaction or avoidance of the particular passions. Both self-love and the particular passions are necessary for the proper natural functioning of human beings.
Once self-love is distinguished from selfishness, self-partiality and the particular passions it becomes clearer that the conflict between self-love and benevolence is mostly an illusion when considered in the long term. Particular passions like compassion are perfectly consistent with self-love, indeed Butler held that to take pleasure in benevolent and virtuous acts and view them as part of one’s happiness is “itself the Temper of Satisfaction and Enjoyment.” In the Analogy, Butler provided further arguments that the natural tendency of virtue was the reward of happiness, and the natural punishment for vice, misery. We often fail to see this natural tendency because we focus on accidents or a limited range of examples to the detriment of the consistent long-term tendencies. Butler suggested a thought experiment of a monarchy run on virtuous principles (AnalogyIII §20) and argued that it would tend to be happier and more powerful than other regimes if allowed to flourish, eventually becoming a universal monarchy. The natural tendency of happiness, power, and virtue all coincide in its flourishing, growth, and moral governance. And happiness as coupled to virtue in this life points to happiness as the consistent reward for virtue in the next when accidents do not threaten to derail the natural tendency.
Which is not to suggest that conscience, virtue, and self-love are identical, although Butler connected them very deeply (Frey 1992 and n.p.). Although virtue tends to coincide with interest it tends to coincide because a virtuous life is a life with the right balance of benevolent passions and dispositions to make one happy and a life which responds to the unchanging and immediate moral authority of conscience -- although they are approved of and motivated by self-love as well.
Butler uses benevolence mainly to refer to a particular passion or a cluster of passions (McNaughton 1992), although sometimes he also refers to it and cognate terms (“love of thy neighbor”) as principles that might have particular passions as their objects. There is still a fair amount of scholarly disagreement as to which sense is more central in Butler’s arguments (nicely summarized in Irwin 2008). Benevolence as a particular passion, like ambition or revenge, is never interested or disinterested in and of itself. It is only interested or disinterested in so far as it is guided by or in accordance with our self-love. Acting in a benevolent manner might make us happy. Indeed it seems to be the case that benevolent actions and affections often do make people happy. And we might initially decide to gratify the passions of benevolence from self-love. But the passions themselves have no more or less connection to interest than any other passion does.
Not being made happy by benevolent actions would point to a defect of temper or a lack of balance in one’s nature if the result was diminished happiness and going against the dictates of conscience. As noted, for both Butler and Shaftesbury, self-love and virtue converge when properly understood. But importantly according to Butler, Shaftesbury erred in not recognizing that they could conflict in particular cases, and if they did conflict the distinctive authority of conscience would trump our apparent prudential motivations. This did not mean that our general interest conflicted with conscience, but rather that local prudential information could give reasons for particular reasons for action that conflicted with conscience.
There is also some (more contested) evidence that Butler thought of benevolence as a ruling principle (Rorty 1978). Butler referred to the general principle of charity or “love of our neighbor as thyself” as a virtuous principle or as the reason-guided endeavor to promote the happiness of proximate others to the same degree that one attempts to promote one’s own good (although he also identified “love of neighbor” with the particular passion of compassion). This was a regulating principle of action, perhaps distinct from benevolent passions. Butler suggested in Sermon IX that we have a fundamental obligation to the happiness of sensible creatures other than ourselves insofar as they are capable of pleasure and pain, an obligation that can only be ignored in order to bring about greater happiness (to be further discussed in Section 6). Although this appears to be a fundamental moral obligation to maximize welfare a few years later Butler strongly criticized theories on which the overall happiness is what makes an action good or evil and argued that our conscience holds actions to be morally good or bad independent of the expected or actual consequences for happiness (“Dissertation”, §5). Most of the secondary literature takes Butler to generally be an anti-utilitarian (but see Louden 1995 and in a different way see Frey), but there is disagreement as to whether Butler held a consistent position or changed his mind (see McPherson 1948–9). Some even argue that he might be able to embrace a form of consequentialism (see McNaughton 2017).
Finally, Butler claimed that benevolence is the whole of virtue in Sermon XII, although he qualified the claim later in Sermon XII and qualified it even more strongly in the “Dissertation on Virtue”. Butler did not mean that to act benevolently in each and every action was the entirety of virtue, for example as we shall see in the next section moral resentment was an appropriate attitude for a virtuous agent. Rather he meant that to act according to and to be motivated by the principle of loving one’s neighbor generally leads to virtuous and morally approved actions. Although self-partiality tends in the opposite direction, benevolence offsets this tendency and brings benevolent and self-partial affections in proper proportion. Conversely self-partiality brings benevolence in line with self-love such that it balances properly in our nature.
According to Butler when we approve of virtue in an agent this gives rise to benevolence towards the agent. The ultimate object of this love of benevolent moral agents is our love of God, the most benevolent agent. In stressing the continuity between love of neighbor and love of God, Butler also stressed the continuity between our approval of moral agents and natural theology. Finally, to have a character such that benevolent actions make one happy is normally to have a character that encompasses all of the virtues.

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