Probability is the Very Guide of Life

Bishop Butler’s quote “Probability is the Very Guide of Life” (Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (Charlottesville: Ibis, n.d.), is one that I invoke from time to time in the most unlikeliest of contexts. (The other Butler quote I invoke from time to time in “identity talk” is “Everything is what it is, and not another thing.” Fifteen Sermons, Preface § 39). I confess that I haven’t read much Butler but if, like me, you appreciate a subtle mind, David E. White provides the best overview of the Bishop’s life and work.

Butler expressed distaste for Oxford’s intellectual conventions while a student at Oriel College; he preferred the newer styles of thought, especially those of John Locke, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson, leading David Hume to characterize Butler as one of those “who have begun to put the science of man on a new footing, and have engaged the attention, and excited the curiosity of the public. — David White

Butler, a respected clergyman and philosopher himself, influenced some of the greatest English-speaking thinkers of his time, including David Hume, Thomas Reid, and Adam Smith. The Analogy of Religion is a work of apologetics, directed at a deist audience. Butler hopes to convince the many deist scholars and public figures of his day that returning to Christian orthodoxy is indeed rational. As he proceeds, he provides more and more evidence for orthodoxy over deism, arguing that a personal rather than a detached God is more likely to exist. Butler did not seek to embellish his language with flowery phrases, and his prose is very straightforward. — Christian Classics Ethereal Library