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Character and Morality in Eighteenth-Century British Thought

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Chapter Summary

For the Victorians, casting an eye back on the previous century was like visiting a menagerie of animals from Aesop's Fables. Cautionary tales abounded, but heroes were not absent nor were the standards for heroism. This chapter looks at four men who bequeathed to the Victorians the conviction that everyone must deny their animal appetites and submit patiently and humbly to the spiritual and temporal work of the world: Wesley (1703-91), Johnson (1709-74), and the clergymen-philosophers Joseph Butler (1692-1752) and William Paley (1743-1805). Butler and Paley carried out their clerical duties with care and efficiency at a time of notorious corruption within the Church of England. They saw literary and philosophical work as part of their disinterested service. Butler stressed that "Religion is a practical thing". His moral philosophy sought to place us on "that course of life which we call virtue" as a means to qualify us for heaven.

Keywords: Johnson; Joseph Butler; moral philosophy; virtue; Wesley; William Paley



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