Butler's Stone

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99 (4): 891–909 (2018)
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Early in the eleventh of his Fifteen Sermons, Joseph Butler advances his best-known argument against psychological hedonism. Elliott Sober calls that argument Butler’s stone, and famously objects to it. I consider whether Butler’s stone has philosophical value. In doing so I examine, and reject, two possible ways of overcoming Sober’s objection, each of which has proponents. In examining the first way I discuss Lord Kames’s version of the stone argument, which has hitherto escaped scholarly attention. Finally, I show that Butler’s stone does something important, which I have not found previously discussed. Butler’s stone blocks an inference, persuasive to many people, which purports to show that we intrinsically desire only pleasure.

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John J. Tilley
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis


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