Roger Scruton, “Nothing Buttery,” and a Goal of Philosophy

There is a helpful section in the late Roger Scruton which accords well with one of the main goals of my writings here on this blog. I want to share it with you and briefly comment on it. The section is in Scruton’s book The Soul of the World where he argues, among other things, for the value of maintaining the sacred in public life. This particular section is from his chapter Looking for People where he discusses the nature of the human person, meaning, and science. Here is the quote:

“It is helpful at this point to register a protest against what Mary Midgley calls ‘nothing buttery.’ There is a widespread habit of declaring emergent realities to be ‘nothing but’ the things in which we perceive them. The human person is ‘nothing but’ the human animal; law is ‘nothing but’ relations of social power; sexual love is ‘nothing but’ the urge to procreation; altruism is ‘nothing but’ the dominant genetic strategy described by Maynard Smith; the Mona Lisa is ‘nothing but’ a spread of pigments on a canvas, the Ninth Symphony is ‘nothing but’ a sequence of pitched sounds of varying timbre. And so on. Getting rid of this habit is, to my mind, the true goal of philosophy” (Pg. 40, Italics mine).

Often in the blog and podcasts, I have referred to what I call “Dogmatism” which is external, formalized, doctrinal “nothing buttery.” In part, Dogmatism is used to close the mind to deeper possibilities for the sake of control. I have also referred to John Frame’s Philosophy which I think is a helpful antidote to the vain, non-philosophical habit of “nothing buttery.”

Truthfully, I think working toward an understanding of the complexity of reality is necessary for understanding ourselves as humans and our consequent ethics – what we are and how we should live. The only aspect of this quote I disagree with is the limitation Dr. Scruton put on Philosophy. Getting rid of the habit of “nothing buttery” is a true goal of philosophy, not the true goal. There is more to her than we can encapsulate in a sentence. Nonetheless, I feel a pull on the soul when I read the quote.  Inside I say “yes!”

Blessings to you,


(1) John Frame. Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance. P&R Publishing, 2017.

(2) Roger Scruton. The Soul of the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

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