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Sidgwick, Henry (1838–1900)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC073-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

Henry Sidgwick was a Cambridge philosopher, parapsychologist, political economist, and educational reformer, whose works in ethical and political philosophy, especially The Methods of Ethics (1874), brought classical utilitarianism to its peak of theoretical sophistication and drew out the deep conflicts within that tradition, perhaps within the age of British imperialism itself. Sidgwick was profoundly influenced by J.S. Mill, but his version of utilitarianism – the view that those social or individual actions are right that maximise aggregate happiness – also revived certain Benthamite doctrines, though with more cogent accounts of the ultimate good as pleasure, of total versus average utility, and of the analytical or deductive method. Yet Sidgwick was a cognitivist in ethics who sought both to ground utilitarianism on fundamental intuitions and to encompass within it the principles of common-sense morality (truthfulness, fidelity, justice, etc.); his highly eclectic practical philosophy assimilated much of the rationalism, social conservatism, and historical method of rival views, reflecting such influences as Butler, Clarke, Plato, Aristotle, Seeley, Green, Whewell, and Kant. Ultimately, Sidgwick’s careful academic inquiries failed to demonstrate that one ought always to promote the happiness of all rather than one’s own happiness, and this dualism of practical reason, along with his doubts about the viability of religion, led him to view his results as largely destructive and potentially deleterious in their influence.

Citing this article:
Schultz, Bart. Sidgwick, Henry (1838–1900), 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC073-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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