3. Henry Sidgwick
Henry Sidgwick's (1838-1900) The Methods of Ethics (1874) is one of the most well known works in utilitarian moral philosophy, and deservedly so. It offers a defense of utilitarianism, though some writers (Schneewind 1977) have argued that it should not primarily be read as a defense of utilitarianism. In The Methods Sidgwick is concerned with developing an account of “…the different methods of Ethics that I find implicit in our common moral reasoning…” These methods are egoism, intuition based morality, and utilitarianism. On Sidgwick's view, utilitarianism is the more basic theory. A simple reliance on intuition, for example, cannot resolve fundamental conflicts between values, or rules, such as Truth and Justice that may conflict. In Sidgwick's words “…we require some higher principle to decide the issue…” That will be utilitarianism. Further, the rules which seem to be a fundamental part of common sense morality are often vague and underdescribed, and applying them will actually require appeal to something theoretically more basic — again, utilitarianism. Yet further, absolute interpretations of rules seem highly counter-intuitive, and yet we need some justification for any exceptions — provided, again, by utilitarianism. Sidgwick provides a compelling case for the theoretical primacy of utilitarianism. Sidgwick was also a British philosopher, and his views developed out of and in response to those of Bentham and Mill. HisMethods offer an engagement with the theory as it had been presented before him, and was an exploration of it and the main alternatives as well as a defense. Sidgwick was also concerned with clarifying fundamental features of the theory, and in this respect his account has been enormously influential to later writers, not only to utilitarians and consequentialists, generally, but to intuitionists as well. Sidgwick's thorough and penetrating discussion of the theory raised many of the concerns that have been developed by...
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