Sidgwick, Henry

Sidgwick C.A.J.Coady Unlike John Stuart Mill or Jeremy Bentham, Henry Sidgwick’s is hardly a household name in intellectual circles beyond the world of professional philosophy. His standing amongst many contemporary moral philosophers as possibly the greatest nineteenthcentury writer on ethics would come as a shock to such householders, as would C.D. Broad’s estimate of his book The Methods of Ethics as ‘one of the English philosophical classics’ and ‘on the whole the best treatise on moral theory that has ever been written’ ([5.15], 143). This high reputation could indeed be disputed, but it is not at all idiosyncratic. It is a reputation that has grown since his own time, and is probably at its peak today, but Sidgwick’s intellectual power impressed many of his contemporaries, and immediate successors, as well. ‘Pure, white light’ was one description offered of his intellectual presence ([5.13], 181), and the adjective ‘pure’ tells as much about the moral intensity with which he applied his mind to the problems that exercised him as the word ‘light’ testifies to the clarifying power of his intelligence. Sidgwick was a typical Victorian in many respects, and, in fact, his life paralleled that of the woman to whom the era owed its name. He was born in the north of England at Skipton on 31 May 1838, less than twelve months after Queen Victoria assumed the throne and he died on 28 August 1900, preceding his monarch by about six months. He was the son of an Anglican clergyman who was the principal of a grammar school in Skipton. His father died when he was three, and a strong influence upon his early life was his second cousin, E.W. Benson, a man who was later to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Benson lived with the Sidgwick family for some years, and eventually (in 1859) married Sidgwick’s sister. Benson persuaded Sidgwick’s mother to send the boy to Rugby school (where he was himself to be, shortly afterwards, a master) even though Sidgwick’s father had been against a public school education for his children. Benson argued that the public schools, and especially Rugby, under the influence of Arnold, no longer had the poor ‘moral tone’ that Sidgwick senior had feared. Henry Sidgwick later recalled that Benson was ‘a great believer in the close and minute study of language that was in his time specially characteristic of Cambridge scholarship’ ([5.12], 149) and it is plausible to see this influence at work in Sidgwick’s later philosophical writings, though the close attention is not only to language but to the detail of concept and theory. Benson’s influence waned after Sidgwick went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in October, 1855. For the first half of his under-graduate career, Sidgwick ‘had no other ideal than to be a scholar as like him as possible’, but other influences then brought him to doubt many of the moral and, especially, religious certainties that sustained his cousin. These influences included at the global level the writings of Mill, Comte, Spencer, Strauss, Renan, Matthew Arnold, George Eliot and Darwin, and more locally the intense debates that went on amongst the clever young men in the society known as ‘the Apostles’, which he joined in his second year. Sidgwick described his joining the Apostles as having ‘more effect on my intellectual life than any one thing that happened to me afterwards’. He described the spirit of the group as that of ‘the pursuit of truth with absolute devotion and unreserve by a group of intimate friends’ ([5.30], 134). THE RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND Victorian England has been faulted for many things, but moral frivolity is not one of them. In spite of a good deal of hypocrisy about public manners, it was an age that was, in one way or another, obsessed with morality. The leading intellects of the time were particularly concerned with the nature and role of morality in a world in which religion had become problematical. For continental thinkers, like Nietzsche, the crisis in Christianity meant a crisis in morality, but for so many English (indeed British) intellectuals, religious doubts seemed an occasion for consolidating morality, for making it more, not less, firm and central to life. There is a reported comment of George Eliot that puts the matter succinctly. Asked how morality could subsist in the absence of religious faith, she replied that God was ‘inconceivable’, immortality was ‘unbelievable’, but duty none the less remained ‘peremptory and absolute’ ([5.20], 21). In many ways, Sidgwick’s philosophical career could be seen as devoted to the securing of this central position for morality by providing it with the requisite intellectual foundations, which he believed to be available within the intellectual tradition of utilitarianism. Certainly he was concerned to maintain the ‘peremptory’ or demanding power of moral claims over our reasoning on practical matters though he may well have been uncomfortable with Eliot’s reference to absolute duty. Under the influence of John Stuart Mill, and Mill’s interpretation of Comte, he saw this project as part of a scientific endeavour to bring about a comprehensive reform of social life. He understood that he had set himself no easy task and the personal and intellectual honesty that were amongst his most notable attributes would not allow him to disguise this fact from himself or his readers. As we shall see, this strong and confident commitment to honesty and to reason had certain ironic and sad consequences for his final philosophical conclusions. It also created a personal crisis with regard to his Fellowship at Trinity which he felt obliged to resign in 1869, after ten years as a Fellow, because it required a subscription to the 39 Articles of the Church of England, and to these he could no longer in honesty commit himself. This did not prove vocationally disastrous because the College then appointed him to a position that did not require subscription and when the law about subscription was eventually changed he was reappointed a Fellow. Sidgwick’s honesty, conjoined with his commitment to an ideal of ‘strict scientific impartiality’ ([5.12], 250), led him not only to a persistent scrutiny of his own religious views and those prevailing in the community but to certain general doubts about Christianity that, whilst being characteristic of the time in many respects, were also distinctively his own. These in turn enlivened his interest in the relation of religion and morality and in the need to establish what would now be called ‘the autonomy of ethics’, but they also led him to suspect easy attempts to disentangle morals and religion, and to an uncomfortable resolution of the original problem. It would be a mistake to think of Sidgwick as dismissive of the moral and cognitive claims of Christianity or religion, in the fashion of twentieth-century logical positivists, for example, or in the casual fashion of some of his contemporaries. He was persistently interested in a scientific approach to theology, an interest that extended to the vigorous promotion of the work of the Society for Psychical Research, of which he was the first President. He was also as critical of the confident excesses of those who shared his ‘scientific’ ideal as he was of more conservative thinkers. This can be seen in his comment on rereading Comte and Spencer: ‘Have been reading Comte and Spencer, with all my old admiration for their intellectual force and industry and more than my old amazement at their fatuous self-confidence. It does not seem to me that either of them knows what self-criticism means’ ([5.30], 421). Sidgwick could not share this selfconfidence, partly because of his highly developed critical sense, and partly because of his sense of the deep complexity, even mysteriousness, of the world we live in. In this connection, he quotes Bagehot approvingly: ‘Undeniably, this is an odd world, whether it should have been so or no; and all our speculations upon it should begin with some admission of its strangeness and singularity’ ([5.30], 395). Sidgwick never lost his sense of the central importance of religion in human life though he found it difficult to give an account of what that importance amounted to and what its intellectual credentials could be. The gap he detected between the demands of ‘scientific’ reason and the requirements of faith made him at times sympathetic to the claims of Roman Catholicism. His early mentor, Benson, had struggled against an attraction to Rome and the figure of Cardinal Newman apparently aroused ‘a mixture of alarm and fascination’ in Benson ([5.21], 3). Sidgwick’s correspondence with Cardinal Newman’s nephew, J.R. Mozley, is instructive on this and on his complex, and somewhat convoluted, attitude to Christianity and theism. Written in January 1891, the letters express an admiration for Newman’s individuality of thought and expression and the fusion of both, but show a certain distaste for Newman’s mode of reasoning which Sidgwick thinks to be somewhat ‘feminine, in the old traditional sense’. Sidgwick seems to mean that Newman’s ‘conclusions have always been primarily influenced by his emotions, and only secondarily by the workings of his subtle and ingenious intellect’ ([5.30], 507). Leaving aside this dubious, if hoarily traditional, account of feminine thinking, we may note the way that Sidgwick here makes a sharp separation of reason and emotion, and goes on, in a subsequent letter, to attach the value of religion and specifically Christianity to its emotional appeal, particularly its appeal to a certain attitude of optimism that he regards as ‘an indispensable creed—not for every one, but for progressive humanity as a whole’. He thinks that no form of optimism has an adequate rational basis, and so cannot himself endorse it since he ‘has taken service with Reason’ ([5.30], 508). It is tempting to see in Sidgwick’s attitude to religion and Christianity another sign of the tension between reason and utility that emerges in his writings on ethics. This is particularly striking in his discussion of the relations between common-sense morality and utilitarianism and in what I discuss below as ‘Sidgwick’s paradox’. Just as it may be for the best from the point of view of rational utility that the majority continue to practise ordinary morality as if it were self-sufficiently justified and be kept ignorant of the truth of utilitarianism, so it may be practically desirable that ordinary mortals should adhere to religion without the disturbance of knowing their commitments to be irrational. But more of this later. PERSONAL CHARACTER AND VIEW OF PHILOSOPHY Sidgwick was not a man for disciples. Indeed there was a striking contrast between attendances at his Cambridge lectures and those of his Oxford counterpart, the idealist liberal philosopher T.H.Green, which is not altogether explained by the considerable differences between the place of philosophy in the curricula of the two universities. The economist Alfred Marshall had clashed with Sidgwick in 1884 over what seemed to him the latter’s ‘mania for over-regulation’ and had then written Sidgwick a letter claiming that Sidgwick’s career had been spoiled by involvement in administration and his devotion to teaching ‘a wretched handful of undergraduates’ what they needed to know for the Moral Sciences Tripos exams. He compared Sidgwick’s intellectual impact unfavourably with T.H.Green’s at Oxford: where Sidgwick’s classes were attended by a handful of undergraduates taking down what they regarded as useful for examinations, Green’s were attended by ‘a hundred men—half of them B.A.’s—ignoring examinations, …to hang on the lips of the man who was sincerely anxious to teach them the truth about the universe and human life’ ([5.30], 394). Characteristically, Sidgwick was not offended, but took the opportunity to reflect on what he thought accurate in the criticisms. His reflections help us to locate his view of philosophy and of the intellectual life against some prevailing fashions, and to see where they compare with twentieth-century developments. Sidgwick did not envy Green his audiences because he thought them purchased at a price he was not prepared to pay, namely, the presentation of ‘incomplete solutions of the universe…as complete and satisfying’ ([5.30], 395).1 His intellectual temperament was inclined to the admission of uncertainty and the patient dissection of problems; he was ill at ease with declamation and heady simplifications. This makes his work congenial to certain strands in modern analytical philosophy, as does his thoroughgoing professionalism, and his emphatic, though qualified, respect for common sense. These things set him apart from those of his contemporaries (like Green) who were enamoured of Hegel. It is interesting that T.H. Green’s moral philosophy is today virtually unread, while Sidgwick is probably more influential than ever. It should not be assumed, however, that Sidgwick thought of philosophy as a purely piecemeal activity, as a set of skills with no particular output other than the therapeutic (‘showing the fly the way out of the fly-bottle’ in Wittgenstein’s phrase). He viewed philosophy as an attempt at systematic understanding of the world, though he was conscious of the inconclusiveness of many of its achievements, and aware that one of its persistent virtues was the turning of elusive philosophical material into more manageable scientific problems. He would have recognised the truth in J.L.Austin’s picture of philosophy as a ‘seminal and tumultuous’ central sun from time to time throwing off some portion of itself to ‘take station as a science, a planet, cool and well regulated, progressing steadily towards a distant final state’ ([5.11], 180), though Austin’s image tends to obscure the facts that there are great differences between the planetary sciences with respect to ‘cool and well regulated’ progress, and, more importantly, that there remain hot and turbulent philosophical aspects to even the most ‘well regulated’ of them. Sidgwick’s view of philosophy is spelled out in his posthumously published lectures called Philosophy: its Scope and Relations. In this book he tries to distinguish philosophy from other disciplines especially the physical sciences, history and sociology. This he attempts to do partly by insisting on the role of philosophy as providing a systematic overview of reality, drawing upon and interpreting the insights of the particular sciences. It is only by aiming at this traditional goal, he thinks, that philosophy can fulfil its ‘germinal function’ of creating new sciences. He is also critical of certain developments within the special sciences, some of which are as common (and as dubious) today as they were in Sidgwick’s day. His criticisms of the sceptical tendencies of some historical and sociological writings, for instance, illustrate some of the ways in which the special sciences can harbour philosophical confusions. Sidgwick emphasizes the ‘contradictory state of mind’ of the theorist whose most ‘fundamental beliefs in ethics, politics, theology, philosophy…drop from him’ in the face of acquired historical or prehistorical beliefs to which ‘he clings with a passionate conviction which is in singular contrast to the slenderness of the evidence that it is possible to adduce in their support’ ([5.8], 166). In the course of the book, he also makes certain important distinctions, which we cannot here pursue fully, within philosophy itself. The most original and interesting claims made by Sidgwick concern the distinction within philosophy between metaphysics and nonmetaphysical philosophy. This distinction is not intended as a total rejection, or even a disparagement of metaphysics. He explicitly rejects the idea put forward by ‘transcendentalists’ that metaphysical speculations such as those about whether the world had a beginning in time are merely ‘futile’ (or in the later jargon of the logical positivists, ‘meaningless’) though he agrees that they are distinctive in being beyond empirical verification. He thinks it obvious that such claims must be treated ‘realistically’ (as we would now say) since they are palpably true or false whether we can determine the matter or not. On the other hand, it is clear that he thinks some metaphysical claims less defensible than others, and his tone is typical of the commonsensical and analytical tradition of British philosophy, as, for instance, in his comments on Hegel’s philosophical account of the tides. Here is Hegel as cited by Sidgwick: ‘the moon is the waterless crystal which seeks to complete itself by means of our sea, to quench the thirst of its arid rigidity, and therefore produces ebb and flow’ ([5.8], 89). Here is Sidgwick’s comment: ‘Now I do not propose to discuss the truth of this remarkable contribution to the theory of tides. What I wish to point out is that it appears to be clearly incapable of empirical verification, direct or indirect. The alleged effort of the moon to complete itself and quench its thirst has no connection whatever with any part of the system of laws by which physical science explains the empirical facts of terrestrial and celestial motions’ ([5.8], 89). The interest of this passage lies not only in its anticipation of later analytical, pragmatist and logical positivist attitudes to the windy nonsensicalities of Hegelian metaphysics, but in its ironic dryness of tone. Compare William James, writing in 1908, in more direct terms: But if Hegel’s central thought is easy to catch, his abominable habits of speech make his applications of it to details exceedingly difficult to follow. His passion for the slipshod in the way of sentences, his unprincipled playing fast and loose with terms; his dreadful vocabulary, calling what completes a thing its ‘negation’, for example; his systematic refusal to let you know whether he is talking logic or physics or psychology, his whole deliberately adopted policy of ambiguity or vagueness, in short: all these things make his present-day readers wish to tear their hair—or his—out in desperation. Like Byron’s corsair, he has left a name ‘to other times, linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes’. ([5.22], 513). Sidgwick would probably have applauded the sentiments, though he could never have brought himself to use so abusive a tone. Sidgwick wrote extensively in a variety of fields from metaphysics to political economy, and I shall later look briefly at some of these other areas. His historical perspective, learning and broad intellectual sympathies are evident in his Outlines of the History of Ethics for English Readers. This began life as a long entry on ‘Ethics’ for the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and was produced as a book in 1886. In spite of its modest title and relatively modest length, it is an absorbing piece of philosophical and intellectual history, and throws light upon Sidgwick’s own work in moral philosophy. None the less, it is in ethics itself that his claim to fame securely rests, so we must turn to his masterwork, The Methods of Ethics, first published in 1874 and revised extensively throughout six editions. As is customary, I shall treat the final, and posthumous, seventh edition (which is basic-ally the sixth with a few minor editorial amendments) as definitive of his outlook, though there is much in the earlier editions that is instructive for a fully balanced view of the work. The basic aim of the book is the examination of three distinctive methods of approaching ethics—the intuitional, the utilitarian and the egoistic. Sidgwick professes not to be advancing an argument for the best method, but it is apparent that he regards both utilitarianism and egoism as more suited to the task of providing a rational or scientific basis for morality than any traditional form of intuitionism, though, as we shall see, his version of utilitarianism itself contains a strong intuitional dose. COMMON SENSE, UTILITY, AND INTUITION It is impossible here to summarize further or comment closely upon so large and dense a work, so I shall instead examine in some detail three central philosophical claims of Sidgwick’s that are prominent in it. I have chosen them because they are distinctive of his outlook, arise from the intellectual debate of the time and yet remain important for contemporary moral philosophy. All three involve deep tensions, even conflicts, in moral theorizing, two of which Sidgwick thought he had solved but one of which he confessed himself defeated by. The first concerns the relation between utilitarianism and intuitionism; the second concerns what has been called the publicity principle; and the third concerns the clash between the demands of self-interest and morality. Sidgwick was a convinced utilitarian but he was not a particularly reformist, and certainly not an iconoclastic, utilitarian. He was inclined to see utilitarianism not as vanquishing other outlooks but as accommodating and explaining what was best in them. Up to a point, he is a strong defender of common sense, and part of the project in The Methods of Ethics is to reconcile utilitarianism with what he called common-sense morality. This latter he defined as ‘a collection of [such] general rules, as to the validity of which there would be apparent agreement at least among moral persons of our own age and civilisation, and which would cover with approximate completeness the whole of human conduct’. Imposed as a code by the public opinion of a particular community, this would count as that community’s positive morality, but ‘when regarded as a body of moral truth, warranted to be such by the consensus of mankind,—or at least of that portion of mankind which combines adequate intellectual enlightenment with a serious concern for morality—it is more significantly termed the morality of Common Sense’ ([5.5], 215). Sidgwick was impressed with the broad adequacy of common-sense morality, though he thought that from an ideal point of view there were certain significant imperfections in it. None the less, he thought that when we reflected on the demands of common-sense morality we would see that various inconsistencies and contradictions within it were eliminable by recourse to the principle of utility whilst, at the same time, the principle made the appeal of the common-sense requirements intelligible and rationally defensible. As he says in the Preface to the sixth edition of The Methods of Ethics, ‘the reflection on Common Sense Morality which I had gone through, had continually brought home to me its character as a system of rules tending to the promotion of general happiness’ ([5.5], xx). Consequently, he asserts that ‘The utilitarian must repudiate altogether that temper of rebellion against the established morality, as something purely external and conventional, into which the reflective mind is always apt to fall when it is first convinced that the established rules are not intrinsically reasonable’ ([5.5], 475). He sees much of what he is doing in his writings on ethics as rescuing morality from the charge of irrationality. In this and other of his convictions he is a typical Victorian: unable to believe in traditional, orthodox Christianity and aware that its grip on ordinary people was loosening, he wanted morality detached from religion and made secure by appeal to reason alone. His hope was that the principle of utility would ground ordinary morality in intuitively obvious considerations of rationality. To this end he devotes a considerable part of The Methods of Ethics to the justification of traditional virtues on the grounds of their social utility. So, he argues that the various virtues can be grounded in the human goods they characteristically promote, and here he is self-consciously Aristotelian. (He tells us in an autobiographical statement that it was after rereading Aristotle that he decided to emulate his examination of the common morality of his own society.) Some governing moral theory was still needed however because, left entirely to itself, common-sense morality shows a tendency to internal conflict or inconsistency.2 Inasmuch as traditional intuitionists like Whewell believed that intuitionism was required to support common-sense morality since basic parts of it would otherwise be undermined by utilitarianism, then Sidgwick’s arguments, if successful, seem to make the appeal to intuition against utility unnecessary. None the less, this appearance is, as Sidgwick recognized, somewhat deceptive since there remains the problem of the justification for appealing to the principle of utility in the first place, and here, Sidgwick admits, we must once more have recourse to intuition. Where the intuitionists appealed to a plurality of intuitions to determine the various duties, virtues and prohibitions of traditional morality, Sidgwick claimed to be able to prove their validity on the basis of their contribution to human pleasure over pain, and almost on that basis alone. But this primal duty cannot itself be so recommended and, he concludes, its truth is known by intuition. So Sidgwick’s utilitarianism has itself an intuitionist basis. Moreover, I used the qualification ‘almost’ above in reference to Sidgwick’s basing morality upon the principle of utility, and the qualification is necessary because Sidgwick also recognizes as basic certain formal features of morality that are also revealed by intuition. These include for instance such ‘axioms’ as a principle of universalizability (as it would now be called) and a principle of temporal indifference which dictates that ‘a smaller present good is not to be preferred to a greater future good’ ([5.5], 381). If you are unhappy with the appeal to intuition, then Sidgwick can offer you a great reduction in its scope, but he cannot eliminate it altogether. Sidgwick’s compromise is not only distinctive but it poses a problem that continues to confront modern moral philosophers. Contemporary utilitarians are not attracted to Sidgwick’s solution because, along with many other philosophers, they are uncomfortable with any appeal to intuition, at least if the intuition is taken to be a guarantee of truth or reliability. A fashionable response is to build one’s utilitarianism upon a subjective base. This move is reinforced by the appeal to a distinction between meta-ethics and normative ethics. One’s analysis of the moral vocabulary, particularly its fundamental but abstract categories, the so-called ‘thin’ concepts such as good, bad, right and wrong, are allowed to be specified as the individual chooses, constrained only by such formal limits as that they are terms of commendation or denunciation (or ‘discommendation’). There is also a constraint of universalizability, but it is usually seen as delivered by logic or conceptual analysis of the moral vocabulary. The utilitarian has decided that the terms will be given normative content by recourse to the utilitarian principle, and, of course, hopes that this recommendation will have broad appeal. If not, there is nothing more to say to those who choose different material content for the moral terminology. One may try accusing them of irrationality, but since this term itself is essentially evaluative, the manoeuvre is easily dismissed by reminding the utilitarian of his or her own subjectivist meta-ethical commitments. Of course it may not be too clear why an appeal to intuition has anything over an appeal to feeling. If someone disagrees with you about a basic moral matter then the insistence that your view is a matter of rational intuition seems no more or less impressive than the assertion that you feel very strongly about the matter. I think that a good deal here turns upon what more can be said about intuition to contrast it with strong feeling and also what the disputants hold about other areas of human thought. If someone thinks (more or less with Hume) that, in the end, most human cognitive procedures turn upon proclivities of human psychology that are non-rational, then they will not be inclined to isolate ethics from natural or social science, or even from mathematics. If ethics is as much (or as little) a matter of rational understanding as natural science then in the face of this (rough) equality it may matter less whether we think of its foundations or principles in terms of powerful feeling, rational insight, or even some other resort, such as Wittgenstein’s ‘form of life’. Another aspect of Sidgwick’s treatment of common sense that deserves mention concerns the important allegation that common-sense morality is internally inconsistent, and hence needs to be supplemented by a consistent, overarching theory. Since it is dubious that common sense is itself a theory of any sort, it is a little unclear what this could mean, and sometimes Sidgwick seems rather to mean that the theory of intuitionism is inconsistent. For the most part, however, his point seems merely to be that common-sense morality does not provide decision procedures to settle complex problems of what would once have been called casuistry. So, for instance, common-sense morality tells us that lying is wrong, but also tells us that we should do no harm to the innocent, and notoriously there can arise circumstances in which (on certain understandings of them) these duties appear to be in conflict. I am a UN ‘peacekeeper’ in the former Yugoslavia during the civil wars in the early 1990s that resulted from the demise of communism, and I have confidential information that a Bosnian female child is hiding nearby from a troop of Serbian irregulars, known to practise rape and murder against such as her, and they ask whether I know the where-abouts of any Bosnian civilians in the vicinity. If I tell the truth, she is doomed, if I refuse to answer, their suspicions will be dangerously aroused, but if I lie she has a chance of survival. (For Sidgwick’s discussion of common sense and ‘unveracity’ see [5.5], 448–9.) SIDGWICK’S PARADOX The second claim concerns what I shall call ‘Sidgwick’s paradox’ since he referred to it himself as paradoxical. The problem is a specific but very special case of the refinements of utilitarian theory required partly by the condition that it be sensitive to the data of common-sense morality but even more by the adaptation of the utilitarian principle itself to the requirements of human nature and circumstance. One such adaptation leads, for instance, to motive utilitarianism where the primary focus of the utility principle is on motives and other human dispositions that can themselves be argued to maximize utility. On a simple (perhaps simple-minded) act of utilitarian analysis it may be best for a group of discreet sadists to torture an orphan child to death in the privacy of their club cellar with no prospect of the victim’s sufferings disturbing others or of word of it getting abroad. Yet this indirect version of utilitarianism could argue that the cultivation or further entrenchment of sadistic dispositions is bound to be productive of worse outcomes for society than could be warranted by the short-term gain in the utility of the group here directly affected by the act of torture. Now it seems to me unlikely that this sort of manoeuvre is, in general, going to succeed in showing that such acts are morally wrong, or, even if it did, in explaining what is wrong with them. (There is indeed an air of absurdity in the way the explanation takes us away from the specific wrong done to the child and focuses on some general harms that might be produced by the prevalence of such habits in the perpetrators and others.) None the less, I shall not pursue this debate here; I mention it only to illustrate the path taken by indirect forms of utilitarianism as a preliminary to discussing Sidgwick’s paradox. The point to be noted is that the dictates of the utility principle, properly understood, are not always what they might at first blush seem. Certain deeds that do not seem to be utility-maximizing may none the less prove to be so if we think more subtly and widely about the matter, but Sidgwick’s paradox, though it incorporates this simple reflection, takes us into far more turbulent waters. The paradox can be briefly stated as the fact that the truth of the utility principle may require that almost no one accept it as true. If the utility principle is true then (almost) no one should believe it, and if it’s not true then no one should believe it, so whatever its status no one (or almost no one) should believe it. Put in terms of rationality, the paradox tells us that the most rational way for lives to be conducted is by the utility principle, but this is only possible if (almost) no one conducts their lives by reference to the principle. This paradoxical outcome of the Sidgwick inquiry is the limit case, so to speak, of a general tendency within the utilitarian enterprise to require the existence of dependable moral rules and accompanying behaviour as a background to the occasional beneficial utilitarian violation of them. Given certain empirically plausible assumptions about human nature and the likely effects of making public the utilitarian basis of all morality, it will then quickly emerge, on utilitarian principles, that the rational necessity for violation is something that should not be generally known. If it were to be known then the broad commitment to morality for its own sake, on which wide conformity to moral norms seems in part to rest, might well be undermined, and the overall effect be disastrous from the utilitarian point of view. Peter Singer, writing in the spirit of Sidgwick, gives as an example the case in which a professor gives a student a higher grade than his work merits ‘on the grounds that the student is so depressed over his work that one more poor grade will lead him to abandon his studies altogether, whereas if he can pull out of his depression he will be capable of reaching a satisfactory standard’ ([5.31], 166). Singer concludes that this may be the right action but, if so, it would be wrong for the professor to advocate publicly such behaviour because then ‘the student would know that the higher grade was undeserved and—quite apart from encouraging other students to feign depression—the higher grade might cheer the student only if he believes that it is merited’ ([5.31], 166). Leaving aside the professor’s quandaries when the student continues cheerfully to submit inferior work that he now believes to be adequate, we may note that Singer quotes Sidgwick approvingly here as saying that ‘the opinion that secrecy may render an action right which would not otherwise be so, should itself be kept comparatively secret’ and he thinks it has an air of paradox to maintain that ‘it would be right for an individual to do secretly what it is also right for the public code of ethics to condemn’ ([5.31], 166). Singer consoles himself with the thought that the paradox does not belong to the secrecy doctrine itself but to the attempt to state it publicly which will be subversive of the public code that the same doctrine says must be supported. In a surprisingly ebullient fashion he goes on to acknowledge that his own public stating is a piece of wrong-doing, but perhaps the cheerful air with which he makes this confession of wickedness is sustained by the belief that only utilitarians will read the book. In any case, the furtive stance can hardly be quarantined to specific violations of public codes, as Singer seems here to show a tendency to believe. Sidgwick, at any rate, is clear that the general acceptance of utilitarianism as the rationale for morality by ordinary people might be a disaster in utilitarian terms. He is explicit that, granted the assumptions mentioned earlier, the truth of utilitarianism must be kept secret by the elite who have discovered it. So he says: ‘And thus a Utilitarian may reasonably desire, on Utilitarian principles, that some of his conclusions should be rejected by mankind generally; or even that the vulgar should keep aloof from his system as a whole, in so far as the inevitable indefiniteness and complexity of its calculations render it likely to lead to bad results in their hands’ ([5.5], 490). In Derek Parfit’s terminology, utilitarian theory would then be ‘self-effacing’ ([5.27], 40–3), at least for the vulgar. It would of course be different, according to Sidgwick, in what he calls ‘an ideal community of enlightened utilitarians’ ([5.5], 490), but he was realistic enough to see this prospect as remote from the real world. So much for the genesis of the paradox, what about its status? One interesting fact about the puzzle is that it has an interesting formal affinity to a puzzle in epistemology. The traditional epistemologist is interested in whether and how it is rational to trust to the deliverances of our cognitive powers, such as perception, memory and so on. But it is often unclear whose rationality is here at stake. When some complex proof is provided of the rationality of relying upon the senses for knowledge, is the theorist’s possession of the proof supposed to show that everyone is rational to trust their senses even if they have never encountered the proof and wouldn’t (perhaps) understand it if they did? Or is only the theorist rational to trust the senses or memory? Perhaps the best thing to say is that the theorist’s justification (if correct) shows that the practice is rational but not that the practitioners are rational in following it. There are echoes here of the debates about internalist versus externalist justificatory analyses of knowledge. On an externalist account it is enough to show that the justificatory relation, be it causal relation, reliability connection or whatever, obtains between the practice and what it is supposed to deliver. By contrast, internalist theorists maintain that the putative knower cannot be said to know unless he or she at least has some grip on what the relation is, and perhaps why it justifies the relevant belief. As regards rationality, the externalist can rest content with the discovery that the practice is rationally grounded and the rest of us can get on with doing what we always have done. The internalist is likely to be more missionary about the matter since he or she must be worried by the thought that all the other practitioners are not behaving rationally in trusting their senses, memory or word of others. Their procedures can be rationally justified, but their ignorance of the justification suggests the disturbing thought that they are not rationally justified in using them. Yet although the externalist is likely to be less missionary, he or she will have no antipathy to the promulgation of his or her discovery. There is nothing in his or her position that demands that the discovery be withheld from the masses, and it would surely be surprising (to say the least) if this were so. For an externalist, the practitioners may not need an understanding of the rational basis of their cognitive practices in order to be acting rationally but such understanding could hardly make the practitioners’ behaviour thereby less rational. Interesting as this issue is, we have the sense that it doesn’t matter a whole lot if the ordinary person has no access to the philosopher’s proof, since the ordinary person doesn’t usually raise the question of rationality here. From the point of view of the philosopher, it is enough that the rationality of the procedures can be demonstrated. The philosopher is, after all, the one worried about the justificatory question, and he or she, just as much as the ordinary person, has no practical doubts about the general viability of the perceptual and memory practices, nor any alternative to persisting with their use. This is the first point of contrast with morality. The contrast is not perhaps as vast as is often made out, but exists none the less. It is not so vast because ordinary people must use values; they (like the philosopher) must act for this reason or that, and so will not be paralysed by the failure to have some general rationale for their ethical choices. Yet there remains a contrast, because our resort to values is not as constrained and automatic as our resort to perceptual and memory practices. As Sidgwick himself recognizes in the first chapter of his book, ‘Men never ask, “Why should I believe what I see to be true?” but they frequently ask, “Why should I do what I see to be right?”’ ([5.5], 5). In putting the question ‘How should I live?’ at the centre of ethics, Socrates rightly emphasizes that there are deeper level questions about the right way to conduct our lives that every person is free to raise and which present genuine options for action depending upon the answers given. Consequently, the interest of the philosopher’s question about the rational justification of our moral practices is inevitably less specialist and confined than the otherwise parallel epistemological questions. When the theorist decides that the utility principle is what justifies the practices, then the answer can hardly be considered irrelevant or unimportant to the questions ordinary people are quite often drawn to ask. ASSESSING THE PARADOX None the less, they cannot be told, and we must ask whether this gnostic elitism is logically or morally suspect. Certainly, it violates what, since Kant, has been thought of as a basic requirement of a moral system, namely, the publicity principle. In the second appendix to Perpetual Peace, first published in 1795, Kant states this as follows: ‘All actions affecting the rights of other human beings are wrong if their maxim is not compatible with being made public’ ([5.24], 126). This would clearly rule out Singer’s specific case, but also the esoteric secrecy of the utilitarian principle itself which seems to be a maxim for conduct in Kant’s sense. If the publicity principle is a logical or conceptual condition for any moral system then this seems fatal to Sidgwickian utilitarianism, but it might be argued that the shoe is on the other foot, since the viability of Sidgwickian utilitarianism shows the publicity principle to be mistaken as such a condition. In any case, attractive as the publicity principle seems to be, there are certain ‘local’ counter-examples to it. For example, there are good reasons for allowing that the legal authorities should not even bring to prosecution certain cases that qualify as legally severe offences, such as mothers who kill their babies whilst in a state of extreme postnatal depression. But although this may be sound public policy, it may also be sound public policy not to make it public knowledge. Again, it may be good public policy in certain circumstances to deal secretly with terrorist groups, but bad policy to make it known that this is your policy. I am inclined to think that examples like these are acceptable only because they fall under more general maxims that can, and perhaps should, be publicly avowed. I will not try to spell these out here, but principles of mercy and avoidance of futility in punishments are relevant to the first example, and certain broad rules of conflict resolution to the second. What is harder to swallow is precisely what is at issue in the Sidgwick paradox, namely, that the basic principle underpinning the rationality of ethics must itself be kept secret. One difficulty concerns membership in the elite, and here it is a matter of some astonishment that Sidgwick and other utilitarians seem so little concerned with the consequences of publishing their ‘discovery’ of the truth of utilitarianism. Sidgwick seems to have lectured and published his views with no concern for their potentially disastrous consequences upon an audience that could hardly be presumed to be as allwise, prescient and strong-willed as possession of the dangerous truth requires. But if the easy assumption that their audience will constitute ‘an ideal community of enlightened utilitarians’ is surprising, it only seems to reflect the hubris involved in the assumption that the theorist is personally worthy of the revelation. After all, capacity to achieve philosophical truth need not correlate with high moral development or the intellectual capacities for calculating consequences that the ideal utilitarian should have. There is a certain aptitude to Bernard Williams’s characterization of the outlook as that of the colonial administrator ([5.35], 108–10).3 The easy assumption by utilitarian theorists that they, and a few of their friends, are uniquely capable of the rationality that would be disastrous if employed by the hoi polloi is not so much, or not only, a piece of hubris but a requirement of the theory. After all, if we assume that the principle of utility is the truth that makes morality rational, but that it is a dictate of the principle that no one should base their actions upon it, then its supposed truth is entirely insignificant. As Williams has noted, we would then face the conclusion that if utilitarianism is true, then it is better that people should not believe in it, and if it is false it is better that people should not believe in it, so either way no one should believe in it ([5.34], 68). Consequently, the commitment to elitism is the only way to preserve any significant content for the claim that utilitarianism provides for the rationality of morality. Another way of dramatizing the difficulty inherent in the paradox is to consider what happens to humble theorists who begin to suspect that they may not be members of the elite. If the theorist cannot be certain that he or she is worthy of the revelation, it may be for the best that they take steps to expunge it from their memory, if this is at all possible. Certainly, theorists will have considerable trouble making the distinction, in their own case, between utilitarianism as a theory of justification of the practice of morality, and utilitarianism as a theory of the correct motivation for right action. Once they have realized it provides the former, how can they avoid treating it as an answer, for them, to the latter, even where they have reason to think that this will be for the worst. In any case, let us suppose that the theorist is personally worthy of the truth, and knows it. How (we might wonder) is he or she to prevent this truth becoming more widely known? One way would be to engage energetically in the refutation of utilitarianism, crusading against it in the cultural journals and the popular press, and advocating the truth of intuitionism. This Sidgwick notably failed to do. Indeed, his character seems to have been so significantly non-utilitarian that his commitments to honesty would have prevented this recourse. Donagan has argued plausibly that Sidgwick’s resignation of his Fellowship at Trinity College over the religious test issue illustrates this aspect of his character and thought ([5.17], 459–60). As Sidgwick himself said at the time in correspondence on the matter after reviewing certain general arguments for and against resignation: ‘After all, it is odd to be finding subtle reasons for an act of mere honesty: but I am reduced to that by the refusal of my friends to recognise it as such’ ([5.30], 201). This fact is of more than biographical interest, because it shows that, for the theorist himself or herself, the split between motivational and justificatory outlooks is impossible to maintain, as is the related distinction of which Sidgwick, and later Smart and Singer, make so much between reasons for acting (on the one hand) and reasons for praising and blaming (on the other). When the utilitarian claims that it may be right to do some act but also right to condemn it publicly, then we are entitled to ask what sort of attitude utilitarian agents can take towards their own commitment to such an act. They must stand ready to do such acts in spite of having cultivated a strong tendency to condemn them. The difficulties involved here are unwittingly displayed in one of Sidgwick’s own comments. Noting that it may be expedient that divergent codes should exist within a society, Sidgwick writes that ‘it may conduce most to the general happiness that A should do a certain act, and at the same time that B, C, D should blame it. The Utilitarian of course cannot really join in the disapproval, but he may think it expedient to leave it unshaken; and at the same time may think it right, if placed in the supposed circumstances, to do the act that is generally disapproved’ ([5.5], 491). But the assertion that the utilitarian cannot join in the disapproval is simply wrong if it means that the utilitarian cannot publicly blame the act, though ready to do it himself. After all, that is the point of distinguishing reasons for acting from reasons for blaming. Sidgwick’s lapse from the letter of consistency here is a testament to the moral integrity and psychological sanity he possessed but felt obliged by theory to ignore. There is a related issue here that deserves some attention and it concerns the possible transition from a situation in which the vulgar are incapable of receiving the truth of utilitarianism to one which might qualify as inhabited by an ideal community of enlightened utilitarians. It is unclear in Sidgwick whether this is thought to be a real possibility or not, though several passages suggest that he thought it was. If so, then the set of attitudes involved in the paradox seem to make the transition impossible except by magic. Certainly it is hard to see how it could be effected by reasoning or education. THE FINAL PUZZLE The third puzzle might itself be called a paradox. It concerns a kind of contradiction that Sidgwick affects to find at the heart of ethics. He establishes to his own satisfaction that basic intuitions deliver the rational self-evidence of the fundamental utilitarian principle that he calls the Principle of Rational Benevolence. As we have seen, this enjoins us to ‘aim at the happiness of other human beings generally’, but for present purposes I do not want to challenge its utilitarian basis, since the problem Sidgwick poses is to some extent independent of his formulations. Let us just think of the principle as one that enjoins us to aim sometimes at the happiness of others, even where this course of action conflicts with the promotion of one’s own narrowly conceived good. Although Sidgwick thinks that it is rational to act on this principle and to base one’s ethic and life upon it, he cannot rid himself of the thought that it is also rational to base one’s life and ethic upon the Principle of Egoism, which requires an agent to choose the course of action that will most promote his or her good (and for Sidgwick this means his or her pleasure). Yet Sidgwick plausibly believes that these two principles are in conflict; they are, in a sense, logically incompatible, but both, he thinks, are self-evidently true. Opinions will vary about how compelling the case is for either of these principles, and certainly the case for a benevolence or an egoism as demanding and far-reaching as Sidgwick intuits seems to me to be fairly weak. None the less there is a strong case for there being some altruistic principle at the heart of ethics and this seems likely to be incompatible with any strong version of egoism, and egoism has a long history of appeal as a basic dictate of rationality. (Despite its popularity and longevity, there are, I suspect, serious difficulties in formulating and defending a version of egoism that is at once coherent and ethically challenging.) Supposing however there to be the clash between the egoist and altruistic principles, however refined in detail, then what of Sidgwick’s enterprise? He himself sees it as threatened and sees no way of defusing the problem by recourse to the internal logic of the two positions. In so far as he has a solution it consists in the appeal to what he calls a postulate that is required to save the consistency of ethics as a basic department of human thought. This is the postulate of a benign God who reconciles duty and selfinterest, or, more antiseptically, a benign Order to the universe in which the reconciliation is achieved. Does this work? C.D.Broad objects that the two principles remain inconsistent regardless of the existence of God who cannot alter their self-evidence and hence ‘something which appeared self-evident to Sidgwick must have been false’. Broad also points out that the postulate might comfort us by showing that it is a matter of ‘practical indifference’ which of the principles is false, but thinks that this gives us no ‘adequate ground’ for making the postulate ([5.15], 253). There are at least two separate elements in the problem, and in Broad’s objection, that need to be separated. Firstly, would the existence of a God with the usual attributes of the Christian theistic tradition, benevolently disposed towards human beings, solve the paradox? Secondly, if the answer is ‘yes’, is this fact sufficient to accept such a God’s existence? On the first point, there is a level of understanding the problem at which the answer may well be ‘yes’, and at which level Broad seems to have missed the point. Call it level A. This is the level at which we may ask whether the actual maximization of an individual’s good is always compatible with the maximization of the good of all; or, if there are problems with the concept of maximization here, whether optimizing the individual good is always compatible with optimizing the good of all. What Sidgwick has in mind here is that the sort of God in question will have so arranged the world that individual and communal well-being ultimately harmonize. If so, then there can be no actual clash between action that really promotes one’s own good and action that really promotes the good of others. If people acted to achieve what was really their own good they would in fact be acting for what was really the good of others and vice versa. At this level, what happens to Sidgwick’s self-evident principles is not that he is wrong about one of them but it doesn’t matter which, but rather that they are both true, and possibly self-evident, and it is the appearance of a contradiction between them that is wrong.4 But this reconciliation leaves us with a problem about how to conduct our lives here and now that is reminiscent of the shifting relations between justification and motivation that plagued the discussion of the earlier paradox. For consider the agent who is persuaded of the reconciliation achieved at level A. She knows that acting from selfinterest and from altruism are ultimately in harmony, but what is she to do now in a situation in which they appear to clash? At this phenomenological level (call it B) it would surely be wrong to leave her free to choose either course of action on the grounds of the perceived reconciliation at level A. If we say that she should rather choose selfinterest, in the cheerful hope of the reconciliation offered by God, we have something like Ayn Rand’s picture of ethics, or, at a cruder level still, that of economic rationalism and the ‘invisible hand’. If we urge the altruistic road, we have something closer to utilitarianism, but the problem is that neither road is mandated at the motivational level by the reconciliation at the justificatory level. The problem could be resolved if we had a revelation from God that utilitarianism was the way to go, or that common-sense morality embodied (ultimately) the path of reconciliation, but in the absence of this, the problem remains. (Butler, to whom Sidgwick is considerably indebted, seems to have thought that conscience constituted such a revelation.) Finally, on the second point, Sidgwick does not argue that the Deistic postulate (or some postulate not involving a personal God that serves the same function) should be made because it is comforting, but rather that its viability depends upon certain very general considerations of fundamental epistemology. As he puts it: ‘Those who hold that the edifice of physical science is really constructed of conclusions logically inferred from self-evident premises, may reasonably demand that any practical judgements claiming philosophic certainty should be based on an equally firm foundation. If on the other hand we find that in our supposed knowledge of the world of nature propositions are commonly taken to be universally true, which yet seem to rest on no other grounds than that we have a strong disposition to accept them, and that they are indispensable to the systematic coherence of our beliefs,—it will be more difficult to reject a similarly supported assumption in ethics, without opening the door to universal scepticism. ([5.5], 509). Sidgwick’s own employment of self-evidence and intuition, and his general picture of the attempt to produce a ‘science of ethics’, clearly incline him to the first outlook, but he is well aware of the attractions of the second, and its relevance to the problem he confronts. If what we mean by the rationality of our fundamental cognitive and scientific practices gets back to a deep tendency to accept that they are coherent even where there is no further argument to accept them, then the same grace should be extended to ethics. It is even possible, to return briefly to our earlier reflections on Sidgwick’s attitude to religion, that a similar grace could be extended to God.5 APPLIED ETHICS Sidgwick’s work in economics is now of principally historical interest, but his political philosophy is more important, though much less influential than his ethics. His views on immigration policy, liberalism and war have all been referred to in recent writings. It is also significant that, although he stands at the beginning of the academic professionalization of philosophy that has been extravagantly praised and equally as extravagantly bewailed in recent years, he saw this as no impediment to involvement, as a philosopher, in issues of broad public concern. The picture of the analytical philosopher as professionally unconcerned with public life and its intellectual problems, and as having nothing distinctive to add to the public debate, was not his. Here he was at odds (as on many other things) with his contemporary F.H.Bradley who proclaimed in ‘My Station and its Duties’ in 1876 that ‘there cannot be a moral philosophy which will tell us what in particular we are to do, and…it is not the business of philosophy to do so. All philosophy has to do is “to understand what is”, and moral philosophy has to understand morals which exist, not to make them or give directions for making them’ ([5.14], 193). Sidgwick’s view was more nuanced, and would have set him apart from a powerful mood within analytical ethics that really began with G.E.Moore—who once claimed that ‘The direct object of Ethics is knowledge and not practice’ ([5.25], 20)—and prevailed until the 1970s. Quite apart from his interest in political philosophy and his broad commitment to utilitarianism, he was a member of the Ethical Societies in London and Cambridge which were groups, including academics, professional people and figures in public life, that met regularly to discuss papers read by members on matters of public import. The British groups were modelled on the Societies for Ethical Culture that had been earlier established in the USA and led to the founding of the philosophy journal now known as Ethics. Sidgwick’s contributions to these discussions were very much in the spirit of what would now be called ‘applied philosophy’, and a number of his addresses were collected and published in 1898 (with a second edition in 1909) in the book Practical Ethics. In this, Sidgwick discusses specific issues of public concern from a philosophical perspective and also ponders the general question of the appropriate role for philosophy in the discussion of such matters. This is a question that considerably exercises contemporary philosophers and non-philosophers, both those who favour the involvement of philosophers in ‘practical ethics’ and those who oppose it. Sidgwick’s discussion of it is characteristically acute and careful. He states the problem as that of determining ‘the proper lines and limits of ethical discussion, having a distinctly practical aim, and carried on among a miscellaneous group of educated persons, who do not belong exclusively to any one religious sect or philosophical school, and possibly may not have gone through any systematic study of philosophy’ ([5.9], 5). His suggestion is that such inquiries should avoid attempts to get ‘agreement on the first principles of duty or the Summum Bonum’ ([5.9], 4), and rather strive to clarify and elucidate that fairly extensive agreement in the details of morality we find already existing ‘both among thoughtful persons who profoundly disagree on first principles, and among plain men who do not seriously trouble themselves about first principles’ ([5.9], 6). Sidgwick believed that this technique could ‘get beyond the platitudes of copybook morality to results which may be really of use in the solution of practical questions’ ([5.9], 8). He thought that would lead to the development and refinement of ‘middle axioms’ of moral thought ([5.9], 8), and, though Sidgwick does not acknowledge that this reference is to a technical term used by late medieval theologians in expounding the nature of the art of casuistry, he later explicitly compares the activity of ‘practical ethics’ to the work of casuistry, understood as ‘the systematic discussion…of difficult and doubtful cases of morals’ ([5.9], 17). This comparison is a striking anticipation of very recent writings on the nature of applied ethics, and Sidgwick goes on to offer a partial defence of the older theological casuists against their seventeenth-century detractors that itself anticipates the work of Jonson and Toulmin one hundred years later. Curiously enough, Jonson and Toulmin, in apparent ignorance of Practical Ethics, treat Sidgwick as an outright enemy of casuistry, and the source of many of the difficulties that modern moral philosophers have had in coming to grips with the realities of practical ethics ([5.23], 279–81). It may of course be that there is some tension between Sidgwick’s later views and his enterprise in The Methods of Ethics, so it is worth pausing here to wonder at the relevance of Sidgwick’s sane comments on the viability of practical ethics to his earlier critique of the inconsistency of common-sense morality. Sidgwick, as we saw, argued in The Methods of Ethics that common-sense morality needed somehow to be supplemented by utilitarianism in order to overcome its inconsistencies, at least in the sense that a decision procedure was needed to adjudicate between the differing dictates of ordinary virtues or rules. Yet, it seems that we need no such ultimate appeal for the complex problems confronting practical ethics since casuistic analysis and, at most, reasoned appeal to ‘middle axioms’ can do the trick. This suggests that the drive in Sidgwick’s pure ethics towards a sort of foundationist rationality may well be generated by a nonexistent problem, or by the conflating of several different problems. He was right to insist that moral thought and action cannot always rest content with surface instincts and intuitions, whether individual or communal, but the work of reason, though always implicated to some degree in generality and principle, may here be justifiably more piecemeal, pluralistic and circumstantial than the utilitarian model requires. If so, we may also have reason to review the sharp separation of reason and emotion to which the model (and, as we saw, Sidgwick personally) is committed. It is indeed arguable that this might require some adjustment in our understanding of philosophy itself, particularly in relation to the activities of the practical intellect, and here the tension in Sidgwick’s thought points towards an area of unresolved current debate.6 Several of the other more specific essays in Practical Ethics discuss topics that have also recently been subjects of passionate debate amongst contemporary philosophers with an interest in applied philosophy or political ethics. There is an essay on the morality of war (‘The Morality of Strife’), on dirty hands in politics (‘Public Morality’) and on philosophy, science and culture (‘The Pursuit of Culture’). Two apparently more remote papers, ‘The Ethics of Religious Conformity’ and ‘Clerical Veracity’, in fact canvass issues of professional ethics that are much with us today, and the essay on ‘Luxury’ is interestingly related to later debates about the role of elites. The final chapter on ‘Unreasonable Action’ is an excellent discussion in the philosophy of moral psychology of the age-old but currently fashionable topic of akrasia. It is unfortunate that these essays are not better known (Practical Ethics has not been reprinted since the early twentieth century) because they are all thought-provoking, and the essays on ‘Public Morality’, ‘The Morality of Strife’ and ‘Unreasonable Action’ are outstandingly good. In addition to this sort of involvement in public issues, Sidgwick was also energetic in the practical pursuit of various public causes, most notably the higher education of women. He was instrumental in opening up university education at Cambridge for women, and was not only one of the founders of Newnham College (the first women’s college established in Cambridge) but contributed a good deal of money to its foundation. He was also heavily involved in university affairs, and served on several government commissions of inquiry. G.E.Moore attended Sidgwick’s lectures and apparently thought them dull, and Sidgwick, on hearing that Moore was producing a book on ethics, said he thought it would be acute, but expressed the view that Moore’s ‘acumen-—which is remarkable to a degree—is in excess of his insight’ ([5.28], 17).7 Sidgwick was sharp enough himself, however much his patient capacity to explore every aspect of a question could often inhibit a sparkling style, but above all he craved insight. The aim of his intellectual endeavours had been, he wrote two weeks before his death, ‘the solution, or contribution to the solution, of the deepest problems of human life’ ([5.30], 33–4). He was disappointed that he had not done more to fulfil it, but his own evaluation of his achievements has proved notably less enthusiastic than posterity’s. NOTES My thanks to Andrew Alexandra, Will Barrett, Bruce Langtry, Kim Lycos, Mary McCloskey, and Thomas Pogge for helpful discussion of Sidgwick’s views (though my gratitude does not always extend to following their suggestions), and to Will Barrett for research assistance with references and bibliography. 1 The quote is actually from Bagehot, but adapted by Sidgwick to express his view of Green’s work. 2 The discussion of this issue is bedevilled by a tendency Sidgwick displays to conflate common-sense morality and the philosophical theory of intuitionism; indeed, in his Index to the Methods of Ethics the two are explicitly identified. It is better to treat common-sense morality as providing the pre-theoretical data for a theory of morality in the fashion recommended by Rawls and usually followed by Sidgwick. The moral theory should then accommodate the pretheoretical ‘facts’, mostly by way of explanatory agreement with them, but sometimes by way of new recommendations that are accompanied by an explaining away of the recalcitrant data. 3 In fact, the influence of the English utilitarians upon colonial policy seems to have been more in the direction of Benthamite and openly interventionist policies of change in local practices, customs and laws. It was not marked by Sidgwick’s attitude of cautious, if elitist, conservatism towards existing moral attitudes. For an interesting discussion see Stokes [5.32]. 4 Derek Parfit thinks ([5.27], 462) that the problem is real, but can be solved in piecemeal fashion if we recognize that in addition to egoism and benevolence there is a third decision principle that may be used to tip the scales, namely, the principle yielded by what he calls the present-aim theory. Roughly, if it is equally rational to follow the dictates of self-interest and of benevolence, but they don’t coincide, and we have a strong present desire to follow either benevolence or self-interest, then we have good reason to follow whichever of the two our coolly considered present aims (desires etc.) favour. The success of this tactic depends on what one thinks of the present-aim theory as a theory of rational action and on how it is distinguished from its competitors, but we cannot enter into this complex question here. 5 C.D.Broad thought that something like this was probably Sidgwick’s final position with respect to religious belief ([5.16], 109–10). In support he quotes a letter Sidgwick wrote in 1880 to an old friend, Major Carey, in which after asking, ‘What guarantee have you for the fundamental beliefs of science except that they are consistent and harmonious with other beliefs that we find ourselves naturally impelled to hold?’ he adds, ‘This is precisely the relation which I find to exist between Theism and the whole system of my moral beliefs. Duty BIBLIOGRAPHY Works by Sidgwick 5.1——The Development of European Polity, London: Macmillan, 1903. 5.2——The Elements of Politics, 4th edn, London: Macmillan, 1919. 5.3——Lectures on the Ethics of T.H.Green, H.Spencer and J.Martineau, London: Macmillan, 1902. 5.4——Lectures on the Philosophy of Kant and other Philosophical Lectures and Essays, London: Macmillan, 1905. 5.5——The Methods of Ethics, 7th edn, London: Macmillan, 1907. 5.6——Miscellaneous Essays and Addresses, London: Macmillan, 1904. 5.7——Outlines of the History of Ethics for English Readers, 5th edn, London: Macmillan, 1902. 5.8——Philosophy, its Scope and Relations: An Introductory Course of Lectures, London: Macmillan, 1902. 5.9——Practical Ethics: A Collection of Essays and Addresses, 2nd edn, London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1909. 5.10——The Principles of Political Economy, 3rd edn, London: Macmillan, 1901. Other works 5.11 Austin, J.L. Philosophical Papers, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961. 5.12 Benson, A.C. The Life of Edward White Benson, London: Macmillan, 1899. 5.13 Blanshard, B. Four Reasonable Men: Marcus Aurelius, John Stuart Mill, Ernest to me is as real as the physical world, though not apprehended in the same way; but all my apparent knowledge of duty falls into chaos if my belief in the moral government of the world is conceived to be overthrown’ (109). 6 When discussing the nature of philosophy Sidgwick seems unaware of any such tension and keeps very much to the high ground of abstract rationality. So he writes, in Philosophy, its Scope and Relations, ‘It is commonly felt that an attempt to work out a complete system of duties would inevitably lead us out of Philosophy into Casuistry: and whether Casuistry is a good or a bad thing, it is certainly not Philosophy’ ([5.8], 25–6). In this context, he regards moral philosophy as ‘primarily concerned with the general principles and methods of moral reasoning, and only with the details of conduct so far as the discussion of them affords instructive examples of general principles and method’ ([5.8], 25). Contemporary philosophers are much less confident about this sort of division in every area of thought. For some contemporary views about the role of philosophy in ethics that are, in different ways, sceptical about the high ground see: Walzer [5.33], Williams [5.35], and Jonson and Toulmin [5.23]. For views still seeking a central role for philosophical reason see Donagan [5.18], Gewirth [5.19] and O’Neill [5.26], 7 Schneewind’s book [5.28] is a masterly treatment of the background to Sidgwick’s ethical thought, and also gives a careful and sympathetic unravelling of what he understands Sidgwick to be doing in The Methods of Ethics. Renan, Henry Sidgwick, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1984. 5.14 Bradley, F.H. Ethical Studies, 2nd edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1927. Essay 5: ‘My Station and Its Duties’. 5.15 Broad, C.D. Five Types of Ethical Theory, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1930. 5.16——Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research: Selected Essays, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953. Essay entitled: ‘Henry Sidgwick and Psychical Research’. 5.17 Donagan, A. ‘Sidgwick and Whewellian Intuitionism: Some Enigmas’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 7 (1977):447–65. 5.18——The Theory of Morality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977 (2nd edn, with corrections, 1979). 5.19 Gewirth, A. Reason and Morality, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1978. 5.20 Himmelfarb, G. Marriage and Morals among the Victorians: Essays, New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1986. 5.21 James, D.G. Science and Faith in Victorian England, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. 5.22 James, W. The Writings of William James, ed. J.J.McDermott, New York: Modern Library, 1968. 5.23 Jonson, A.R. and S.Toulmin, The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. 5.24 Kant, I. Kant’s Political Writings, ed. H.Reiss, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 5.25 Moore, G.E. Principia Ethica, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903. 5.26 O’Neill, Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant’s Practical Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. 5.27 Parfit, D. Reasons and Persons, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. 5.28 Schneewind, J.B. Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. 5.29 Schultz, B. (ed.) Essays on Henry Sidgwick, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992. 5.30 Sidgwick, A. and E.M. Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, London, Macmillan, 1906. 5.31 Singer, P. The Expanding Circles: Ethics and Sociobiology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. 5.32 Stokes, E. The English Utilitarians and India, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959. 5.33 Walzer, M. Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, New York: Basic Books, 1983. 5.34 Williams, B.A.O. Morality: An Introduction to Ethics, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973. 5.35——Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, London: Fontana, 1985.

Routledge History of Philosophy. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sidgwick, Henry — born May 31, 1838, Skipton, Yorkshire, Eng. died Aug. 29, 1900, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire British philosopher. Educated at Cambridge, he remained there as a fellow (from 1859) and professor (from 1883). His Methods of Ethics (1874) is considered… …   Universalium

  • Sidgwick, Henry — (1838–1900) English philosopher. Sidgwick was a quintessentially late Victorian Cambridge figure. He was Fellow of Trinity College from 1859 to 1869, when he resigned because religious doubts meant that he could no longer subscribe to the Thirty… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Sidgwick, Henry — (31 may. 1838, Skipton, Yorkshire, Inglaterra–29 ago. 1900, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire). Filósofo británico. Educado en Cambridge, donde permaneció como catedrático asociado (desde 1859) y profesor (desde 1883). Su libro Los métodos de la ética… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • SIDGWICK, HENRY —    writer on ethics, born at Shipton, Yorkshire; professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge; Methods of Ethics, being a compromise between the intuitionalists and utilitarians, the Principles of Political Economy, and the Elements of Politics ;… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Sidgwick — Sidgwick, Henry …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Henry Sidgwick — Henry Sidgwick, philosophe anglais, né à Skipton dans le Yorkshire, a vécu du 31 mai 1838 au 28 août 1900. Ses travaux ont porté sur l économie et la morale. Avec Jeremy Bentham et James Mill, il fait partie de ce qu on …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Henry Sidgwick — Nacimiento 31 de mayo …   Wikipedia Español

  • Henry Sidgwick — Infobox Philosopher region = Western Philosophy era = 19th century philosophy color = #B0C4DE image caption = name = Henry Sidgwick birth = birth date|1838|5|31| death = death date and age|1900|8|28|1838|5|31| school tradition = Utilitarianism… …   Wikipedia

  • henry — /hen ree/, n., pl. henries, henrys. Elect. the SI unit of inductance, formally defined to be the inductance of a closed circuit in which an electromotive force of one volt is produced when the electric current in the circuit varies uniformly at a …   Universalium

  • Henry — /hen ree/, n. 1. Joseph, 1797 1878, U.S. physicist. 2. O., pen name of William Sydney Porter. 3. Patrick, 1736 99, American patriot, orator, and statesman. 4. Cape, a cape in SE Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. 5. Fort. See …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.