Henry Sidgwick  

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"From Sidgwick [ G. E. Moore ] might have learnt that good is ever our good, and from Spencer and Guyau that what we can and do perceive as good is not remote from the background of life which nurtures us. And so, having disposed of his intrinsic good, we might take courage against that fearsome naturalistic fallacy to seek into the conditions of, and therfore to ask what is, the meaning of good."--"G. E. Moore and Intrinsic Goodness" (1928) by Edward F. Mettrick

"‘Good,’ then, is indefinable; and yet, so far as I know, there is only one ethical writer, Prof. Henry Sidgwick, who has clearly recognised and stated this fact. We shall see, indeed, how far many of the most reputed ethical systems fall short of drawing the conclusions which follow from such a recognition. At present I will only quote one instance, which will serve to illustrate the meaning and importance of this principle that ‘good’ is indefinable, or, as Prof. Sidgwick says, an ‘unanalysable notion.’ It is an instance to which Prof. Sidgwick himself refers in a note on the passage, in which he argues that ‘ought’ is unanalysable[2].

[2] _Methods of Ethics_, Bk. I, Chap. iii, § 1 (6th edition)." --Principia Ethica (1903) by G. E. Moore

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Henry Sidgwick (31 May 1838 – 28 August 1900) was an English utilitarian philosopher and economist. He was one of the founders and first president of the Society for Psychical Research, a member of the Metaphysical Society, and promoted the higher education of women. His work in economics has also had a lasting influence.


Sidgwick was a famous teacher. He treated his pupils as fellow students. He was deeply interested in psychical phenomena, but his energies were primarily devoted to the study of religion and philosophy.

Brought up in the Church of England, he drifted away from orthodox Christianity, and as early as 1862 he described himself as a theist, independent from established religion. For the rest of his life, although he regarded Christianity as "indispensable and irreplaceable – looking at it from a sociological point of view," he found himself unable to return to it as a religion.

In political economy he was a utilitarian on the lines of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham.

His work was characterised by its careful investigation of first principles, as in his distinction of positive and normative reasoning, and by critical analysis, not always constructive. His influence was such that for example Alfred Marshall, founder of the Cambridge School of economics, would describe him as his "spiritual mother and father." In philosophy, he devoted himself to ethics, and especially to the examination of the ultimate intuitive principles of conduct and commonsense morality, which he probes with great depth and subtlety in his major work, The Methods of Ethics (1874).

He adopted a position that may be described as ethical hedonism, according to which the criterion of goodness in any given action is that it produces the greatest possible amount of personal pleasure. The hedonism, however, is not confined to the self (egoistic), but involves a due regard to the pleasure of others, and is, therefore, distinguished further as universalistic (a version of utilitarianism).

As Sidgwick sees it, one of the central issues of ethics is whether self-interest and duty always coincide. To a great extent they do, Sidgwick argues, but it cannot be proved that they never conflict, except by appeal to a divine system of punishments and rewards that Sidgwick believes is out of place in a work of philosophical ethics. The upshot is that there is a "dualism of practical reason."

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