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Henry Sidgwick

Sidgwick, Henry (1838-1900) a fellow of Trinity College, and from 1883 professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge. Driven by the problem of how to find a foundation for a morality independently of religion, he presented, in his Methods of Ethics 1874 (7th rev. edn 1907), incisive analyses of basic principles that can be adopted in our moral thinking: egoism, intuitionism and utilitarianism. The upshot of his careful discussion is that we are committed to accepting conflicting basic principles. For instance, moral universalism, implied by utilitarianism, may require unreasonable self-sacrifice, contrary to egoism, here understood as a natural concern for one's own welfare. We can only hope that they will not ultimately clash in practice, but there can be no guarantee. Sidgwick's treatment of utilitarianism is the starting point for the present-day discussions of this moral theory.

Sidgwick was interested in scientific inquiry into paranormal phenomena, and was a founding member of the Society for Psychical Research.

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy
ed. Thomas Mautner
ISBN 0-14-051250-0


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