Henry Sidgwick's (1838–1900) The Methods of Ethics (1874) isone of the most well known works in utilitarian moral philosophy, anddeservedly so. It offers a defense of utilitarianism, though somewriters (Schneewind 1977) have argued that it should not primarily beread as a defense of utilitarianism. In The Methods Sidgwickis concerned with developing an account of “…thedifferent methods of Ethics that I find implicit in our common moralreasoning…” These methods are egoism, intuition basedmorality, and utilitarianism. On Sidgwick's view, utilitarianism isthe more basic theory. A simple reliance on intuition, for example,cannot resolve fundamental conflicts between values, or rules, such asTruth and Justice that may conflict. In Sidgwick's words“…we require some higher principle to decide theissue…” That will be utilitarianism. Further, the ruleswhich seem to be a fundamental part of common sense morality are oftenvague and underdescribed, and applying them will actually requireappeal to something theoretically more basic — again,utilitarianism. Yet further, absolute interpretations of rules seemhighly counter-intuitive, and yet we need some justification for anyexceptions — provided, again, by utilitarianism. Sidgwickprovides a compelling case for the theoretical primacy ofutilitarianism.


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