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Sidgwick and Common–Sense Morality

  • Brad Hooker (a1)

This paper begins by celebrating Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics. It then discusses Sidgwick's moral epistemology and in particular the coherentist element introduced by his argument from common-sense morality to utilitarianism. The paper moves on to a discussion of how common-sense morality seems more appealing if its principles are formulated as picking out pro tanto considerations rather than all-things-considered demands. Thefinal section of the paper considers the question of which version of utilitarianism follows from Sidgwick's arguments.

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1 In this paper, I will refer to the 7th edn., London, 1907. Page numbers from this edition will appear in my text.

2 Discussions of Sidgwick's moral epistemology that I have found particularly helpful are Brink David, ‘Common Sense and First Principles in Sidgwick's MethodsSocial Philosophy and Policy, xi (1994); Crisp Roger, ‘Griffin's Pessimism’, Well-Being and Morality: Essays in Honour of James Griffin ed. Crisp R. and Hooker B., Oxford, 2000; and Crisp , ‘Sidgwick and the Boundaries of Intuitionism’, forthcoming in Moral Intuitionism, ed. Stratton-Lake P., Oxford, 2001.

3 For careful discussions of promising, see Sidgwick, pp. 305–11; Hart H. L. A., The Concept of Law, Oxford, 1961, pp. 192 f.; Fried Charles, Contract as Promise, Cambridge, MA, 1981, esp. ch. 7; Thomson Judith Jarvis, Realm of Rights, combridge, MA, 1990, ch. 12; Scanlon T. M., What We Owe to Each Other, Cambridge, MA, 1998, ch. 7. Donagan Compare Alan, ‘Sidgwick and Whewellian Intuitionism:Some Enigmas’, Essays on Henry Sidgwick, ed. Schultz B., New York, 1992.

4 Donagan, pp. 129–31.

5 Apart from the following relatively small matter. Donagan alleged that, by many accounts including Sidgwick's own, Sidgwick's reasoning about whether to resign his Cambridge fellowship because of his failing the religious tests was not utilitarian, but in fact Whewellian (Donagan, 135–40). Defenders of Sidgwick can make at least the following two replies. First, Sidgwick's version of utilitarianism was innovative precisely in the degree to which it allowed, even encouraged, utilitarians to think in nonutilitarian terms. (I say more about this latter in my text). Secondly, whether or not Sidgwick made the decision on utilitarian grounds, the act he chose to do certainly seems to have been a success in utilitarian terms. (For a fascinating related discussion, see Bart Schultz's review of a new edition of Sidgwick's Practical Ethics, in Ethics, cix (1999), esp. 682–4).

6 The classic proposal of this sort of view is in Ross W. D., The Right and the Good, Oxford, 1930, ch. 2.

7 Related atters are taken up in the final section of my ‘Moral Particularism — Wrong and Bad’, Moral Particularism, ed. Hooker B. and Little M., Oxford, 2000.

8 Sidgwick was hardly the first to defend utilitarianism in this way. Buthe developed the line of thought further than any other classical utilitarian did.

9 See, for example, Williams Bernard, ‘The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and the Ambitions of Ethics’, repr. in his Making Sense of Humanity and Other Essays, Cambridge, 1995, esp. pp. 167–71.

10 I do discuss related matters in ch. 4 of my Ideal Code, Real World: A Ruleconsequentialist Theory of Morality, Oxford, 2000, and in my ‘Reflective Equilibrium and Rule Consequentialism’, Morality, Rules and Consequences:A Critical Reader, ed. Hooker B., Mason E. and Miller D. E., Edinburgh, 2000.

11 Here I draw on terminology from Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Oxford, 1984, sect. 13.

12 Gray John, ‘Indirect Utility and Fundamental Rights’, in his Liberalisms:Essays in Political Philosophy, London, 1989, p. 126.

13 For an excellent discussion, see Crisp R., Mill on Utilitarianism, London, 1997, pp. 126–33.

14 For discussion, see Singer Marcus, ‘Generalization in Ethics’, Mind, lxiv (1955); Generalization in Ethics, New York, 1961; Lyons David, Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism, Oxford, 1965; Regan Donald, Utilitarianism and Co-operation, Oxford, 1980; and my Ideal Code, Real World, sects. 3.2 and 4.2.

15 As Urmson James argued in his ‘The Interpretation of the Philosophy of J. S. Mill’, Philosophical Quarterly, iii (1953).

16 This matter has attracted enormous attention in recent moral philosophy. My own attempt to deal with it can be found in chs. 7–8 of Ideal Code, Real World.

17 For helpful comments on this paper, I am grateful to David Brink, Roger Crisp, Thomas Hurka, Robert Shaver, John Skorupski, Wayne Sumner, and especially Bart Schultz. I am also grateful to Australian National University's Research School for Social Sciences, where I was visiting while I wrote this paper.

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
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