SIDGWICKMEMO-F11 - Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay...

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Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay Wallace) Notes on Sidgwick’s Ethics 1. Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics is the work in which the classical utilitarian tradition inaugurated by Hume achieves its most impressive and systematic statement. His aim in the ME : To compare systematically the main philosophical approaches to understanding the structure of the normative requirements that apply to us (principles specifying what we ought to do). 2. Three such methods in particular are to be examined: [a] Egoistic hedonism. Holds that each person is to maximize the net balance of pleasure over pain in his life (treating equally the different times within the life at which the pleasures and pains occur). [b] Intuitionism. Explained in different ways at different points. But the basic idea is that there is a plurality of fundamental maxims, grasped by direct intuition, which specify what we ought or must do, and in a way that disregards the consequences that may redound from performing the actions (either for the agent, or for other persons): 200; 337-8. [c] Universalistic hedonism, enjoining us to maximize in our actions the net balance of pleasure over pain, taking into account the experiences of all sentient creatures affected; e.g. 413. This is the utilitarian principle. Basic drift of the argument: intuitionism can be rejected, but egoistic and universalistic hedonism are both compelling “methods”, or principles of practical reason. But they conflict with each other, and cannot be reconciled. So there is no single, coherent framework for thinking about the basic questions of practical reason. 3. Re intuitionism: argument is that the morality of common sense does not in fact deliver any maxims or principles that are sufficiently precise, determinate, and self- evident to serve as the basis for a suitably scientific system of ethics (or a reconstruction of our normative requirements). Four conditions are outlined for basic principles of intuition, 338-342. HS then argues that none of the concrete maxims of action delivered up by the morality of common sense really meets these conditions. Argument assumes that an account of the structure of our duties must identify “first principles of scientific ethics” (355), something it is not obvious we should accept. Why shouldn’t the intuitive first principles have grey areas in their application, or occasionally come into conflicts with one another that we cannot easily resolve? 4. Philosophical intuitionism, by contrast, is the fully reflective search for ultimate
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SIDGWICKMEMO-F11 - Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay...

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