Henry Sidgwick Biography


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

In Methods of Ethics, his greatest book, Sidgwick argues that there are no grounds for rational action in judging an act either on the basis of the happiness it brings to the actor (egoism) or on the basis of criteria other than the promotion of happiness (intuitionism). Instead, he proposes a system of “universal hedonism” in which one seeks to reconcile the conflict between one’s own pleasures and those of others. His argument is similar to that of Immanuel Kant and is parallel to the latter’s “categorical imperative.” Sidgwick’s interests went beyond formal systems of ethics; he also engaged in psychic research and studied political economy. Among his works are Principles of Political Economy (1883), Elements of Politics (1891), and The Development of European Polity (1903), which was published after his death.