Henry Sidgwick

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Henry Sidgwick

Henry Sidgwick (31 May 1838 – 28 August 1900) was an English utilitarian philosopher and economist.


  • The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may so say) of the Universe, than the good of any other; unless, that is, there are special grounds for believing that more good is likely to be realized in the one case than in the other.
    • The Methods of Ethics (1884), p. 381
  • I may begin by laying down as a principle that ‘all pain of human or rational beings is to be avoided’; and then afterwards may be led to enunciate the wider rule that ‘all pain is to be avoided’; it being made evident to me that the difference of rationality between two species of sentient beings is no ground for establishing a fundamental ethical distinction between their respective pains.
    • "The Establishment of Ethical First Principles" (1879), in Essays on Ethics and Method (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), p. 30
  • Now, I agree with Mill in holding that the scientific study of the structures and functions of the different governments that have actually existed in human societies cannot well be pursued in complete separation from the scientific study of other important elements of the societies in question : whether the aim of the student is to ascertain the causes of the differences in such governments or to examine their effects. But I do not think that there is any fundamental difference, in this respect, between the study of political relations and the study of economic relations, or, again, of religion, of art, of science and philosophy, as factors of social life. In each of these eases the student concentrates his attention on one element of human history which can only be partially separated from other components of the whole complex fact of social development. Experience seems to show that this kind of concentration, and consequent partial separation of historical and sociological study into special branches, is unavoidable in the division of intellectual labour which the growth of our knowledge renders necessary in a continually increasing degree.
    • Elements of Politics (3rd ed., 1908), Ch. 1: Scope and Method of Politics
  • For philosophy and history alike have taught...to seek not what is "safe," but what is true.
    • Letter to the Times, February 20, 1861.

Quotes about Sidgwick[edit]

  • The last comprehensive attempt to restate the principles of a free society, already much qualified and in the restrained form expected of an academic textbook, is Henry Sidgwick, The Elements of Politics (London: Macmillan, 1891). Though in many respects an admirable work, it scarcely represents what must be regarded as the British liberal tradition and is strongly tainted with that rationalist utilitarianism which led to socialism.
  • Despite his inability to build a system, Sidgwick had made Cambridge Benthamite in its social reasoning. Perhaps this development was always inevitable in a university which had aimed to turn out mathematical rather than classical curates. But it had important consequences. Only a philosophy based on a hedonistic calculus could provided exact reasoning about social policy. Alfred Marshall was a product of Sidgwick's Cambridge. On the other hand, Sidgwick left moral philosophy in a mess. Intuitionist ideas revived, with an admixture of Hegelianism, in the more dynamic form of Idealism. But its headquarters were at Oxford rather than Cambridge; its high priests the Oxford philosophers Bradley and T. H. Green. Cambridge had become too critical, too empirical, to accept its ethics in metaphysical form. The way was open for G. E. Moore to construct a Cambridge system detached from both Benthamism and metaphysics. Moore was as much a product of Sidgwick's failure as was Marshall.
    • Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: 1883-1946: Economist, Philosopher, Statesman (2003), Ch. 2. Cambridge Civilisation: Sidgwick and Marshall
  • The method is Bentham's; but there is none of Bentham's strong critical antagonism to the institutions of his time, and the mode of thought is much more what we might expect from an end-of-the-nineteenth-century Blackstone, or from an English Hegel, showing the rationality of the existing order of things, with only a few modest proposals of reform. If this is Benthamism, it is Benthamism grown tame and sleek.
    • Ritchie, David G. (Jan 1892). "Review of The Elements of Politics by Henry Sidgwick". The International Journal of Ethics 2 (2): 254-257. DOI:10.1086/intejethi.2.2.2375741.

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