Utilitas

Research Article

Sidgwick's Epistemology

JOHN DEIGHa1

a1 University of Texas at Austin jdeigh@mail.law.utexas.edu

Abstract

This article concerns two themes in Bart Schultz's recent biography of Henry Sidgwick, Henry Sidgwick: Eye of the Universe. The first is the importance of Sidgwick's conflict over his religious beliefs to the development of his thinking in The Methods of Ethics. I suggest that, in addition to the characteristics of Methods that Schulz highlights, the work's epistemology, specifically, Sidgwick's program of presenting ethics as an axiomatic system on the traditional understanding of such systems, is due to the conflict. The second is the relative neglect into which Methods fell in the first part of the twentieth century, neglect Schultz attributes to changes in philosophical fashions and to the undue influence of the Bloomsbury literati on British intellectual culture. I suggest that there is a deeper explanation, which lies in Sidgwick's program of presenting ethics as an axiomatic system on the traditional understanding of such systems. Such programs, I argue, became obsolete in analytic philosophy owing to changes in how axiomatization in mathematics was understood that resulted initially from the rise of non-Euclidean geometries and ultimately from the collapse of Frege's and Russell's logicism.