ARTICLE: Methods of ethics and the descent of man: Darwin and Sidgwick on ethics and evolution

Henry Sidgwick (May 31, 1838–August 28, 1900)

Henry Sidgwick (May 31, 1838–August 28, 1900)

From the journal Biology and Philosophy (June 2010):

Methods of ethics and the descent of man: Darwin and Sidgwick on ethics and evolution

Lillehammer, Hallvard

Abstract Darwin’s treatment of morality in The Descent of Man has generated a wide variety of responses among moral philosophers. Among these is the dismissal of evolution as irrelevant to ethics by Darwin’s contemporary Henry Sidgwick; the last, and arguably the greatest, of the Nineteenth Century British Utilitarians. This paper offers a re-examination of Sidgwick’s response to evolutionary considerations as irrelevant to ethics and the absence of any engagement with Darwin’s work in Sidgwick’s main ethical treatise, The Methods of Ethics. This assessment of Sidgwick’s response to Darwin’s work is shown to have significance for a number of ongoing controversies in contemporary metaethics.

2 thoughts on “ARTICLE: Methods of ethics and the descent of man: Darwin and Sidgwick on ethics and evolution

  1. Sidgwick plays a minor but important role in the history of secularisation. From the 17th century onwards teaching staff at Oxbridge were required to take holy order in the Church of England and to affirm to the 39 Principles. Newton, by the way, received a special dispensation. In the middle of the 19th century Sidgwick decided he could no longer affirm the 39 principles and resigned his post. The university decideded that they didn’t wont to loose him so the requirements were abolished!

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