Tag Archives: Henry Sidgwick

Henry Sidgwick

[T]he history of thought […] reveal[s] discrepancy between the intuitions of one age and those of a subsequent generation. But where the conflicting beliefs are not contemporaneous, it is usually not clear that the earlier thinker would have maintained his conviction if confronted by the arguments of the later. The history of thought, however, I need hardly say, affords abundant instances of similar conflict among contemporaries; and as conversions are extremely rare in philosophical controversy, I suppose the conflict in most cases affects intuitions—what is self-evident to one mind is not so to another. It is obvious that in any such conflict there must be error on one side or the other, or on both. The natural man will often decide unhesitatingly that the error is on the other side. But it is manifest that a philosophic mind cannot do this, unless it can prove independently that the conflicting intuitor has an inferior faculty of envisaging truth in general or this kind of truth; one who cannot do this must reasonably submit to a loss of confidence in any intuition of his own that thus is found to conflict with another’s.

Henry Sidgwick, ‘Further on the Criteria of Truth and Error’, in Marcus Singer (ed.), Essays on Ethics and Method, Oxford, 2000, p. 168

C. D. Broad

The pleasure of pursuit will not be enjoyed unless we start with at least some faint desire for the pursued end. But the intensity of the pleasure of pursuit may be out of all proportion to the initial intensity of the desire for the end. As the pursuit goes on the desire to attain the end grows in intensity, and so, if we attain it, we may have enjoyed not only the pleasure of pursuit but also the pleasure of fulfilling a desire which has become very strong. All these facts are illustrated by the playing of games, and it is often prudent to try to create a desire for an end in order to enjoy the pleasures of pursuit. As Sidgwick points out, too great a concentration on the thought of the pleasure to be gained by pursuing an end will diminish the desire for the end and thus diminish the pleasure of pursuit. If you want to get most pleasure from pursuing X you will do best to try to forget that this is your object and to concentrate directly on aiming at X. This fact he calls “the Paradox of Hedonism.”

It seems to me that the facts which we have been describing have a most important bearing on the question of Optimism and Pessimism. If this question be discussed, as it generally is, simply with regard to the prospects of human happiness or misery in this life, and account to be taken only of passive pleasures and pains and the pleasures and pains of fulfilled or frustrated desire, it is difficult to justify anything but a most gloomy answer to it. But it is possible to take a much more cheerful view if we include, as we ought to do, the pleasures of pursuit. From a hedonistic standpoint, it seems to me that in human affairs the means generally have to justify the end; that ends are inferior carrots dangled before our noses to make us exercise those activities from which we gain most of our pleasures; and that the secret of a tolerably happy life may be summed up in a parody of Hegel’s famous epigram about the infinite End, viz., “the attainment of the infinite End just consists in preserving the illusion that there is an End to be attained.”

C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory, London, 1930, pp. 191-192

Roger Crisp

In the mid-1980s I attended a series of graduate seminars, run by Derek Parfit, on Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics. Parfit began the first seminar by claiming that the Methods was the greatest book on ethics ever written.

Roger Crisp, ‘Sidgwick and the Boundaries of Intuitionism’, in Philip Staton-Lake (ed.), Ethical Intuitionisms: Re-Evaluations, Oxford, 2003, p. 56