Mr. Spencer's Ethical System

Henry Sidgwick

in Essays on Ethics and Method

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780198250234
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598432 | DOI:

Series: British Moral Philosophers

 Mr. Spencer's Ethical System

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In his discussion of Herbert Spencer's effort to provide a scientific basis for the rules of right conduct, Sidgwick maintains that this species of inquiry does not necessarily establish the authority of the morality of which it explains the existence. Granted, the authority of such a morality Spencer does not attempt to establish, as he confines himself to identifying the origin of current moral concepts, which he regards as defective, one‐sided and destined to give way to a truer morality. It is the authority of this truer morality that Spencer ultimately aims to establish. Sidgwick suggests that Spencer's opposition to Bentham and utilitarianism turns on a misunderstanding: his target should be the pure altruism advocated by Positivists (including Mill on Sidgwick's interpretation), not the sober and guarded altruism of Bentham and the Benthamites.

Keywords: altruism; authority; Bentham; Mill; morality; positivism; right; Sidgwick; Herbert Spencer; utilitarianism

Chapter.  5229 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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