Utilitarianism Versus Egoism

David Phillips

in Sidgwickian Ethics

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199778911
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919093 | DOI:
Utilitarianism Versus Egoism

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I argue that Sidgwick believes three claims: (a) That a fundamental proposition of egoism is apparently self-evident; (b) That a fundamental proposition of utilitarianism is apparently self-evident, and (c) That these two fundamental propositions contradict one another. I then claim that the arguments he gives to believe (a)-(c) are inadequate. The most he is entitled to assert are three related weaker claims: (a2) That there are agent-relative reasons; (b2) That there are agent-neutral reasons, and (c2) That it is rationally permissible to act as egoism requires and rationally permissible to act as utilitarianism requires. This has implications for interpretation of the dualism of practical reason. For while Sidgwick's official characterizations of the dualism support the standard conflict-enhancing interpretations, these reflections on the character and quality of his arguments provide some support for an alternative conflict-mitigating interpretation. The first two claims, (a2) and (b2) together partially constitute a plausible, distinctively Sidgwickian view of practical reason.

Keywords: egoism; utilitarianism; dualism; practical reason

Chapter.  19662 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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