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This is the second book of Henry Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics. This is summarized from the 7th edition of 1907 whereas the first book was summarized from the third edition. As more of the content is summarized, the structure of the main page will change.

Book IIEdit

Chapter 1: The Principle and Method of Egoism Edit

§1 This book will describe egoistic hedonism, but Sidgwick question if this ethic should be included due to the diffivulty of addressing the moral needs of society in general[1] (p. 119). Bentham emphasized the greatest good for the greatest number of people but also said that it is right for an individual to seek individual good. Bentham's system is Universalistic Hedonism that Sidgwick will call Utilitarianism (p. 119).

Many Christians see virtue as a path to happiness but many say that action from self-interest is not virtuous (p. 120).

Sidgwick prefers the term "greatest possible Happiness" and defines it as "the greatest attainable surplus of pleasure over pain" with broad latitude on the definitions of pleasure and pain (p. 120).

§2 Paley sees as self-evident product of reason that God will reward obedience to his word with happiness and that living with virtue produces this end. Others find other ways to link virtue and happiness, such as equating virtues of health to long-term happiness. Egoism implies empirical exploration of what you want. The method becomes Empirical-reflective (p. 122).

Chapter II: Empirical Hedonism Edit

§1 If pleasure and pain can be arranged on a scale according to which intensity is rated, the we can imply the concept of hedonistic zero, which is a neutral feeling (p. 124). Epicurus said something different by claiming that complete painlessness is the highest pleasure, but "this doctrine is opposed to common sense and common experience" (p. 125).

§2 In hedonistic calculations pain will be considered the opposite of pleasure, but Sidgwick will frame the discussion on pleasure.

Sidgwick lists some relationships between pleasure and action, such as people who stop eating before they are satiated or when sometimes a state of excitement leads people to persist despite the immediate sensation of pleasure and pain (p. 126). This is passion. He also noted the somewhat contradictory state of being motivated to stop a behavior that is not painful: being tickled (p. 127). "If these be so, it is obviously inexect to define pleasure, for purposes of measurement, as the kind of feeling that we seek to retain in consciousness" (p. 127). Sidwick's proposal is to define pleasure "as a feeling which, when experienced by intelligent beings, is at least implicitly apprehended as desirable or—in cases of comparison—prefereable" (p. 127). To avoid the contradictory state of preferring the less pleasureable of two states, Sidgwick suggested that there is error in comparing a current feeling with the memory of a different feeling. There are also cases in which people deem one type of pleasure to be qualitatively superior to others, and this can happen if what is preferred is a mental side-effect of the experience (p. 128; perhaps Sidgwick contrasted physical sensations from cognitions of those sensations and considered the physical sensations to be pleasure as defined by the egoistic hedonism view—others might count the cognitions as part of the experience of pleasure). He elaborated on the hedonistic view of pleasure: "I conceive that the preerence which pure Hedonismregards as ultimately rational, should be defined as the preference of feeling valued merely as feeling, according to the estimate implicitly or explicitly made by the sentient individual at the time of feeling it; without any regard to the conditions and relations udner which it arise" (p. 129). This is the basis for quantitative hedonism.

Chapter III: Empirical Hedonism Edit

§1 A definition of pleasure:

Let, then, pleasurable defined as feeling which the sentient individual at the time of feeling it implicitly or explicitly apprehends to be desirable;—desirable, that is, when considered merely as feeling, and not in respect to its objective conditions or consequences, or of any facts that come directly within the cognisance and judgment of others besides the sentient individual. (p. 131)
Sidgwick also assumed that people can compare two pleasures to determine which is preferred.

One objection to this definition is that people can experience pleasure that is not in the form of a feeling. The solution might hinge on the difference between pleasure and self-satisfaction if they are considered mutually exclusive (p. 133).

Another objection is about the implications of adding utility to seek the maximum sum of utility and the related proposition that utility could be enjoyed all at once. Sidgwick asserted that pleasure can be enjoyed all at once (p. 134).

§2 Other concerns are that awareness of seeking pleasure ruins the feeling or that people will pursue permanent sources of pleasure. Sidgwick does not see these as fatal to hedonism.

Sidgwick claimed that much of our pleasure is derived from "extra-regarding impulses" (p. 136; meaning pleasing others or pleasing God is a way of pleasing ourselves). He sees this as a limitation of self-directed hedonism because it prevents people from attaining the highest levels of pleasure, and that a truly self-focused person could not aim to please others. He then suggested that the desire to please others will manifest itself unconsciously (p. 137). He listed two examples of groups that focused on extra-regarding principles did not manifest conflicts with pursuing one's own happiness (p. 138).

§3 Another objection to hedonism is the difficulty of "reflectively observing and examining pleasure" (p. 139) and enjoying it at the same time. Sidgwick doubts that there is a conflict here but acknowledged that it might affect the experience of the greatest emotions. It is the consideration of things other than the cause of the emotion that can stifle it (p. 140).

§4 There might be a problem with declaring that the current feeling is better or worse than one from the past or future. The problem is that the current experience is a feeling and the recalled one is not (p. 141). This process requires quantitative estimates of pleasure (p. 142).

§5 There would still be a problem of comparing one person's pleasure to another's (p. 144). Part of the problem is the lack of an anchor for the scale (Sidgwick did not use those terms but said that people can rate the same experience differently at different times). Part of the anchoring problem is that some pleasures and pains are easier or more difficult to recall than others so comparisons within one person are inaccurate.

§6 The preceding discussion has elaborated the implications of two assumptions of Empirical Quantitative Hedonism: that pleasures vary in degree and that our awareness of them is empirical (i.e., quantifiable; p. 146). Adding quantities of or ratios of pleasure occurs in the imaginary world, but we are unable to contradict the answers with experience. Any validation process can produce only approximations (p. 147).

§7 It is increasingly difficult to estimate happiness under new circumstances, so we would need to rely on information from others (for example: a child making predictions about adulthood; p. 147–148). It is also possible that our self-judgments of pleasure become mixed with and confused with the multitudes of input that we received from others (p. 149). We can also acquire new tastes or discernment of pleasures and pains (like learning to appreciate a new art form).

These ideas further weaken the ability of people to maximize pleasure (accurately ; p. 150). Sidgwick did not say that this method is invalid but that "it would be at least highly desirable, with a view to the systematic direction of conduct, to control and supplement the results of such comparisons by the assistance of some other method:if we can find any on which we see reason to rely" (p. 150).

Chapter 4Edit

§1 The chapter begins with consideration of descriptions of objective versus subjective ways to describe the pursuit of happiness. Our common sense estimates of what causes happiness in society is "at the best, an estimate true for an average or typical human being" (p. 151).

Perhaps the issue of pleasure might apply only to the few who are not struggling to survive (p. 152).

Sometimes our moral judgment unconsciously affects our perception of what would create happiness. There is also a related phenomena in which people pursue something that others think to be aesthetically superior. In either case, the influences can distort the balanced consideration of happiness.

§2 At first, common sense seems to lead to agreement about what leads to happiness, but upon inspecition there are dificulties (p. 153-154). Common sense does say that health is important, but those with wealth often pursue things that compromise health. Others risk their health to obtain wealth (p. 155).

Fame and reputation are often pursued, but some see their hedonistic value is doubtful (p. 155-156). The time and trouble exerted on social interaction by the wealthy does not seem to be worth the pleasure.

Posthumous fame violates egoistic rationality, but is a common pursuit. Pursuit of power is never satisfied. "And yet it may fairly be doubted whether men in general do value domestic life very highly, apart from the gratification of sexual passion."

§3 Common sense does not fix the quantification problem for hedonistic utilitarianism (i.e., imprecision in determining the best course of action remains; p. 158-159). Sidgwick implies decreasing marginal utility: "It seems clear, again, that luxury adds less to the ordinary enjoyment of life than most men struggling with penury suppose" (p. 159), but the security and insulation against the pain of proverty that is provided by wealth indicates that it does contribute toward some increase in happiness (p. 159).

Common sense provides little more "than rather indefinite general rules" (p. 160).

The closing remarks criticize the belief that perceptions of duty "have a higher degree of certainty than most of the current opinions that we have been examining" (p. 160). In other words, Sidgwick equates the perception of duty with common sense intuition and denies (at least) the precision of such perception. This is the subject of the next chapter.


  1. Sidgwick, H. (1907). The Methods of Ethics, 7th edition. London: Macmillan. [1]


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