Ordinary Moral Thought and Common-Sense Morality: Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics

Rivista di Filosofia 115 (1):107-134 (2024)
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This paper is dedicated to the relationship between ordinary moral thought and ethical theory in Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics. I suggest that different contents of ordinary moral thought play different roles and are lent different philosophical weight in Sidgwick’s arguments. I start by showing how Sidgwick appeals to certain features of ordinary moral thought, deduced from moral language and experience, both in criticising rival metaethical positions and in establishing his own claims. I then turn to the notion of common-sense morality. After clarifying what Sidgwick means by this expression, I argue that common-sense morality has neither probative value in Sidgwick’s argument for the utilitarian principle nor independent validity, and that its authority is ultimately motivated on utilitarian grounds. Pointing out how different contents of ordinary moral thought play different argumentative roles in the foundation and defence of Sidgwick’s utilitarianism enables to ac- count more comprehensively for Sidgwick’s arguments and moral methodology and provides with a more articulated account of the dialectic between his utilitarian theory and ordinary moral thought.

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Giulia Cantamessi
Universita' degli Studi di Pavia


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