, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 361-378
Date: 15 Mar 2010

Methods of ethics and the descent of man: Darwin and Sidgwick on ethics and evolution

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Abstract

Darwin’s treatment of morality in The Descent of Man has generated a wide variety of responses among moral philosophers. Among these is the dismissal of evolution as irrelevant to ethics by Darwin’s contemporary Henry Sidgwick; the last, and arguably the greatest, of the Nineteenth Century British Utilitarians. This paper offers a re-examination of Sidgwick’s response to evolutionary considerations as irrelevant to ethics and the absence of any engagement with Darwin’s work in Sidgwick’s main ethical treatise, The Methods of Ethics. This assessment of Sidgwick’s response to Darwin’s work is shown to have significance for a number of ongoing controversies in contemporary metaethics.