Philosopher

Henry Sidgwick

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Henry Sidgwick Biography

Henry Sidgwick (May 31, 1838 – August 28, 1900) was born in Skipton, England, United Kingdom. Philosopher and economist, founder of the Psychic Research Society, of which he was also president. Sidgwick is one of the most prominent utilitarian philosophers of the 19th century. The creator of the theory of international values, which he developed in his most recognized work is Principles of political economy (1883). Throughout his professional career, he worked as a professor at Trinity College and Knightbridge. In parallel, he conducted various research on ethics, morals, and economics. He was a follower of the ideas of John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant, which are reflected in his work. Sidgwick was one of the intellectuals who promoted higher education for women through Newnham College.

Early years

Son of the Reverend William Sidgwick, who was a descendant of a family of cotton makers, which had settled in Yorkshire. Two years before Sidgwick’s birth, the Reverend was hired as the principal of Skipton Elementary School, a position he held until 1841, the year he died, at which time Henry Sidgwick was only three years old. Sidgwick was educated at home until 1848, at which time he began attending Bishop College, then left home to join his brothers in a school located Blackheath, which was under the direction of Pastor H. Dale. During the following years Sidgwick, stood out for his talent and intelligence, which is why his mother aware of his abilities decided to provide the best education, so he sent Sidgwick to Bristol, where he went to school, a short time later the family settled in Bristol.

Studies and professional career

In the mid-1850s, he left the family’s home to study at the university where his father had graduated, Trinity College, in Cambridge, where he studied Mathematics and Human Sciences. During this training stage, Sidgwick was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a society with a great reputation in the alma mater, in which several debates are held on various topics, in which each member writes annotations, which are preserved and passed on to being part of the archives of the society. After graduating the members of the society are called Angels, and sometimes they attend meetings of the society. After standing out among the students of his course, Sidgwick obtained his degree in 1859, that same year he was elected member of Trinity College, later he was appointed professor of classics, a class that changed by Moral Philosophy in 1869.

In the course of the 1870s, he gave various conferences for women, later named the Newnham College, an institution for women which was managed in the early years by Anne Clough. Three years later, he published his first book, entitled The Methods of Ethics (1874), a book in which the influence of Mill and Kant’s work is reflected, in this he proposed a method that allowed ethical decisions to be made based on three approaches: selfishness, utilitarianism, and intuitionism.

The first refers to the theory that justifies a certain action if it produces happiness to the person who performs it, regardless of whether it can affect others. Utilitarianism tries to contribute to the happiness of all the people involved and intuitionism takes into account other purposes besides happiness. In the end, the author mentions that selfishness and intuitionism do not provide an appropriate basis for rational behavior, so he proposed a system that reconciled selfishness and altruism, without neglecting British ethical utilitarianism.

In 1875, he was elected preselector of Trinity College. The following year he married Eleanor Balfour, who became the director of Newnham College in 1892. At the beginning of the 1880s, she became a member of the Metaphysical Society and began to be interested in psychic phenomena, which led him to found the Society for Psychic Research in 1882. Edmund Gurney, and Frederic William Henry Myers participated, among others. A year later he published Principles of Political Economy (1883), his most famous work, in which the author developed a theory of international values. That same year he was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at Knightsbridge. In the following years, he published The scope and method of economic science (1885), followed Outlines of the History of Ethics for English Readers (1886).

In the last decades of his life, he published Elements of politics (1891) and Practical Ethics (1898). After his death, Philosophy: its Scope and Relations (1902) was published as well as the development of European politics (1903), Miscellaneous Essays and Addresses (1904) and Lectures on the Philosophy of Kant and Other Philosophical Lectures and Essays (1905).

Until 1900 he continued working at Trinity College, an institution in which he had a prominent position, and also actively participated in the reform of the institution. The famous philosopher and economist died on August 28, 1900, in Cambridge, England.

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