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



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.



Biology & PhilosophySpringer Journals

Published: Jun 1, 2010

DOI: 10.1007/s10539-010-9204-8

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