A More Reasonable Ghost: Further Reflections on Henry Sidgwick and the Irrationality of the Universe

by Bart Schultz

Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) has often been cast as the most philosophically astute of the classical utilitarians, an epistemological foundationalist, and a defender of a non-metaphysical form of cognitive intuitionism. Such perspectives, increasingly prominent since the revival of interest in Sidgwick in the 1970s, do capture important elements of his philosophy. But they do not fully capture Sidgwick’s reflexive, agnostic notion of reasonableness, the concerns he shared with his Idealist opponents, and his larger existential anxieties about the irrationality of the cosmos and the meaning of modernity.

This essay further develops claims first made by Schultz in his keynote address delivered to the conference on 'Transcendence, Idealism, and Modernity' held at New College, Oxford in 2011. It sets out, in light of those themes, a number of difficulties for the standard interpretations of and philosophical engagements with the philosophy of Sidgwick.

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About the Author


Bart Schultz

Bart Schultz is Senior Lecturer in the Humanities (Philosophy) and Director of the Civic Knowledge Project at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 1987. His books include Essays on Henry Sidgwick (Cambridge, 1992), Henry Sidgwick: Eye of the Universe (Cambridge, 2004, winner of the American Philosophical Society's Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History for 2004), Utilitarianism and Empire (Lexington, 2005), and The Happiness Philosophers: Lives of the Eminent Utilitarians (Princeton, 2016). He is on the Editorial Board of Utilitas, the leading professional journal of utilitarian studies, and serves on the Board of Directors of PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization). Through the Civic Knowledge Project he has developed a number of public ethics programs, including the precollegiate philosophy program Winning Words, winner of the 2012 American Philosophical Association's PDC Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Philosophy Programs.