Analysis Of Sidgwick's Third Axiom

1207 words - 5 pages

This paper will object to Sidgwick’s axiom that from the point of view of the universe, the good of one is no more important than the good of another on the ground that it is analytic. I present the purpose and content of the axiom with a further explanation of what I take ‘the point of view of the universe’ to mean. I then consider the response of the Egoist to the axiom and Sidgwick’s counter-response to illustrate the tautology of the argument. The tautology of the argument brings it in line with other axioms that Sidgwick rejects as insignificant. Thus, I argue that the third axiom fails to meet Sidgwick’s own standards, making its utility and significance questionable. In response to this, I consider that the axiom may be analytic but in a nontrivial way and thus still valuable. However, given that the axiom is still easily refuted by the Egoist I ultimately conclude that it fails to be significant in a meaningful way.
During his examination of Common Sense Morality, Sidgwick puts forth a series of propositions he believes pass his tests for achieving the highest possible certainty. Additionally, these axioms provide the bases of his argument for the adoption of Utilitarianism. Arguably the most important of these axioms is the third, which holds that “the good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view... of the Universe, than the good of any other; unless, that is, there are special grounds for believing that more good is likely to be realised in the one case than in the other.” What Sidgwick meant by the “point of view of the universe” is not explained in the methods, though in a later paper he suggests that it is “what all rational beings, as such, ought to aim at realizing.” By this, I take him to mean something similar to Rawls’ veil of ignorance; an outside, impartial perspective that has an understanding of good, promotes it, and is a perspective that all rational beings ought to adopt. Thus, the axiom holds that we must regard the good of others as equal to our own good unless, when viewed from an impartial position, it is less due to special circumstances . For example, Sidgwick states that it would be wrong for a man to pursue his own good on any occasion if it would result in another individual having to sacrifice a greater amount of their good.
The problem with the axiom lies in the use of the phrase ‘from the point of view of the universe’. The phrase must be included because without it an Egoist could easily reject the axiom, which would be unacceptable for Sidgwick. However, the inclusion of this phrase could lead one to object to the axiom on the basis that it is analytic. As it stands, the Egoist can escape the axiom so long as he holds his happiness as his ultimate end. He can simply say he is not interested in taking up that point of view and thus it does not apply. Sidgwick acknowledges this to be true, so long as the Egoist does not believe that “his happiness or pleasure is Good, not...

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