Henry Sidgwick's The Methods of Ethics is one of the most important books in the history of moral philosophy. But it has not hitherto received the kind of sustained scholarly attention its stature merits. David Phillips aims in Sidgwickian Ethics to do something that has (surprisingly) not been done before: to interpret and evaluate the central argument of the Methods, in a way that brings out the important conceptual and historical connections between
Sidgwick's views and contemporary moral philosophy.
Sidgwick distinguished three basic methods: utilitarianism, egoism, and dogmatic intuitionism. And he focused on two conflicts: between utilitarianism and dogmatic intuitionism and between utilitarianism and egoism. Sidgwick believed he could largely resolve the conflict between utilitarianism and dogmatic intuitionism, but could not resolve the conflict between utilitarianism and egoism. Phillips suggests that the best way to approach Sidgwick's ideas is to start with his views on these two
conflicts, and with the metaethical and epistemological ideas on which they depend. Phillips interprets and largely defends Sidgwick's non-naturalist metaethics and moderate intuitionist moral epistemology. But he argues for a verdict on the two conflicts different from Sidgwick's own. Phillips claims
that Sidgwick is less successful than he thinks in resolving the conflict between utilitarianism and dogmatic intuitionism, and that Sidgwick's treatment of the conflict between utilitarianism and egoism is more successful than he thinks in that it provides the model for a plausible view of practical reason.