A new event page has been created for the September 19th author-meets-critics event with Katarzyna de Lazai-Radek and Peter Singer, discussing their book, “The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and Contemporary Ethics”. Other presenters at the book symposium will be Thomas Hurka (Toronto), Jennifer Hawkins (Duke), Anthony Skelton (Western), and David Phillips (Houston).

“The Point of View of the Universe” is devoted to interpreting and defending in a contemporary setting a number of the doctrines found in Henry Sidgwick’s “The Methods of Ethics”. In a book review published on the Notre Dame Philosophical Review, Bart Schultz (University of Chicago) wrote:

This book might well represent the most significant statement and defense of act utilitarianism since the 19th century, when the classical utilitarianism of Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick became the spirit of the age. Indeed, in many respects, it marks a crucial return to classical utilitarianism in its finest flowering. The authors, one a rising star and one the North Star of philosophical utilitarianism, are as clear as can be that progress in philosophical ethics involves a return to Sidgwick, the late Victorian-era Cambridge University academic and author of The Methods of Ethics (1874):

we have followed the main lines of Sidgwick’s thinking about ethics, and tested his views both against our own reasoning and against the best of the vast body of recent and current philosophical writing on the topics he addresses. The overarching question we have sought to answer is whether Sidgwick’s form of utilitarianism can be defended. In most respects we believe it can be. Parfit’s claim that, in the long tradition of ethics, “Sidgwick’s book contains the largest number of true and important claims” stand up well. (378)

Restoring Sidgwick to his rightful place of philosophical honor and cogently defending his central positions are obviously no small tasks, but the authors are remarkably successful in pulling them off, in a defense that, in the case of Singer at least, means candidly acknowledging that previous defenses of Hare’s universal prescriptivism and of a desire or preference satisfaction theory of the good were not in the end advances on the hedonistic utilitarianism set out by Sidgwick. But if struggles with Singer’s earlier selves run throughout the book, they are intertwined with struggles to come to terms with the work of Derek Parfit, both Reasons and Persons (Oxford, 1984) and On What Matters (Oxford, 2011), works that have virtually defined the field of analytical rehabilitations of Sidgwick’s arguments. The real task of The Point of View of the Universe — the title being an expression that Sidgwick used to refer to the impartial moral point of view — is to defend the effort to be even more Sidgwickian than Parfit, and, intriguingly enough, even more Sidgwickian than Sidgwick himself.

To read the full review, visit the NDPR.

The author-meets-critics event with Katarzyna de Lazai-Radek and Peter Singer is scheduled for September 19th, from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. To view further event details, and register to attend, please see the event page.