Sidgwick is a Utilitarian. According to him, while on the one hand we shall keep our eye on actions giving pleasure and not pleasure itself, it is also necessary, on the other hand that the aim be the pleasure of all and not of the individual.
There is complete adjustment between unselfish philanthropy and intellectual self love. Only individual pleasure, can, in itself, be momentary and despicable, but universal pleasure certainly is desirable. In the opinion of Sidgwick, it is the mandate of reason or intuition that the pleasure of the individual and the collectivity is to be treated as one and in this way, social pleasure it to be sought.
Paradox of Hedonism:
Sidgwick concedes the paradox of Hedonism. Looking for pleasure will not bring pleasure. To obtain pleasure, one should search for pleasure giving objects. Reason informs that pleasure is augmented by an unselfish search of good qualities.
Knowledge, beauty, art, etc. give pleasure to man and they should, consequently, be sought for but it must consistently be remembered that their importance is only proportional to the degree of pleasure accruing from them.
Against the Hedonism of Mill and Bentham, Sidgwick indicates the paradox of Hedonism. “The impulse towards pleasure, if too predominant defeats its own purpose.’ Sidgwick is an ethical hedonist.
According to him; pleasure is not but ought to be the aim of the individual. He does not reason as Mill does. He asserts that reason by its intuition, tells us that pleasure is the ultimate good which is an end in itself.
Rationalism and Intuitionism:
Affording to Sidgwiek, it is man’s prudence which makes pleasure the ultimate aim. Although the ultimate good is affective it is sensed by reason, not experience. Thus, Sidgwick is a hedonist only in regard to his belief in pleasure as the ultimate aim, as otherwise with regard to questions of motivating causes he is a rationalist and intuitionist. His theory of duty is intellectualistic while his theory of ultimate good is hedonistic.
Problems for the Distribution of Pleasure:
According to Sidgwick, moral consciousness gives us knowledge of not only the ultimate good but also tells us the principle of its distribution. Prudence, benevolence and justice are the three rational principles of the distribution of pleasure between society and the individual.
These principles offer clear practical directives in our life and these cannot be got from purely philosophical principles.
(1) Prudence or Rational self love:
According to this principle, when we are searching for pleasure we should think of all the aspects and times of our lives. It is not right to give up present pleasure for more pleasures in the future. In the same way, definite pleasure in the present is not to be given up for uncertain pleasure in the future.
Man’s aim is permanent and integral pleasure, not momentary pleasure. Rational self love directs to an impartial concern for all parts of our conscious life. In life, it is only reason which effects the right distribution of pleasure. The aim of man is the pleasure of the total life.
(2) Rational benevolence:
According to the axiom of rational benevolence, “each one is morally bound to regard the good of any other individual as much as his own.’ In other words, “I ought not to prefer my own lesser good to the greater good of another.”
From the viewpoint of the universe, the pleasures of all are similar. Experience cannot fill up the gap between egoism and altruism. It is reason which links individual and general pleasure to each other.
Reason tells that everyone should aim at the pleasure of all and he should sacrifice his own pleasure for that of all.
Against Mill, Sidgwick gives a logical evidence for Utilitarianism. If everyone has the right to enjoy his own pleasures and the good of the individual is his pleasure, then the pleasure of everyone should have equal importance.
The pleasure of everyone is a part of universal pleasure and thus if for some greater increase in universal pleasure it becomes necessary to dispense with lesser individual pleasure, it then becomes a duty. It is necessary that there be an equal increase in social as well as individual pleasure.
Justice is a complement to the principles of rational self love or rational benevolence. According to this principle a person should behave towards other people as he would have them behave towards him.
It is the principle of equality. It directs that there be an equal distribution of pleasure among different individuals of society and the different moments of an individual’s own life.
This equality is not a blind one. This is rational impartiality. “Similar cases should be treated similarly.” Whatever actions any of us judges to be right for himself, he implicitly judges it to be right or all similar persons hi similar circumstances.
Person is equal but the equality is not blind. All persons are not identical and neither is they equally deserving of pleasure. Thus, some people will have to be treated as superior to others.
But, in spite of this, everyone should get at least that part of pleasure which is his due. In this way, the principle of justice aims at the maximum pleasure of all. According to this principle, the ultimate good of individual life is the obtaining of pleasure of the total life.
In the whole life, different moments do not have equal importance but they all do have their own importance. According to the principle of justice, it is essential to distribute pleasure among the different moments of life according to their importance.
Dualism of Prudence and Benevolence:
But the commands of prudence or self love and benevolence are mutually contradictory. Prudence commands that man should search for his own maximum pleasure. According to the principle of benevolence, the aim is the pleasure of the entire human race.
Here Sidgwick links egoism and altruism with the help of prudence. He concedes that dualism exists in the reason, but he also holds that there are 110 contradictions between the two principles. While there is dualism in the reason, it is the dualism of practical reason. Both are equally accepted or blessed by reason.
Wherever egoism and altruism clearly contradict, prudence is also divided into two parts. Rational self love and rational benevolence enjoy reciprocal adjustment In the case of contradiction of egoism and altruism; the conflict can be resolved by a study of the comparative viewpoints. When compared, the more pleasure should be preferred to the less, be it social individual pleasure.