By David Boucher
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Extra info for British Idealism: A Guide for the Perplexed
However, Sidgwick’s utilitarian ethics in the 1880s, in the final analysis, lacked the strident self-confidence of Bentham or the positivistic yearnings 30 The Coming of British Idealism and liberal radicalism of J. S. Mill. His utilitarianism was more eclectic, sceptical and wavering, yet still committed, in the end, to utilitarian calculation, consequentialism and policy recommendation. There are two further features to note, on the above analysis: first, utilitarianism in the nineteenth century was not one singular thing.
However, for Idealism, the utilitarian did not really provide adequate answers to any of these questions. Consequently, its account of human knowledge was seen as completely epistemologically flawed. For Idealists, knowledge of the experiential world (and nature) could not explain the nature of knowledge. Utilitarianism – a philosophy focused largely on empiricism and a form of sensationalism – was thus considered to be epistemically defective from its very inception. Morally, utilitarianism was also seen as a deeply problematic doctrine insofar as it was linked, once again, in the minds of most Idealists, to the same unsubstantiated abstract atomism.
71 Idealists gave little credence to the Lamarckian principle of inherited characters, while at the same time stressing a strong, but not exclusive, environmental influence upon human personality. The theory of inherited characters seemed to Idealists, such as David Ritchie, surplus to requirements. There are no instances of heredity that could be explained by the theory of inherited characters which could not be explained by other means, such as natural selection, habit, training and imitation.