1. What Does Clifford Consider to Be the Appropriate Ethical Norm Governing Belief Formation and Maintenance

Topics: Epistemology, Ethics, Truth Pages: 5 (1782 words) Published: April 24, 2012
In The Ethics of Belief by W.K Clifford this philosopher states that it is wrong in every situation ever to believe anything based on insufficient evidence, as it is wrong for someone to simply believe something to be true based solely on the sincerity of their convictions or by stifling their doubts. He states that if the origin of the belief is not founded on proven fact then the believer is guilty of an untrue/false belief as a result of not taking the time or having the patience to investigate the validity of the belief and, even if their belief is sincere, they have “no right to believe on such evidence as was before them” . I agree with Clifford’s’ evidentialist view to a point, as in theory it is a good one, however, practically I believe it is not a realistic way to live your life, as it would be near impossible to find time to investigate and sufficient evidence on which to base every single belief that you come across in your life. Evidentialism states that the justification for a belief is based entirely on the evidence supporting that belief, therefore defining the epistemic condition of a belief. This can be summarised by the simple thesis “For all persons S and propositions p and times t, S ought to believe that p at t if and only if believing p fits S's evidence at t.” Clifford’s evidentialist principle is extremely similar to this thesis, as the main point of his argument is that “it is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence” . From this we can see that he believed that sufficient reason and evidence supports a belief and if counterbalanced then one should withhold assent to that belief, rather than risk believing something based upon inadequate information. One aspect that Clifford emphasises more than the ordinary evidentialist thesis does is the severity of the consequence toward the believer of a false belief, as he uses words such as ‘guilty’ and ‘sin’ to describe the transgressions of these dishonourable men whose judgement was not to be trusted. He places importance on challenging beliefs indoctrinated in you from childhood, instead of neglecting doubts and avoiding educating yourself on the opposition of these beliefs- stating that if you do not do so “the life of that man is one long sin against mankind”. Another important point that he raises is the repercussions that your ‘false’ beliefs can have on mankind, not only the important decisions made by people in positions of power that obviously and directly affect others, such as the two examples given in The Ethics of Belief; but also the small and seemingly insignificant beliefs made by every man, as he expresses that “every time we let ourselves believe for unworthy reasons, we weaken our powers of self-control, of doubting, of judicially and fairly weighing evidence” the results of this will be a greater, ethical wrong toward society- “the danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.” The first example that Clifford provides in The Ethics of Belief is one of a certain ship-owner who sold tickets to emigrant families for a transatlantic voyage. The ship was fairly old and had needed repairs in the past but instead of overhauling and refitting the ship, the owner chose to rather save the money and send the ship to sea with the belief that it would be safe and seaworthy. In Clifford’s story the ship sinks and the ship-owner collects the insurance money without any further consequences. Clifford (who himself once survived a shipwreck, and so must have found this behaviour particularly loathsome ) argues that, although the man had convinced himself that no harm would come to the passengers and was sincere in this conviction, it was a result of him suppressing doubts raised about the seaworthiness of the...
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