Reply Mon 17 May, I am not a seasoned philosopher nor an English major. So please excuse my writing abilities and any simplistic errors I am sure to have made throughout. As Clifford might say though, I certainly am telling you what I take as truth as best I know it and sincerely mean well, that however, doesn't always amount to much.
At the outset of the essay, Clifford defends the stringent principle that we are all always obliged to have sufficient evidence for every one of our beliefs. The story is that of a shipowner who, once upon a time, was inclined to sell tickets for a transatlantic voyage. It struck him that his ship was rickety, and that its soundness might be in question.
After making this diagnosis, Clifford changes the end of the story: Does the new outcome relieve the shipowner of blame for his belief? Clifford goes on to cite our intuitive indictments of the shipowner—in both versions of the story—as grounds for his famous principle: Rather, the obligation always and only to believe on sufficient evidence governs our activities across time as well.
With respect to most if not all of the propositions we consider as candidates for belief, says Clifford, we are obliged to go out and gather evidence, remain open to new evidence, and consider the evidence offered by others.
The diachronic obligation here can be captured as follows: As permissive as this sounds, however, James is by no means writing a blank doxastic check. In the absence of those conditions, James reverts happily to a broadly Evidentialist picture see Gale, Kasser and Shahand Aikin In the context of a search for certain knowledge scientiaDescartes maintains, we have the obligation to withhold assent from all propositions whose truth we do not clearly and distinctly perceive clear and distinct perceptions themselves, by contrast, will produce belief ineluctably.
Even then, however, we are obliged to have some sort of evidence before giving our assent. He that believes without having any Reason for believing, may be in love with his own Fancies; but neither seeks Truth as he ought, nor pays the Obedience due to his Maker, who would have him use those discerning Faculties he has given him, to keep him out of Mistake and Errour.
By contrast, Blaise Pascal and Immanuel Kant anticipated James by emphasizing that there are some very important issues regarding which we do not and cannot have sufficient evidence one way or the other, but which deserve our firm assent on practical grounds nonetheless.
The ethicist of belief will thus need to specify the type of value she is invoking, why and how she thinks it can ground doxastic norms, whether it is the only kind of value that does that, and if not what the priority relations are between norms based in different kinds of value.
Clifford and Locke, as we have seen, claim that the issue of whether we have done our doxastic best is an epistemic one and also given a few further premises a moral one.
The general idea is that if something is beneficial, and believing that p will help us achieve, acquire, or actualize that thing, then it is prima facie prudent for us to believe that p. This will be true even if we lack sufficient evidence for the belief that p, and even if we are aware of that lack.
Consider for example someone who reads in the psychological literature that people are much more likely to survive a cancer diagnosis if they firmly believe that they will survive it. Upon being diagnosed with the disease himself, and in light of the fact that his goal is to survive, it will be prudent for this person to believe that he will survive, even if he knows that he and his doctors lack sufficient evidence for that belief.
But other cases can be used to make the same point: You also have some moderate but not compelling olfactory evidence that he is using drugs in the house when you are away in response to your queries, he claims that he has recently taken up transcendental meditation, and that the funny smell when you come home is just incense.
Suppose too that you know yourself well enough to know that your relationship with your son will be seriously damaged if you come to view him as a habitual drug-user.
This suggests that you would violate a prudential norm if you go ahead and believe that he is."The Ethics of Belief" is presented here in its complete form, along with "The Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought, " "Right and Wrong, " and other essays. About the Author William Kingdon Clifford () was a British mathematician and philosopher/5(5).
Also included are four other noteworthy essays by Clifford: "On the Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought," "Right and Wrong," "The Ethics of Religion," and "The Influence upon Morality of a Decline in Religious Belief.". This section provides us with two selections from the essays of William K.
Clifford () and William James ().
Clifford's essay, The Ethics of Belief. The Ethics of Belief () William K. Clifford. Originally published in Contemporary Review, Reprinted in Lectures and Essays ().
Presently in print in The Ethics of Belief and Other Essays (Prometheus Books, ). May 17, · The Ethics of Belief is a three part series of essays written by William Kingdon Clifford, William James, and A.J.
Burger individually titled The Ethics of Belief, The Will to Believe, and An Examination of 'The Will to Believe' respectively; with each being a response essay to the essay . Also included are four other noteworthy essays by Clifford: "On the Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought," "Right and Wrong," "The Ethics of Religion," and "The Influence upon Morality of a Decline in Religious Belief.".