Outline of Clifford’s Ethics of Belief

When should we believe? On how much evidence? Great review for students in Phil. 101 and other interested readers.

Let’s begin with two cases.

I. Two Cases

A. Shipowner and ship

1.. Should the shipowner send the ship out if he has slightest doubt?

B. Island, the Unorthodox, and Agitators

1.. Should the agitators act only on suspicion?

C. Big Payoff:

1.. Clifford writes:

They [shipowner and agitators] had no right to believe on such evidence that was before them

D. More investigation of accused

1.. Accused are “really guilty”

2. Clifford writes:

“The question is not whether or not [accusers’] belief was true, but whether they entertained it on wrong grounds.”

II. Action Following Belief

A. You can’t sever belief from action

B. Objectivity:

1.. Man with strong belief cannot investigate problem fairly and objectively and without doubt and bias

2. Implication: only an uncommitted skeptic can investigate a belief / problem fairly

C. Beliefs are stored up

D. If beliefs don’t influence action, then not truly a belief

1.. Clifford writes:

“A bad action is always bad when it is done, no matter what happens afterwards.”

III. Beliefs and Humanity

A. Belief is like heirloom, passed down

B. Handing down or passing along a belief is an awe[some] privilege

C. In two cases, belief held by one man impacted other persons

D. We have no choice but to pass along beliefs

IV. Belief and Power

A. Doubt leaves us bare and powerless

B. Knowledge makes us feel secure and happy

C. Difficult to discover we are ignorant when we thought we knew something

1.. We may have to start over and learn, if the thing can be learned

D. Power coming from belief makes us hold on to belief, no matter what

1.. That’s fine, if belief is true

2. But pleasure of power is stolen, if belief is founded on insufficient evidence

E. False belief and false power must be avoided like the plague

1.. Because it weakens us

2. Most of all, it hurts society

3. Theft hurts society, yes, but false belief does even more damage

V. Summary

A. Clifford writes:

“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”

B. Even if belief comes from childhood

C. Inquiry into evidence is not to be made once and for all, and then settled

D. It is never lawful to stifle a doubt

1.. Doubt can be answered by investigation already made

2. Or doubt by more investigation


Outline of William James’s Will to Believe

ARTICLES IN SERIES (alphabetical order)

Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

Clifford’s Ethics of Belief

Descartes’s Meditations I and II

Hick’s Evil and God of Love

Hume’s Argument against Design

Hume’s Theory of Knowledge

James’s Will to Believe

Kant’s Ethics

Locke’s Theory of Knowledge

Mill’s Ethics

Nietzsche’s Madman and the Death of God

Paley’s Watchmaker and Design Argument

Plato the Soul Man

Plato’s View of Justice and the Soul

Rachels’s Moral Objectivism

Ryle’s Category Mistake

Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism”

Socrates’s “Apology”


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