William Kingdon Clifford proposed a vigorous ethics of belief, according to which you are morally prohibited from believing something on insufficient evidence. Though Clifford offers numerous considerations in favor of his ethical theory, the conclusion he wants to draw turns out not to follow from any reasonable assumptions. In fact, I will argue, regardless of how you propose to understand the notion of evidence, it is implausible that we could have a moral obligation to refrain from believing something (...) whenever we lack sufficient evidence. I will argue, however, that there are wide-scope conditional requirements on beliefs but the beliefs in question need not be beliefs for which we have sufficient evidence. I then argue that we are epistemically, but not morally, required to form epistemically valuable beliefs. However, these beliefs, too, need not be beliefs for which we have sufficient evidence. (shrink)
The “ethics of belief” refers to a cluster of questions at the intersection of epistemology, philosophy of mind, psychology, and ethics. The central question in the debate is whether there are norms of some sort governing our habits of belief formation, belief maintenance, and belief relinquishment. Is it ever or always morally wrong (or epistemically irrational, or imprudent) to hold a belief on insufficient evidence? Is it ever or always morally right (or epistemically (...) rational, or prudent) to believe on the basis of sufficient evidence, or to withhold belief in the perceived absence of it? Is it ever or always obligatory to seek out all available epistemic evidence for a belief? Are there some ways of obtaining evidence that are themselves immoral or imprudent? -/- . (shrink)
Educational worries about indoctrination are linked to matters of rationality and of the ethics of belief. These are both threatened by too 'open' approaches to moral education and by too 'closed' approaches to science education. The moral importance of what is involved points to the need to inform the teaching of all disciplines by reflection on their rational foundations.
In this paper I evaluate Zamulinski’s recent attempt to rebut an argument to the conclusion that having any kind of religious faith violates a moral duty. I agree with Zamulinski that the argument is unsound, but I disagree on where it goes wrong. I criticize Zamulinski’s alternative construal of Christian faith as existential commitment to fundamental assumptions. It does not follow that we should accept the moral argument against religious faith, for at least two reasons. First, Zamulinski’s Cliffordian ethics (...) of belief is defective in several regards. Second, the truth of doxastic involuntarism and the possibility of doxastic excuse conditions can be used to demonstrate that the argument is unconvincing. (shrink)
This chapter examines the modifications William James made to his account of the ethics of belief from his early ‘subjective method’ to his later heightened concerns with personal doxastic responsibility and with an empirically-driven comparative research program he termed a ‘science of religions’. There are clearly tensions in James’ writings on the ethics of belief both across his career and even within Varieties itself, tensions which some critics think spoil his defense of what he calls religious (...) ‘faith ventures’ or ‘overbeliefs’. But our study of James in the first half of the chapter reveals a significant degree of unnoticed unity: The two distinct defenses of faith ventures he develops post-1900 are actually both versions of the Dialogue Model of the relationship between individual religiosity and scientific reasoning. One shared theme in the diverging approaches to doxastic responsibility suggested by the two versions is what some interpreters have called ‘the character issue’ in James’ writings. The second half of the chapter develops these connections and argues that a neo-Jamesian approach tying the ethics of belief with Rawlsian reasonable pluralism and with contemporary character epistemology results in a stronger yet more clearly delimited defense of responsible faith ventures. (shrink)
In this book, Timothy J. Madigan examines the continuing relevance of "The Ethics of Belief" to epistemological and ethical concerns. He places the essay within the historical context, especially the so-called 'Victorian Crisis of Faith' of which Clifford was a key player. Clifford's own life and interests are dealt with as well, along with the responses to his essay by his contemporaries, the most famous of which was William James's "The Will to Believe." Madigan provides an overview of (...) modern-day critics of Cliffordian evidentialism, as well as examining thinkers who were positively influenced by him, including Bertrand Russell, who was perhaps Clifford's most influential successor as an advocate of intellectual honesty. (shrink)
Philosophy of religion in the Anglo-American tradition experienced a 'rebirth' following the 1955 publication of New Essays in Philosophical Theology (eds. Antony Flew and Alisdair MacIntyre). Fifty years later, this volume of New Essays offers a sampling of the best work in what is now a very active field, written by some of its most prominent members. A substantial introduction sketches the developments of the last half-century, while also describing the 'ethics of belief' debate in epistemology and showing (...) how it connects to explicitly religious concerns and to the topics of the individual contributions. These topics include: the relationship between God and the natural laws; the metaphysics of bodily resurrection; the role of appeal to 'mystery' in the religious life; the justification of both theistic belief generally and more specific doctrinal beliefs; and the social-political aspects of religious faith and practice. (shrink)
William Kingdon Clifford famously argued that "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." His ethics of belief can be construed as involving two distinct theses—a moral claim (that it is wrong to hold beliefs to which one is not entitled) and an epistemological claim (that entitlement is always a function of evidential support). Although I reject the (universality of the) epistemological claim, I argue that something deserving of the name "ethics (...) of belief" can nevertheless be preserved. However, in the second half of the paper I argue that Clifford's response to the problem of unethical belief is insufficiently attentive to the role played by self-deception in the formation of unethical beliefs. By contrasting the first-person perspective of a doxastic agent with the third-person perspective of an outside observer, I argue that unethical belief is a symptom of deficiencies of character: fix these, and belief will fix itself. I suggest that the moral intuitions implicit in our response to examples of unethical belief (like Clifford's famous example of the ship owner) can better be accounted for in terms of a non-evidentialist virtue ethics of belief-formation, and that such an account can survive the rejection of strong versions of doxastic voluntarism. (shrink)
abstract First, Allen Buchanan, in the version of his paper entitled 'Philosophy and public policy: a role for social moral epistemology' that he presented at the workshop on 'Philosophy and Public Policy' held at the British Academy in London on March 8 th 2008, seems to imply that professional, academic philosophers have had little impact upon public policy. I mention an area where it can be argued in response that they have had a more benign, as well as a more (...) widespread, influence on society than Buchanan acknowledges in that version of his paper: in legislation concerning animal welfare. Second, I question whether or not the liberal commitment to freedom of religion is compatible with the ethics of belief that Buchanan appears to advocate. (shrink)
This article deals with two types of Christian faith in the light of the challenges posed by the ethics of belief. It is proposed that the difficulties with Clifford’s formulation of that ethic can best be handled if the ethic is interpreted in terms of role-specific intellectual integrity. But the ethic still poses issues for the traditional interpretation of Christian faith when it is conceived as a series of discrete but related propositions, especially historical propositions. For as so (...) conceived, the believer makes claims that fall within the province of an intellectual discipline, history, that requires evidence and rules of procedure for the adjudication of such claims. It is noteworthy how few Christian theologians and philosophers of religion deal with the issue in these terms. Alvin Plantinga is a noteworthy exception and his views are examined and criticized because, among other things, his conclusion is that any believer without having any training in biblical languages or historical studies can know that the New Testament narratives are true. The article then considers a second conception of Christian faith in which this conflict does not arise. One finds it in the works of Schleiermacher, Wittgenstein, and, surprisingly, in the conception of faith found in the early writings of Karl Barth. (shrink)
In this paper I look at three challenges to the very possibility of an ethics of belief and then show how they can be met. The first challenge, from Thomas Kelly, says that epistemic rationality is not (merely) a form of instrumental rationality. If this claim is true, then it will be difficult to develop an ethics of belief that does not run afoul of naturalism. The second challenge is the Non-Voluntarism Argument, which holds that because (...) we cannot believe at will and because ought implies can, there can be no ethics of belief. The third challenge comes from Richard Feldman, who claims that there is no such thing as ought all-things-considered. He says, for example, that moral oughts can be weighed against other moral oughts and that epistemic oughts can be compared to each other, but that there is no way to weigh moral oughts against epistemic oughts. If this is true, then norms about what one ought to believe are not nearly as important as one might have hoped or as philosophers have traditionally thought. In answering these three challenges, I try to show how and why the project of developing epistemic norms might be a promising avenue of research, despite claims to the contrary. (shrink)
Some hold that W.K. Clifford's arguments are inconsistent, appealing to the disvalue of likely consequences of nonevidential belief-formation, while also insisting that the consequences are irrelevant to the wrongness of so believing. My thesis is that Clifford's arguments are consistent; one simply needs to be clear on the role consequences play in the "Ethics of Belief" (and, for that matter, in William James's "The Will to Believe"). The consequences of particular episodes of nonevidential belief-formation are, as (...) Clifford insists, irrelevant to the epistemic, and so moral, status of believing. The moral matter is that adopting a policy of nonevidential belief-formation constitutes commitment to antithetical principles, viz. (i) our antecedent moral obligation to minimize the risk of harming ourselves and others and (ii) the flagrant disregard for (i) entailed by employing a policy of risk, i.e. nonevidentialism. Clifford's arguments should be read as demonstrating that a nonevidentialist approach to belief-management constitutes the kind of risk that, in fact, is at odds with this antecedent moral obligation - hence the discussion of likely consequences, despite his claims that they are irrelevant to the moral status of the beliefs yielding them. They are irrelevant to the moral status of nonevidentialism but not irrelevant to the fact of risk. The moral impermissibility of nonevidentialism inheres in the inconsistency of it and our antecedent moral obligations, not in the value or disvalue of the particular consequences of that belief-management style. (shrink)
Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses the ethics of belief which Locke developed in Book IV of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, where Locke finally argued his overarching aim: how we ought to govern our belief, especially on matters of religion and morality. Wolterstorff shows that this concern was instigated by the collapse, in Locke's day, of a once-unified moral and religious tradition in Europe into warring factions. His was thus a culturally and socially engaged epistemology. This view of Locke (...) invites a new interpretation of the origins of modern philosophy. He maintained that instead of following tradition we ought to let 'reason be our guide.' Accordingly, after discussing Hume's powerful attack on Locke's recommended practice, Wolterstorff argues for Locke's originality and emphasizes his contribution to the 'modernity' of post-sixteenth-century philosophy. (shrink)
Locke’s critique of enthusiastic religion is an attempt to undermine a form of supernaturalist belief. In this paper, I argue for a novel interpretation of that critique. By opening up a middle path between the views of John Passmore and Michael Ayers, I show that Locke is accusing the enthusiast of being a self-deceived believer. First, I demonstrate the manner in which a theory of self-deception squares with Locke’s intellectualist epistemology. Second, I argue that Locke thinks he can show (...) that the enthusiasts’ most cherished beliefs are in fact contrary to manifest evidence. In “matters of ultimate concern” to us---i.e., our religious beliefs---the critique is thus meant tobuttress Locke’s commitment to a naturalistic ethics of belief. (shrink)
Most of the literature on doxastic voluntarism has concentrated on the question of the voluntariness of belief and the issue of how our actual or possible control of our beliefs bears on our justification for holding them and on how, in the light of this control, our intellectual character should be assessed. This paper largely concerns a related question on which less philosophical work has been done: the voluntariness of the grounding of belief and the bearing of various (...) views about this matter on justification, knowledge, and intellectual virtue. In part, my concern is the nature and extent of our voluntary control over our responses to reasons for believing—or over what we take to be such reasons. This paper provides a partial account of such control and, on the basis of the account, will clarify the criteria for appraising intellectual virtue. (shrink)
This study uses accounting professionals from an international setting to test the individualism and power distance cultural dimensions developed by Hofstede [Culture’s Consequences (Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA) 1980]. Six countries, which appropriately represented high and low values on the Hofstede dimensions, were chosen for the survey of ethical beliefs. Respondents (n = 249) from the six countries were requested to supply their agreement/disagreement with eight questionable behaviors associated with the work environment. Each of these behaviors contained an individualism and/or (...) power distance cultural component for the responding accountants to consider. The results of the cultural analysis indicated significance on five of the eight survey items. Results lend support for the presence of the individualism cultural element in the ethical responses of the accountants surveyed. (shrink)
One of the arguments used by the Academic sceptics of ancient times, to force general suspension of judgment upon the Stoics, ran as follows: (1) Any proposition, however certain it may seem, may in fact be false; (2) the wise man (according to the Stoics) will not assert dogmatically anything that may be false;[Note ] therefore (3) we should not affirm anything. Premiss 1 is fallibilism, which to me seems true, and 2 is a proposition of ethics which to (...) me seems false but harmless, if I understand it correctly. If "assert dogmatically" means assert in a way that implicitly denies the possibility of being mistaken then perhaps 2 is true. But if it means something like "say is true, and ask others to believe", then it seems false, since there seems nothing wrong with asserting, in that sense, something that seems true even if there is some possibility of mistake. Still, in that sense 2 is harmless, since it would allow us to say that something seems true, or seems probable, and would allow us to act on such probabilities. (shrink)
According to Allen Wood’s “procedural principle” we should believe only that which can be justified by evidence, and nothing more. He argues that holding beliefs which are not justified by evidence diminishes our self-respect and corrupts us, both individually and collectively. Wood’s normative and descriptive views as regards belief are of a piece with the received view which holds that beliefs aim at the truth. This view I refer to as the Truth-Tracking View (TTV). I first present a modest (...) version of TTV, one which is sensitive to standard criticisms and one which is fully consistent with the procedural principle. I then raise some doubts about TTV by considering both anecdotal cases and empirical studies. These studies suggest that certain types of belief are designed to aim away from truth, in limited, carefully calibrated ways. Moreover, it seems to be the case that selectively aiming away from the truth is important for human well-being and performance. Beliefs that are designed to aim away I dub “Tertullian” beliefs (t-beliefs). I then limn the distinguishing characteristics of t-belief and proceed to evaluate the procedural principle in light of the evidence which suggests that t-belief plays an important role in our cognitive economy. Next I argue that t-beliefs might be essential to the maintenance of self-respect and that they do not corrupt in the way that Wood claims. Finally, I argue that the fate of Wood’s procedural principle will be determined by the results of further empirical research— sociological, psychological, and neuroscientific. (shrink)
A further reply to Trent Dougherty, author of Evidentialism and its Discontents, on a range of issues regarding a proper understanding of epistemic normativity and doxastic responsibility. The relative importance of synchronic and diachronic concerns with epistemic agency is discussed, both with respect to epistemology proper, as well as in connection to broader concerns with ‘ethics of belief’ and ‘epistemology of disagreement.’.
This study is an introduction to the problems of moral philosophy designed particularly for those interested in theology and religious studies. It offers an account of the nature and subject matter of moral reasoning and of the major types of moral theory in contemporary moral philosophy. The account aims to bring out the major issues in moral theory, to present a clear, non-technical articulation of the structure of moral knowledge, and to explore the relation between religious belief and morality.
That truth provides the standard for believing appears to be a platitude, one which dovetails with the idea that in some sense belief aims only at the truth. In recent years, however, an increasing number of prominent philosophers have suggested that knowledge provides the standard for believing, and so that belief aims only at knowledge. In this paper, I examine the considerations which have been put forward in support of this suggestion, considerations relating to lottery beliefs, Moorean beliefs, (...) the criticism and defence of belief, and the value of knowledge. I argue that those considerations do not give us reason to give up the truth view in favour of the knowledge view and, moreover, that reflection on those considerations gives us some reason to reject the knowledge view. Thus, I conclude, we can continue to the take the apparent platitude at face value. (shrink)
This paper argues that both a limited doxastic voluntarism and anti-evidentialism are consistent with the views that the aim of belief is truth or knowledge and that this aim plays an important role in norm-setting for beliefs. More cautiously, it argues that limited doxastic voluntarism is (or would be) a useful capacity for agents concerned with truth tracking to possess, and that having it would confer some straightforward benefits of both an epistemic and non-epistemic variety to an agent concerned (...) with truth tracking. (shrink)
By a logical theory I mean a formal system together with its semantics, meta-theory, and rules for translating ordinary language into its notation. Logical theories can be used descriptively (for example, to represent particular arguments or to depict the logical form of certain sentences). Here the logician uses the usual methods of empirical science to assess the correctness of his descriptions. However, the most important applications of logical theories are normative, and here, I argue, the epistemology is that of wide (...) reflective equilibrium. The result is that logic not only assesses our inferential practice but also changes it. I tie my discussion to Thagard's views concerning the relationship between psychology and logic, arguing against him that psychology has and should have only a peripheral role in normative (and most descriptive) applications of logic. (shrink)
No one really knows where nanotechnology is leading, what its pursuit will mean, and how it may affect human and other forms of life. Nevertheless, its research and development are moving briskly into that unknown. It has been suggested that rapid movement towards 'who knows where' is endemic to all technological development; that its researchers pursue it for curiosity and enjoyment, without knowing the consequences, believing that their efforts will be beneficial. Further, that the enthusiasm for development comes with no (...) malicious intent but rather from simple ignorance. Contrary to that commonly held perception about the collective pursuit of technological development, there are individual research scientists and engineers who are quite willing to reflect on the meaning of their work in nanotechnology. Nanotalk is a book of conversations and explorations with thirty five such nano-research scientists and engineers who share their ideas, experiences, perceptions, and beliefs about their work, humanity, nature, change, and the future of the world with nanotechnology. Precisely because of the unknowable nature of nanotechnology research and development, conscientious foresight and ethical reflection are warranted every step of the way. Not only do nanotechnology research and development represent enormous financial commitments, but they also require a profound leap of faith regarding its possible outcomes. Using these conversations as the basis of reflection and deliberation, the author explores the possible significance of nanotechnology to humanity and how it might be pursued conscientiously and ethically. (shrink)
In his book A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush writes of his decision to "recommit my heart to Jesus Christ." He traces it to a walk along the beach in Maine with the Christian evangelist Billy Graham. Conversing with Graham, Bush was "humbled to learn that God had sent His Son to die for a sinner like me." After his decision to recommit himself to Jesus, Bush tells us, he began to read the Bible regularly and joined a Bible (...) study group. Later, when Bush describes a visit to Israel that he and his wife, Laura, made in 1998, we get a further insight into his view of the Gospels as history. George and Laura went, he tells us, to the Sea of Galilee and "stood atop the hill where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount." It was, he adds, "an overwhelming feeling to stand in the spot where the most famous speech in the history of the world was delivered, the spot where Jesus outlined the character and conduct of a believer and gave his disciples and the world the beatitudes, the golden rule, and the Lord's Prayer." Bush concludes his account of his visit to Israel by saying he knows that faith changes lives, because "faith changed mine." This faith is something that enables him to build his life on "a foundation that will not shift.". (shrink)
Jones, Kate The insights into the physiology of the chronic pain are presented, considering the fact that the physiology of pain and the range of personal factors that influence pain are complex. Even though substantial evidence suggests that strategies could be applied to assist chronic pain patients to endure some of the effects of long-term pain, a pain management strategy that works for one person might not be effective for another.
Unpublished draft. Let me know if you're interested to see it. See also my "Possibility and Permission? Intellectual Character, Inquiry, and the Ethics of Belief," forthcoming in H. Rydenfelt and S. Pihlstrom (eds.) William James on Religion (Palgrave McMillan “Philosophers in Depth” Series, 2012/2013).
Recent literature on the relationship between knowledge and justice has tended to focus exclusively on the social and ethical dimensions of this relationship (e.g. social injustices related to knowledge and power, etc.). For the purposes of this article, I am interested in examining the virtue of justice and its effects on the cognitive faculties of its possessor (and, correspondingly, the effects of the vice of injustice). Drawing upon Thomas Aquinas’s account of the virtue of justice, I argue that in certain (...) cases justice can be a criterion of epistemic evaluation and that it deserves more attention than it has been given among virtue epistemologists. More precisely, the virtue of justice may become a criterion of epistemic evaluation in cases when a belief is formed on the basis of testimony. It would seem that there are cases when A’s assent to proposition p is something that is owed to B on the basis of B’s testimony; or there may be instances when A is culpable for declining to let B’s testimony have any effect on A’s belief. I briefly sketch four distinct scenarios in which this bears out. (shrink)
Nature, God and Humanity clarifies the task of forming an ethics of nature, thereby empowering readers to develop their own critical, faith-based ethics. Calling on original, thought-provoking analyses and arguments, Richard L. Fern frames a philosophical ethics of nature, assesses it scientifically, finds support for it in traditional biblical theism, and situates it culturally. Though defending the moral value of beliefs affirming the radical Otherness of God and human uniqueness, this book aims not to compel the adoption (...) of any particular ethic but rather illumine the contribution diverse forms of inquiry make to an ethics of nature. How does philosophy clarify moral conviction? What does science tell us about nature? Why does religious faith matter? Rejecting the illusion of a single, rationally-compelling ethics, Fern answers these questions in a way that fosters both agreement and disagreement, allowing those holding conflicting ethics of nature to work together for the common good. (shrink)
The context of international health research involving human subjects, and this should appear obvious, is the human community. As such, basic questions of how human beings should be treated by other human beings, particularly in situations of unequal power – e.g., in the form of control, choice, or opportunity – lay at the foundations of related ethical discourse when ethics are discussed at all. I trace a narrative that follows upon a recent revision process of international guidelines for biomedical (...) research involving human subjects. I focus in particular upon the issue of a standard of care. In the second section, I draw upon philosophers John Rawls, Claudia Card, and Allen Buchanan to discuss concerns regarding the 'least advantaged members of society' in the context of global inequality. The paper includes reflections upon pedagogy in courses focused upon international health research involving human subjects. (shrink)
There has been much discussion about whether traditional epistemology's doxastic attitudes are reducible to degrees of belief. In this paper I argue that what I call the Straightforward Reduction - the reduction of all three of believing p, disbelieving p, and suspending judgment about p, ~p to precise degrees of belief for p, ~p that ought to obey the standard axioms of the probability calculus - cannot succeed. By focusing on suspension of judgment (agnosticism) rather than belief, (...) we can see why the Straightforward Reduction is bound to fail. I argue that, in general, suspending about p is not just a matter of having some specified standard credence for p, and in the end I suggest some ways to extend the arguments that will put pressure on other credence-theoretic accounts of belief and suspension of judgment as well. (shrink)
Subjects appear to take only evidential considerations to provide reason or justification for believing. That is to say that subjects do not take practical considerations—the kind of considerations which might speak in favour of or justify an action or decision—to speak in favour of or justify believing. This is puzzling; after all, practical considerations often seem far more important than matters of truth and falsity. In this paper, I suggest that one cannot explain this, as many have tried, merely by (...) appeal to the idea that belief aims only at the truth. I appeal instead to the idea that the aim of belief is to provide only practical reasons which might form the basis on which to act and to make decisions, an aim which is in turn dictated by the aim of action. This, I argue, explains why subjects take only evidential considerations to favour of or justify believing. Surprisingly, then, it turns out that it is practical reason itself which demands that there be no practical reasons for belief. (shrink)
In this paper I am concerned with the question of whether degrees of belief can figure in reasoning processes that are executed by humans. It is generally accepted that outright beliefs and intentions can be part of reasoning processes, but the role of degrees of belief remains unclear. The literature on subjective Bayesianism, which seems to be the natural place to look for discussions of the role of degrees of belief in reasoning, does not address the question (...) of whether degrees of belief play a role in real agents’ reasoning processes. On the other hand, the philosophical literature on reasoning, which relies much less heavily on idealizing assumptions about reasoners than Bayesianism, is almost exclusively concerned with outright belief. One possible explanation for why no philosopher has yet developed an account of reasoning with degrees of belief is that reasoning with degrees of belief is not possible for humans. In this paper, I will consider three arguments for this claim. I will show why these arguments are flawed, and conclude that, at least as far as these arguments are concerned, it seems like there is no good reason why the topic of reasoning with degrees of belief has received so little attention. (shrink)
. Modern science is one form of knowledge, demarcated by its time (modernity) and by other âknowledges.â There is a fair amount of clarity as to what does not count as scientific, but there is a twilight zone of knowledges whose scientific status is ambivalent. In this zone the encounter between science and religion takes place. The particular contribution of religion and theology in this encounter is to call for an ethics of knowledge in the epistemological endeavors of science.
This article explores shifting definitions of propaganda, because how we define the slippery enterprise determines whether we perceive propaganda to be ethical or unethical. I also consider the social psychology and semantics of propaganda, because our ethics are shaped by and reflect our belief systems, values, and language behaviors. Finally, in the article I redefine propaganda in a way that should inform further studies of the ethics of this pervasive component of modern society.