The Ethics Of Belief William Clifford Analysis

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Humans are unlike any other creature on this planet, as we are able to think and reason. These two abilities have created the most powerful minds ever known such as, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Plato. These abilities have also lead to some powerful arguments one of such being our beliefs. Some philosophers believe that all beliefs must be justified, while others believe that only some of our beliefs must be justified. W.K. Clifford argues that it is morally wrong to act or believe without sufficient evidence. This means Clifford was an evidentialist. William James argues that sometimes it is allowed to believe without sufficient evidence. Before a logical argument can be made for either William James or W.K. Clifford one must first…show more content…
Clifford argues that all beliefs must be justified. In his writing, The Ethics of Belief, Clifford states that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe in anything upon insufficient evidence” (Clifford 5). Clifford means that it is morally wrong to believe something without sufficient evidence. This can be a problem when one examines the very definition of belief. A belief is a thought, which may have a foundation in reality, but does not require it. Nonetheless, Clifford makes a valid argument. Clifford forms his argument around scenarios and explains why the person in question was morally wrong for his or her belief. The most famous of these examples is the ship owner. In this scenario, a ship owner has a vessel, packed full of emigrants. about to set off to sea. The ship owner knows the ship has been on many journeys and is really old. Also, people keep telling him that the ship may need repaired. The ship owner knows this will be costly, but also knows the ship has made this journey many times before. The ship owner manages to convince himself that the ship will make the journey and casts the ship off on its journey. Halfway through the journey the ship sinks and everyone on board dies. To make matters worse, the ship owner collects his insurance money (Clifford 1). Is the ship owner morally wrong? Most people, including Clifford, would agree that the ship owner was morally wrong and is responsible for the death of the emigrants. However,…show more content…
Both James and Clifford have valid arguments and both have an equal number of flaws; however, James’s argument makes more sense to me. In Clifford’s argument every belief must be justified. This becomes extreme difficult to achieve when put into practice because sometimes you need to believe without sufficient evidence. For example, much of the science world starts out with a conjecture and then they follow the scientific method to prove or disprove the conjecture. According to Clifford this belief would be unjustified as the scientist would need sufficient evidence first. Since James’s argument allows for some degree of freedom I feel as though his argument is a more complete argument for
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