ihum - The Ethics of Belief Clifford: It is wrong to...

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The Ethics of Belief – Clifford: It is wrong to believe anything upon: o merely sincere conviction o insufficient evidence (acquired through patient investigation) (What about Santa Claus?) o stifled doubts “When an action is once done, it is right or wrong for ever; no accidental failure of its good or evil fruits can possibly alter that.” (Ends do not justify the means. If you do something wrong and aren’t caught, you still did something wrong.) because: “when a man’s belief is so fixed that he cannot think otherwise, he still has a choice in the action suggested by it” (so we still have free will in manifesting our thoughts and beliefs—you don’t always have to act on what you believe) It is difficult to investigate a strong belief with fairness and completeness as if the belief- holder were really in doubt and unbiased. Beliefs are the basis for our actions and the way we make sense of things, so that is impossible to separate belief from action. Beliefs aren’t absolutely personal. Lives are guided by social norms. Our truths are more or less based on long-established beliefs . Common belief strengthens communities and directs collective action. (But this could be dangerous if the belief is wrong; i.e. Nazis) Difficult to accept doubt because “it leaves us bare and powerless where we thought that we were safe and strong.” (Our minds seek order and new thoughts are usually accommodated to our existing schema. Doubts would weaken this order, thereby creating chaos.) Sense of knowledge (understanding) gives us power (security); doubt gives us a sense of ignorance (we feel stupid). Evil arises when we an incorrect belief is maintained and supported. If one argues that he does not have the time to inquire about his beliefs, then he should have no time to believe. Acknowledged flaws with this system: o The system suggests that we become universal skeptics. o Some beliefs (i.e. in law and science) don’t need to be investigated. o Sometimes accepted beliefs aren’t always based on evidence but probabilities. A belief that is comfortable and pleasant may still not be true. “The goodness and greatness (Appeal to Reputation, Appeal to Popularity) of a man do not justify us in accepting a belief upon the warrant of his authority, unless there are reasonable grounds for supposing that he knew the truth of what he was saying.” Similarly: “No eminence of character and genius can give a man authority enough to justify us in believing him when he makes statements implying exact or universal knowledge.” “We may believe the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that he is speaking the truth so far as he knows it. Some beliefs have been believed for so long that we believe they are true.
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This note was uploaded on 04/12/2008 for the course IHUM 46 taught by Professor Bobonich,c;safran,g during the Fall '07 term at Stanford.

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ihum - The Ethics of Belief Clifford: It is wrong to...

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