Post-lecture Clifford Notes

Post-lecture Clifford Notes - PHIL 2010 Introduction to...

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PHIL 2010 Introduction to Philosophy Evaluation Notes on W.K. Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief” Clifford identifies several harms of believing without evidence. Supposing religious beliefs are not based on sufficient evidence, is it possible to respond to Clifford’s claims? Each bullet point is a summary of one of Clifford’s claims; the indented point following is a summary of a response. I do not mean to claim that these are the only possible responses to Clifford’s argument but that they constitute one possible response. There may also be good objections to my responses, but these responses can at least provide a potential ground for answering Clifford’s argument. Belief with insufficient evidence leads to potentially harmful irrational action. Potential response: Isolate religious belief from other beliefs so irrational belief in religion does not affect other beliefs. For example, in the United States we treat religious as a matter of conscience but we try to limit direct influence of religion on public decisions (for example by forbidding religious tests for office). Although this system does not work perfectly, it requires that political decisions be based on evidence available to all people regardless of religious affiliation. Belief is public, so belief with insufficient evidence negatively affects other peoples’ beliefs and tendencies to believe. Potential response: Treat religious belief as a matter of personal preference that should not influence others’ beliefs. For example, we might treat others’ religious beliefs with respect but not take the fact that others believe as a reason to believe the same way. Belief with insufficient evidence leads others to believe with insufficient evidence based on one’s testimony. Potential response: Treat testimonial evidence for religious belief as unacceptable. For example, as above, we may respect others’ beliefs but we may say that their testimony is not sufficient reason to change our views or accept their position, especially about non-religious issues. If a televangelist claims that God told him gay marriage was wrong, we may still want to know why it is wrong before voting for a law against it. Belief with insufficient evidence leads to a tendency to believe without sufficient
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Post-lecture Clifford Notes - PHIL 2010 Introduction to...

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