Category Archives: David Hume

Less of the sermon

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

The two previous instalments (Would you Adam and Eve it? and I just can’t help believing – or can I?) quoted for authenticity a number of passages from Clifford’s The Ethics of Belief.

At times he comes across like a Victorian sermon though, which can be a tad off-putting.

But if we dial down the rhetoric I think we can make a fairly strong case for much of what he has in mind, particularly in relation to belief in its social context.

So here is my own version.

Clifford expressed his evidence principle (which we are calling ’CP’) in universal, absolute terms:

[CP] …it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.1

Staffordshire figure of Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon
Staffordshire figure depicting Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, circa 1860 [photo: David Madelena]
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To cleave or not to cleave

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

’Cleave’ is an English verb with two virtually opposite meanings.

To ’cleave’ can mean to split or divide. Hence ‘cleaver’, which is a heavy knife for chopping meat.

But to ’cleave’ can also mean to cling or adhere, as in Genesis 2:24:

meat cleaver
Cleaver [Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0]
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Hume’s guillotine

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

I complained last time about Clifford‘s apparent move from as ‘is’ to an ‘ought’.

This gives us an ideal opportunity to bring David Hume into the conversation.

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher who many would argue was one of the greatest philosophers of all time.

A celebrated quote of his from A Treatise of Human Nature claims to have spotted a flaw in a lot of moral reasoning he had come across.

Hume's guillotine
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When in doubt, answer a different question

When politicians are asked a question they don’t want to answer you expect them to employ their usual tactic. This is to answer a different question, one they are happy to answer, and hope no one notices.

But it’s not only politicians who do this.

On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions 10 April 2020 there were two politicians and two non-politicians. About 34 minutes into the program Jill Morris from Stafford asked what I thought was a very interesting question:

Does the coronavirus prove that God does not exist?

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