I just can’t help believing – or can I?

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

We have already mentioned the difference between descriptive beliefs and prescriptive beliefs, and the fact that Clifford’s principle (‘CP’) applies to both:

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

But another important distinction is between voluntary and involuntary beliefs.

Continue reading

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Would you Adam and Eve it?

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

We finished last time with the opening paragraph of William Clifford’s The Ethics of Belief.1

This tells his keynote story of the passenger ship owner who manages to overcome his doubts as to whether his ship is actually seaworthy. He does this not by having her overhauled and refitted but by trusting in Providence.

The ship sails and then sinks in mid-ocean.

Is the ship owner guilty of the death of passengers and crew? Undoubtedly.

JMW Turner The Shipwreck
J M W Turner: The Shipwreck
Continue reading

The wreck of the Psyche

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

On 22 December 1870 there was a total solar eclipse.

A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, wholly or partially blocking out the sun as viewed from earth.

A total solar eclipse is a rare event, and even then its totality is only visible across a narrow band on the earth’s surface.

On 22 December 1870 the narrow band included parts of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Sicily, Greece, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

The British Royal Astronomical Society organised an expedition to observe and record the eclipse.

solar eclipse 22 December 1870
Continue reading

Let’s get metaphysical

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

Why am I so interested in what some random bearded Victorian dude thought about anything?

Here is one reason (in three parts):

(i) An important branch of philosophy – epistemology – is concerned with knowledge and belief.

(ii) An important position in epistemology – evidentialism – holds that beliefs should only be based on relevant evidence.1

(iii) Random bearded Victorian dude William Clifford effectively kicked off evidentialism.

knowledge and belief
Continue reading

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]
Continue reading

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
Continue reading

The moral of the story

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

Last time I came up with four options as to whether an evidence principle like William Clifford’s (‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’,1 which we are calling ‘CP’) can apply to moral beliefs and other categorical prescriptive beliefs.

I rejected the first option, which was this:

(i) Somehow we manage to persuade ourselves that prescriptive beliefs can be supported by evidence. This would save both CP and the whole of morality.

William Kingdon Clifford
Continue reading

April 1 is coming early

This is from the Daily Telegraph website 14 January 2021, by someone called Jonathan Saxty:

We Brexiteers are being blamed for the problems we warned about

In reality, fault lies squarely with the Government and poor planning

As problems mount for UK businesses, both in dealing with mainland Europe and regarding Northern Ireland, don’t be surprised if Brexit and Brexiteers get the blame for what is a failure of Government, as the possibility of reintegration via the backdoor looms. Many businesses are reporting difficulties adapting to the post- Brexit trading landscape, with the Federation of Small Businesses claiming many small firms have not had the time, money or clarity to prepare. German logistics group DB Schenker became the latest parcels operator to suspend cross-border delivery, following a similar move by DPD. How did the Government not anticipate…

Continue reading

Banging on

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

Last time I explained why I think it’s so important to have a workable principle of good and safe believing.

In short, it’s because we need an antidote for the kind of fake news which led to the storming of the Capitol building, and for the kind of unjustified religious belief which led to 9/11 and the Spanish Inquisition.

Trump supporters storm Capitol building, Washington DC
Continue reading