Tag Archives: over-belief

Justifying an evidence principle

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

Time we returned to our proposed evidence principle:

[EP3] If anything is morally wrong, then it is morally wrong to believe anything, within the category of descriptive belief, on insufficient evidence, in the absence of any conflicting and overriding moral imperative.

A principle like this lays on the believer a prima facie burden of justification for acquiring and/or holding descriptive beliefs. To justify a belief morally, the believer would need to demonstrate that either:

(i) It is supported by evidence; or

(ii) By not believing the believer would breach a conflicting and overriding moral imperative.

William Kingdon Clifford
William Clifford, 1901
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Full awareness

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

So why is conceptual normativity not enough for an ethics of belief? That’s the question on everyone’s lips.

To try to answer it we’ll go back to Jonathan Adler’s ‘full awareness’1 condition.2

If we’re saying (as Adler does) that this condition is something which we need to impose, or assume, that would imply that we could acquire or hold a belief without it.

Eyes
[Photo: Anna Bal]
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Cellophane flowers of yellow and green

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

We came up with our test-case descriptive belief a while back:

I believe you are taking recreational drugs.

And we also said this could be just another way of asserting:

You are taking recreational drugs.

Jonathan Adler would agree. He sees a belief as simply what we regard as true: ‘what I believe is just how things are’1 for me.

Tablets and capsules
[Photo: Würfel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
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Susan Haack: “The Ethics of Belief” Reconsidered #2

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

What has drinking and driving got to do with the ethics of belief?

I’ll get to that.

Our current question is: ‘What has epistemic appraisal of belief got to do with moral appraisal of belief – or vice versa?’

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Susan Haack: “The Ethics of Belief” Reconsidered #1

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

For a short time in 1970 a lady by the name of Susan Haack had the unenviable task of teaching me Logic.

Many years later she published a paper1 which our meanderings have now brought us to.

The last few instalments have looked at Jonathan Adler’s ‘intrinsic’ approach to the ethics of belief: see Jonathan Adler: Belief’s Own Ethics #1 onwards. Adler sees the ethics of belief as ‘imposed by the concept of belief itself’,2 not as a matter of the rationality or morality of belief.

We’ll have more to say about Adler later. But now I want to return to the idea of an evidence principle expressed in moral terms.

Susan Haack in 2015
Susan Haack in 2015 [Photo: Atfyfe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]
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Tangerine trees and marmalade skies

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

It’s time for some concrete examples of over-belief.

We’ve looked at the mayhem Clifford’s ship owner caused.

And we can easily think of other clearly immoral cases, for example dismissing entire communities as subhuman because of ethnicity or cultural characteristics; or assuming someone is a terrorist just from their appearance.

This is our evidence principle so far:

[EP3] If anything is morally wrong, then it is morally wrong to believe anything, within the category of descriptive belief, on insufficient evidence, in the absence of any conflicting and overriding moral imperative.

Antisemitic Nazi propaganda poster in Lithuanian language
Antisemitic Nazi propaganda poster in Lithuanian, 1941
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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.

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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
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