Should We Believe Beyond Evide Essay

This essay has a total of 1709 words and 6 pages.

Should We Believe Beyond Evide


This section provides us with two selections from the essays of William K. Clifford
(1845-1879) and William James (1842-1910). Clifford's essay, The Ethics of Belief, is
based on the concept of evidentialism. This concept 'holds that we should not accept any
statement as true unless we have good evidence to support its truth'; (Voices of Wisdom,
346). James wrote his essay, The Will to Believe, as a response to Clifford's essay where
he endorsed a philosophy called pragmatism.

Pragmatism is described in the book as a method for settling philosophical disputes. It is
based on the pragmatic theory of truth. This theory says that a 'proposition p is true if
and only if the belief that 'p is true' works'; (Voices of Wisdom, 346). In order to get a
better understanding of the pragmatic theory of truth, the theory is contrasted against
two other theories, the correspondence theory of truth and the coherence theory of truth.
James disagreed with these theories because 'they present truth as a static property
existing prior to and independent of human experience and investigation';. James viewed
truth as a constant movement of ideas, which guide human beings into more and more
satisfying experiences every time.

Clifford holds that you should not believe any proposition just because it will give you
eternal happiness when in fact there is a lack of evidence which should lead you to doubt
the proposition. James, on the other hand, gives us three conditions to believe beyond
evidence. 'First, when you are confronted with what he calls a 'genuine option' that
cannot be decided on evidential grounds, you have a right to decide the issue according to
your 'passional nature'. Second, when faced with a situation when belief in a fact is
necessary for the existence of that fact, you have the right to believe beyond evidence.
And finally, in a situation when belief in a true proposition is necessary for getting at
the evidence in support of its truth, you are entitled to believe'; (Voices of Wisdom,
347). In that last quote James tells us that we are entitled to use our feelings and/or
our faith in order to resolve a matter.

First we take a look at an extract of William K. Clifford's essay where he presents us a
few situations in order to clarify his point. He starts by telling us a story of a
ship-owner that was providing transportation for a group of emigrants. He knew the ship
was old, worn out, and didn't have the best craftsmanship. To get rid of his worries he
did a complete overhaul to the boat and sent her of to sea. The boat sank and he collected
the insurance money without ever telling anyone about his suspicions of the boat not being
in the best of shapes. He thought he had gotten rid of any doubts by overhauling the
vessel. 'He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation,
but by stifling his doubts'; (Voices of Wisdom, 348). On the last quote, what Clifford
means by 'his (the shipowner) belief'; is his thoughts of his ship being in good sailing
condition. According to Clifford, even if the boat had made it all the way, the shipowner
would still be guilty because when an action is once done, it is right or wrong forever;
no accidental failure of its good or evil fruits can possibly alter that. The fact that he
got his relieved from his worries by covering the holes instead of searching for evidence
that would tell him that the boat was in good sailing condition gives him the guilty
status.

The second story is about the people that lived in an island where a certain religion was
taught which was based on other beliefs than the mainstream ones. A rumor was spread out
that the people teaching this religion used some unfair method to get approval for
teaching their religion to children. The rumors said that these teachers were trying to
remove the children from their legal guardians and they pushed the issue up to the extent
of accusing them of kidnapping. After an investigation by an appointed commission to the
issue, based on the evidence presented by the accusers, it was determined that the accused
was innocent. They had been accused on insufficient evidence and the accusers had no right
to believe on such evidence as was before them because it was founded on passion and
prejudice, according to Clifford. He also says that even if the teachers of the religion
would have been found guilty, the action taken by the accusers was still wrong since they
did it on the wrong grounds.

In both of these scenarios the ruling was that it is wrong to believe on insufficient or
biased evidence or to believe by ignoring doubts. In the last case Clifford tells us that,
in some situations, what one man believes in may affect what others believe in as well.
Clifford finishes by saying, 'it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe
anything upon insufficient evidence…'; (Voices of Wisdom, 350).
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