At the root of evidentialism is the principle that one should only ground beliefs on the relevant evidence that one possesses. Clifford, one of the famous proponents of the view, argued that the level of knowledge (the amount of evidence) one has is proportioned to the belief. The philosopher’s view was particularly strict in comparison with the standard readings since he stated that the principle works “always, everywhere, and for anyone” (“The Ethics of Belief”).
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Despite the existing issues with this particular, it is still appealing for many people since the possession of evidence to support one’s beliefs is more rational. Thus, in this paper, the emphasis will be placed on arguing in favor of the evidentialist view as the idea that prompts individuals to seek out information that explains the existence of an idea before offering some belief.
Clifford’s Evidentialist View
William Clifford was considered the most prominent philosopher within the evidentialist framework, and his approach could be attributed to the moral perspective, which is one of the strictest. As mentioned previously, Clifford’s view suggested that evidence implied the main basis of belief. This means that S could be justified in believing in p only in the case when S believed upon sufficient evidence. Apart from this, “there is a moral component associated with the belief, which suggests that it is immoral for S to believe p in the absence of sufficient evidence” (Lampert 99).
Thus, since such a theory is considered immoral, Clifford underlines that S should only believe p in case of sufficient evidence. Within this argument, there are components of doxastic voluntarism that offer a ground for deontologism, an idea that a believer has to fulfill some epistemic duties. The following scheme represents Clifford’s principle (CPI) in a simplistic manner:
“It is immoral – deontologism – to believe anything upon insufficient evidence – evidentialism” (Lampert 99).
The above principle has been traditionally considered as the key critique for justifying religious beliefs, which represent the critical ideology of believing in something without sufficient evidence. Those who opposed Clifford’s perspective argued that the philosopher targeted religious beliefs specifically when it comes to explaining his perception about the importance of evidentialism. Nevertheless, numerous philosophers of the past century followed in Clifford’s footsteps to continue the exploration of different religious beliefs and arguing in support of evidentialism. Such scholars as Brand Blanshard, Bertrand Russel, Antony Flew and others saw religious beliefs as irrational and intellectually irresponsible overall.
The Opposing View
Prior to arguing in support of the evidentialist view, it is important to explore the non-evidentialist perspective. Non-evidentialism implies the belief in something without the need to have sufficient evidence to support the existence of a concept. Therefore, while evidentialists would suggest that people are obliged to have belief in an idea in the absence of reliable evidence while non-evidentialist would agree that such ideas are possible.
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It should be mentioned that reasons that motivate the assumed requirement can be different, depending on the type of non-evidentialism to which one chooses to ascribe. For instance, practical non-evidentialism is especially opposed to Clifford’s evidentialist theory and proposes a liberal policy suggesting that there is an inherent right of a person to have belief, even if there is a significant lack of sufficient evidence that warrants the existence of something. This is especially applicable to the cases of religious doctrines, which enforce the belief in supernatural beings even though the evidence is lacking.
William James was considered an antagonist to Clifford’s position since he argued that there could be instances in which sustaining a belief without sufficient evidence was permissible and even morally adequate. The philosopher asserted that people’s beliefs had specific consequences and that there were cases in which action was more warranted than not, even if the acts themselves were not supported by any sufficient evidence. Among the available options associated with beliefs, genuine option, in James’ view was “live, forced and momentous” (Lampert 99). This idea is directly associated with justifying one’s beliefs through a leap of faith, which prompts people to be passionate about their views.
In the discussion of practical non-evidentialism as one of the types of reasoning, the conditions warranting the absence of sufficient evidence are not “wild-eyed believing what you know ain’t true” but rather the existence of “passional” interest on a subject’s part (“The Ethics of Belief”). As defined by James, this implies a genuine option in the desire to specify those conditions. Therefore, Pascal’s Wager applies in the case of practical evidentialism: the main idea behind the principle is that a rational person should live as though God exists and thus should strive to believe despite the lack of evidence to support it.
Nevertheless, it was chosen to argue against non-evidentialism and in favor of evidentialism because there are several variations of the principle that make it seem more plausible. Evidentialism agrees with the personal perspective more in comparison with non-evidentialism since the look for the information that supports the existence of a principle allows for the development of an individual from an intellectual point of view.
In Support of Evidentialism
There are several types of evidentialism, including moral, prudential, and epistemic, each of which represents orientations of thought within the philosophical perspective (Butcher 54). Epistemic evidentialism fits my personal view the most; not only because it is the most widespread and influential type but also because it implies that “the norms of evidence governing belief are based in the nature and aims of theoretical reason itself” (“The Ethics of Belief”).
Therefore, grounding one’s beliefs on insufficient evidence implies the greatest failure in epistemic evidentialism – the inability to use one’s cognitive abilities in a manner to help a person eliminate any unjustified or insignificant beliefs.
The primary challenge associated with the epistemic evidentialist opinion is associated with finding sufficient motivation in order to motivate its support. However, those who view epistemic evidentialism as the main philosophical perspective choose to implement a series of assignments.
For instance, some epistemic evidentialist supporters argue that the existing norms are supported by conceptual truths. According to this argument, the specific concept of belief in something implies a truth-oriented attitude, which is only appropriately formed based on the sufficient evidence that a person possesses. Therefore, an attitude or belief that has not been developed in this manner is either ingenuine or deficient.
Some epistemic evidentialist proponents may also suggest that specific norms that belong to this philosophical view appear not on the basis of analysis of belief concepts but rather from reflecting on ideas that “our belief-forming faculties are simply set up to be sensitive to evidence” (“The Ethics of Belief”). Typically, on the one hand, such faculties as remembering, perceiving, reasoning, and others play an important role in developing beliefs grounded on sufficient evidence.
On the other hand, faculties that include misadjusting, misuse, and malfunctioning create beliefs in completely different ways. Therefore, despite the positive or negative nature of the faculties, the epistemic reasons, which present apparent evidence, can provide reliable evidence with essential information associated with the nature of the world. Lastly, it is important to mention a specific defense to the main principle of epistemic evidentialist. Within this defense, the proponents of the view usually believe that sufficient evidence that one possesses is not drawn from the mere concept of belief or functional norms that arise from reflection.
To summarize the exploration of evidentialism versus non-evidentialism debate, it should be mentioned that either of the ideas can be considered morally right or wrong depending on an individual’s perceptions of the world. While, for instance, believing in something without sufficient evidence is one’ right and therefore is not wrong, the lack of desire to seek out practical knowledge is limiting from the intellectual perspective.
On the other end of the spectrum, looking for sufficient evidence for every idea or thought can limit one’s spiritual side, which does not have no align with any particular religious affiliations. Nevertheless, evidentialism, despite being judgmental of those who choose to believe in something without finding any evidence, prompts people to be more curious about the world surrounding them and ask questions about the nature of different phenomena.
Overall, truth can only be found in factual and specific evidence, and beliefs that do not have any sufficient support will ultimately fade away, especially due to the highly advanced and knowledge-oriented nature of the modern society.
Butcher, Matthew. “Fideism, Evidentialism, and the Epistemology of Religious Belief.” Ecommons. 2013. Web.
“The Ethics of Belief.” Plato Stanford. 2018. Web.
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Lampert, Fabio. “Can We Believe Without Sufficient Evidence? The James/Clifford Quarrel and the Response of Alvin Plantinga.” Res Cogitans, vol. 4, no. 1, 2013, pp. 98-106.