In the essay “Ethics of Belief”, William Clifford argues that no one, choosing what to believe, can be free from the opinions of others. A person’s faith may incriminate him/her in unethical behavior, depending on whether he/she has the “right to believe” what he/she believes in, according to Clifford (3). He cites as an example the owner of a ship intended for the transport of emigrants, who is ready to sail with all the passengers on board (Clifford 2).
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The boat captain made an assumption that previous successful voyages would guarantee the upcoming trip’s outcome. Although he was warned that there was a storm, he recklessly believed in customs and sailed, which led to his death. In other words, Clifford argues that no one possesses the right to have an opinion, because it can lead to dire consequences.
William James claims that an individual can adhere to holding a belief system because the logical analysis can be flawed and a person cannot understand everything. Therefore, he proposes that faith is necessary for sane human existence and he outlines ten remarks for determining the right to believe as a necessity (James 8). The lack of intellectual grounds to support the belief does not eliminate a person’s faith in something, because it helps him/her to navigate through life.
In my opinion, Clifford proposes a correct approach, which values factual evidence above faith. However, I think that in practice Clifford’s statements are harsh and hard to implement because people cannot constantly be factually correct. Therefore, I am convinced that there should be a mix of Clifford’s direction and William’s consideration for human nature and the tendency to explain his/her surrounding world.
Clifford, William K. “The Ethics of Belief”. The Ethics of Belief and Other Essays, edited by Samuel Daron, Contemporary Review, 1877, pp. 1-5.
James, William. “The Will to Believe”. Epistemology, edited by Markus Tarbonson, The New World, 1896, pp. 2-17.