29
W. K. CLIFFORD

William Kingdon Clifford (1845–1879), British mathematician and philosopher, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and King's College, London, where he became a professor of applied mathematics. His promising career was cut short when he died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-four. His best known work, The Ethics of Belief, deals with the relationship between evidence and belief. He attacks the kind of pragmatic justification for religious belief set forth by Pascal in his Wager Argument (see Chapter 16). Clifford argues that there is an ethics of belief that makes immoral all believing without sufficient evidence. Pragmatic justifications are not justifications at all but counterfeits of genuine justifications, which must always be based on evidence.

Clifford illustrates his thesis with the example of a shipowner who sends an emigrant ship to sea. He knows that the ship is old and not well built, but he fails to have the ship inspected. Dismissing from his mind all doubts and suspicions that the vessel is not seaworthy, he trusts in Providence to care for his ship. He acquires a sincere and comfortable conviction in this way and collects his insurance money without a tinge of guilt after the ship sinks and all the passengers drown. Clifford argues that although the shipowner sincerely believed that all was well with the ship, his sincerity in no way exculpates him, because “he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him.” One has an obligation to get oneself in a position in which one will believe propositions only on sufficient evidence. His general conclusion is that it is “always wrong for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”


FOR FURTHER READING

James, William. The Will to Believe (Dover, 1956).

Mackie, J. L. The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and Against the Existence of God (Oxford University Press, 1982).

Meiland, Jack. “What Ought We to Believe? or, The Ethics of Belief Revisited,” American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 17 (1980).

Pojman, Louis. Religious Belief and the Will (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986).

Price, H. H. Belief (Un wi n & Allen, 1967).

Wainwright, William. Reasons of the Heart (Cornell University Press, 1995).

Williams, Bernard. “Deciding to Believe,” in Problems of the Self (Cambridge University Press, 1972).

-1061-

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Classics of Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Time Line xi
  • Part One - The Ancient Period 1
  • 1: The Pre-Socratics 3
  • 2: Plato 20
  • 3: Aristotle 240
  • 4: Epicurus 357
  • 5: Epictetus 363
  • 6: Sextus Empiricus 374
  • 7: Plotinus 391
  • Part Two - The Medieval Period 405
  • 8: Augustine 407
  • 9: Boethius 447
  • 10: Avicenna 455
  • 11: Anselm and Gaunilo 458
  • 12: Thomas Aquinas 462
  • 13: William of Ockham 486
  • Part Three - The Modern Period 493
  • 14: RenÉ Descartes 495
  • 15: Thomas Hobbes 525
  • 16: Blaise Pascal 566
  • 17: Baruch Spinoza 570
  • 18: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz 618
  • 19: John Locke 652
  • 20: George Berkeley 690
  • 21: William Paley 723
  • 22: David Hume 726
  • 23: Immanuel Kant 819
  • 24: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 914
  • 25: SØren Kierkegaard 922
  • 26: Mary Wollstonecraft 935
  • 27: John Stuart Mill 942
  • 28: Friedrich Nietzsche 1030
  • Part Four - The Contemporary Period 1059
  • 29: W. K. Clifford 1061
  • 30: Charles Sanders Peirce 1066
  • 31: William James 1076
  • 32: Bertrand Russell 1100
  • 33: G. E. Moore 1142
  • 34: Ludwig Wittgenstein 1150
  • 35: Edmund Husserl 1168
  • 36: Martin Heidegger 1185
  • 37: Jean-Paul Sartre 1207
  • 38: A. J. Ayer 1225
  • 39: Thomas Nagel 1234
  • 40: Philippa Foot 1242
  • 41: Nelson Goodman 1249
  • 42: John Rawls 1254
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