The Ethics of Belief
Often any discussion of morality and ethics, in the context of theism and atheism, focuses on the source of morality in terms of God or humanity. However, there is a wider context in which we must all face up to the ethics of our own beliefs, i.e. the truth of our worldview. In many ways, Clifford summed up his philosophical position regarding the ethics of belief in just 14 word:
`it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence`.
On initial reflection, Clifford's conclusion might appear somewhat naive of the realities of the everyday world, but on further reflection we might consider whether, by definition, ethical ideals should always transcend the practical limitation of the human condition. The arguments that led Clifford to his conclusion were broken down into 3 sections and are presented in appropriately named sub-sections that cover:
There is no in-depth analysis of Clifford's essay, at this point, because the scope of his arguments have been incorporate into so many of the major sections of this website, i.e. worldviews, evolution and science. However, some issues surrounding each of the arguments might be highlighted as follows:
- It has become increasingly difficult for any individual to
carry out a reasonable `duty of inquiry` given the exponential
growth in both the breadth and depth in knowledge, especially in
the field of science.
- Our initial judgement of the 'weight of authority'
may have already been influenced by what we consider education,
yet others consider to be indoctrination. Ultimately, we must resolve
this dilemma for ourselves.
- We should be aware that what may have originally started out as hypothetical or philosophical speculation has, today, already acquired an air of authority and, in so doing, belief has assumed the status of fact as the limits of inference have been exceeded.
Note: Some of the examples and choice of words used by Clifford tare more a reflection of the age in which he lived, i.e. 1877. As such, we should not immediately apply our modern-day notions of political correctness and read too much into the specific examples chosen, but rather look for and consider the overarching philosophical intent.