Sunday, August 01, 2004

Aphorisms Toward an Argument that 'Ethics of Belief' is a Misnomer

1. It should not be forgotten that the three sections of W. K. Clifford's landmark essay, The Ethics of Belief, are: The Duty of Inquiry; The Weight of Authority; and The Limits of Inference. These cover most of what is intended to be covered by "ethics of belief"; none of them have to do with belief itself, but with the morality of what leads up to it or follows from it.

2. It appears that what is involved in the "ethics of belief" has little to do with issues like 'rational justification' or 'warrant' or 'evidence', and much to do with guilt or innocence. Clifford's shipowner is in the wrong not because he did not satisfy everyone's curiosity but because he was "verily guilty" of the death of innocents through his lack of investigation. He is not guilty of having a belief. He is not guilty of coming to have the belief he had. He was guilty of not double-checking despite his belief. Had he continued to believe in the ultimate security of his ship, but checked and improved the seaworthiness of his ship as a matter of duty, he would not be blameable.

3. Contrary to Clifford, the guilt of the accusers in his religious society is based not in the grounds on which they believed, but in the accusation itself, insofar as it was heedless of those grounds.

4. Presumption is not a matter of belief or doubt but a matter of usurpation of authority in believing or doubting; two may believe, or two may doubt, in a given situation, but only one do so with presumption.

5. There are virtues conducive to good reasoning, and in these we have an ethics of coming to believe. But this is not an ethics of believing.

6. There are intellectual virtues, and in these we have what may be called an ethics of belief; but they are intellectual, not moral.

7. Of only one virtue that has ever been proposed is it really the case that it is a virtue of belief: it is called faith, and discussion of faith as such might be considered to belong to the ethics of belief. But it is difficult to talk about faith as such, being much more easy to talk of coming into faith; so any discussion of the ethics of belief would be rare, if it exists at all. And faith as a virtue is a theological virtue: it is not wholly in the power of the believer. And so perhaps here we have moved from ethics into something else.

8. Much of what is called "ethics of belief" is legitimate. It is legitimate to investigate the duties of investigation. It is legitimate to investigate when we should and should not trust authority. It is legitimate to investigate where inference must end and supposition begin. It is legitimate to investigate all such related things. But, while they are conducive to a healthy reason, to call them "ethics of belief" is a misnomer. They are each something different, and none of them are really an ethics of belief.

9. For believing or not believing, as such, no one can be condemned, but only for such failings as obstinacy and presumption.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.