Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ward on Clifford

Not only, however, according to Professor Clifford, is the rustic supposed to have this "immediate personal experience" of " right in general," but he is also reasonably entitled to "assume" the "uniformity of nature." Professor Clifford indeed "lays aside for the present" the "question" what this uniformity precisely is, and how the rustic is able to assure himself of its existence. I hope he will satisfy a not unreasonable curiosity by treating this question at some early date. I hope he will explain what is the exact logical process, whereby every uneducated rustic can reasonably satisfy himself that nature proceeds universally on uniform laws.

William George Ward, "The Reasonable Basis of Certitude" (p. 385). William James, of course, is the most famous of the critics of Clifford's thesis in in "The Ethics of Belief", but Ward is in some ways the funniest. People already inclined to agree with Clifford won't find Ward convincing, but he does at least raise a set of questions that tend to be ignored, all of which are concerned with how this high-toned account is supposed to work when it comes off the paper and into the real world -- with children, with ordinary decent people without fancy educations, with the kinds of minor silly prejudices people have when it comes to sports teams, and so forth.

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