“The Ethics of Belief” by William Clifford Essay- by EduBirdie

One of the foremost aspects of how many of today’s Protestant Christians go about practicing their religious beliefs, is the fact that they do it in a rather hypocritical manner. That is, even though these people never cease proclaiming themselves ardent ‘believers’, they nevertheless prefer to rely on their endowment with the sense of a secular rationale, when it comes to facing life’s challenges.

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William Clifford outlined the logic behind such their behavior in his 1877 article The Ethics of Belief , where he defends the idea that the implications of an irrational (e.g. religious) belief should be assessed rationally. However, given the fact that Clifford’s idea, in this respect, presupposes that it is possible for a particular person to profess an irrational belief and to be rationally minded at the same time, it cannot be referred to as being logically sound. In my paper, I will aim to explore the validity of this suggestion at length.

While advancing his idea that there can be no justification for people to be blinded with irrational beliefs to such an extent that they grow deaf to the voice of reason, Clifford resorted to the allegory of a ship-owner, who contemplates on whether it would be appropriate to allow his ship (filled with people) to sail across the sea, without making sure that the vessel is being thoroughly fixed.

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Given the fact that the concerned shipowner never had any problems with this particular ship before, he is being tempted to believe that, just as it was the case many times before, it will successfully reach its destination.

What increased the strength of the shipowner’s conviction, in this respect, is his assumption that God would provide passengers with assistance, in case they find their lives endangered en route , “(Providence) could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere” (Clifford par. 1).

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According to the author, however, this would not redeem the shipowner of a guilt of have not applied necessary repairs to the ship, in case it ends up sinking. Moreover, the shipowner would still be considered guilty, even if the voyage turns out to be a success.

This is because, according to Clifford, one’s endowment with a strong belief in something, should not have an effect on his or her ability to apply a rationale-based approach towards addressing a particular issue in question, “He (shipowner) had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts” (par. 2).

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Nevertheless, even though that, in light of what account for the realities of a modern living, such Clifford’s suggestion does appear thoroughly sound, it would prove quite impossible to overlook its conceptual fallaciousness.

The reason for this is apparent – the very notion of ‘belief’ stands in a striking opposition to the notion of ‘rationale’. What it means is that people cannot be simultaneously acting, as irrational believers, on the one hand, and rational analysts, on the other. Therefore, if assessed from a discursively-neutral perspective, Clifford’s suggestion that, despite believing that nothing bad would happen to his ship, the shipowner should have still had it fully repaired, does not make much of a sense.

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It is only after we take into consideration the specifics of Clifford’s affiliation with Protestantism (and later Atheism), that his point of view on the discussed subject matter will become explainable. This is because, unlike what it happened to be the case with Catholics, for example, Protestants do not refer to God as their ultimate benefactor, but rather as some distant authority, which had once laid down a number of self-contradictory ‘moral commandments’ and ceased actively intervening in the people’s lives ever since.

Apparently, on an unconscious level, Protestants are being perfectly aware that, in order for just about anyone to be able to effectively tackle life’s challenges, he or she may never rely on ‘God’s graces’ alone. It is needless to mention, therefore, that such their attitude towards the very notion of ‘faith’, reveals that they are in fact secularized individuals, glassdoor.com who tend to refer to one’s ‘belief’, as such that reflects the workings of the concerned individual’s unconscious psyche.

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This is why, while discussing the subtleties of a ‘true belief’, Clifford implies this belief’s innate disposition, “No real belief… is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts” (par. 9). Apparently, Clifford was aware of the fact that the manner, in which people go about projecting their irrational beliefs upon the surrounding reality, is being predetermined by these people’s very biological constitution.

This exposes another fallacy of Clifford’s https://www.reviews.io/company-reviews/store/edubirdie.com line of argumentation. While promoting the idea that it is morally inappropriate for people to end up being cognitively incapacitated by their irrational beliefs, he failed to take into account his own subtly expressed suggestion that one’s tendency to affiliate itself with a particular belief is not being the matter of a rational option, on his or her part.

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Hence, the discursive erroneousness of Clifford’s suggestion that, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” (par. 17). After all, it would prove quite pointless to apply an effort into trying to convince people to never cease reexamining the validity of their irrational faith-related longings logically, for as long as the rate of their IQ remains below 80. Alternatively, it would also make very little sense trying to convince intellectually advanced individuals to do the same.

This is because these people’s deep-seated perceptual analyticalness naturally causes their irrational beliefs to grow increasingly detached from the notion of ‘irrationality’, which is why it is absolutely natural for them to act as de facto unbelievers – even if they continue affiliating themselves with a particular religion de jure .

The validity of this suggestion can be well illustrated in regards to today’s White Protestants in Western countries, whose formal affiliation with Christianity had long ago ceased to affect their highly secularized/urbanized lifestyles.

I believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation, in regards to what I consider the Clifford article’s foremost conceptual inconsistencies, correlates with the paper’s initial thesis.

The reason why these inconsistencies can be found in The Ethics of Belief, in the first place, is that Clifford wrote his article well before the rise of psychology and genetics, as sciences that provide thoroughly substantiated answers, as to what causes people to adopt qualitatively different attitudes towards the very notion of ‘belief’. Nevertheless, given the fact that Clifford’s article does contain a number of discursively valid insights, as to the actual significance of the notion of ‘belief’, it will continue representing a high philosophical value.

Works Cited

Clifford, William. The Ethics of Belief, 1877. The Secular, 1877. Web http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/w_k_clifford/ethics_of_belief.html

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