I am a disciple of William Kingdon Clifford, who argued that "it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." Obviously, this fits well with what I said on the "Moral Advice" page.
Clifford has not been well-treated by the philosophical world and unjustly so. In "A Re-evaluation of Clifford and His Critics," I argue for a charitable interpretation of his position. I also argue that his critics from William James on have attacked a straw man. In "A Defence of the Ethics of Belief," I argue that Clifford's position is correct.
The argument for the ethics of belief is straightforward. First, overbelieving can be harmful. Indeed, the actual and potential losses from overbelieving outweigh any potential gains. It follows that we ought to do something to reduce the harm and the risk of harm. Second, the only thing that we can do is avoid overbelieving entirely. It might be thought that we could avoid potentially harmful overbeliefs by examining the consequences of overbelieving and overbelieving only when the consequences are neutral or beneficial. The trouble is that we cannot believe at will, where believing at will is believing something when you know that there is not enough evidence for it. So, if we tried this approach we would be unable to overbelieve anyway. In other words, we have to choose between avoiding overbelief entirely and having no restrictions at all on what we believe. Since we ought to do something and since avoiding overbelieving is the only thing we can do, we ought to avoid overbelieving. Third, we can do things to avoid overbelief. We can suspend belief if we do not have time to investigate and we can improve our standards of evidence by studying logic and statistics, by learning about cognitive biases, etc.
In my latest paper, "The Cliffordian Virtue," I provide a new argument for Clifford's views. It overcomes objections to which Clifford's own arguments appear vulnerable. What matters is the conclusion and not whether the original argument for the position is also the best one for it.
Copyright Brian Zamulinski.