The Ethics of Belief VS the Will to Believe
This is sufficient proof of the enduring interest in this subject, and of the importance of these particular essays. But since they are excerpts, and since Clifford’s Lectures and Essays is no longer in print, there is a need for the present book. Indeed, usually the excerpts from Clifford’s essay come exclusively from part one of his three-part essay.
He had no right to believe that the ship was safe; it was wrong of him to hold that belief, even if he is lucky enugh to have nothing go wrong as a result. It might occur to the reader: what was wrong was not holding the belief; what was wrong was acting on the belief. Clifford agrees that even if my belief is fixed, I can control my action, and I have duties to act in certain ways (e.g., to have my ship checked before sending it on a long voyage) if even if I don't believe there is anything wrong. But he thinks the original judgment still stands: if the belief was gotten illegitimately -- if it came about without relying on good evidence -- then the person who holds the belief is open to moral criticism -- has failed in his or her duty. This is because belief is not simply disconnected from action.
But it can also affect the extent to which parallels can be drawn between the ethics of belief and the ethics of action generally. If one adopts “value monism” in the ethics of belief (whether it be veritism of some other kind of value), then there will be a strong parallel to monistic consequentialist theories in the ethics of action.
Stich, Stephen, 1990, The fragmentation of reason, Cambridge, MA: MIT.
Street, Sharon, 2006, “A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value”, Philosophical Studies 127: 109–166.
Wisdo, David, 1991, “Self-deception and the ethics of belief”, Journal of Value Inquiry, 91: 339–347.