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Are we ever justified in believing p without sufficient evidence for p?

Discussion in 'Ethics & Morality' started by public hermit, Jan 2, 2020.

  1. public hermit

    public hermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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    In his landmark essay "The Ethics of Belief" William Clifford argued, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”

    Do you agree? Why or why not?

    Questions to consider:
    1. What constitutes sufficient evidence?
    2. How does one know when one has acquired sufficient evidence?
    3. Can all beliefs be based on evidence?
    4. Should one always believe what is true? If so, does that violate the supposed is/ought distinction that Hume gifted us with?

    The Ethics of Belief (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    Is–ought problem - Wikipedia

    Note: Let p in the title stand for any proposition one might believe.
     
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  2. Charlie24

    Charlie24 Newbie Supporter

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    I thought the P was for predestination at first glance being that there is so much talk of it lately.

    Biblical doctrine is based on scripture interpreting scripture. But the whole scripture must be taken in consideration for this to work properly, or to create sufficient evidence.

    All biblical doctrine out there is not correct. I wonder in most cases if proper hermeneutics is used to interpret doctrine. In some cases I think hermeneutics is left by the way.

    There is more evidence to be found in determining some doctrine than others. This leaves the gray area where false doctrine is born.

    To determine sufficient evidence in anything requires a deep study of the subject at hand. There are some who never take the time to endeavor, and therefore, come to the wrong conclusion.
     
  3. Ophiolite

    Ophiolite Recalcitrant Procrastinating Ape

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    All absolute statements are automatically and inherently wrong. :)
     
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  4. public hermit

    public hermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Nicely done. :) In reference to Clifford and his evidentiary principle, Williams James called him the "delicious enfant terrible." It is a rather stringent principle. Peter Van Inwagen provides what I would consider a little more tempered version, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to ignore evidence that is relevant to his beliefs, or to dismiss relevant evidence in a facile way” (sources from the OP link on Ethics of Belief).
     
  5. Kylie

    Kylie Defeater of Illogic

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    I believe that this absolute statement is automatically and inherently correct.
     
  6. Ken-1122

    Ken-1122 Newbie

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    Evidence becomes sufficient when the person presented with it finds it convincing.

    When he finds the evidence convincing

    In theory, yes; but that isn't always the case.

    Yes
    How?
     
  7. zippy2006

    zippy2006 Dragonsworn

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    Presumably the idea is as follows:
    1. X is true.
    2. I ought to believe X.

    (1) is an "is" statement; (2) is an "ought" statement. If (1 -> 2) then, contrary to Hume, one can apparently derive an "ought" from an "is".
     
  8. public hermit

    public hermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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    So, the sufficiency of evidence is wholly subjective? I might have misunderstood what you mean. Do you mean so long as I am convinced of p, then I have sufficient evidence for p?
     
  9. Ophiolite

    Ophiolite Recalcitrant Procrastinating Ape

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    Yes, I suspect Ken means (correct me if I am wrong, Ken) that the individual will have sufficient evidence when they are convinced. This would mean, as you note, that evidence is subjective. I suggest ideal evidence is objective and therefore, if the individual is using lower standards, the subjective choice of they make may lead them to a wrong conclusion.

    To your main question, if it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence, all parents should immediately desist from spreading tales of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc, since their actions are leading their children into wrong thinking. Since stopping those tales would foolishly abandon the powerful cultural and ethical benefits of allegory, parable, fable and myth, my conclusion is that the claim is demonstrably wrong.*

    *I hope I have provided sufficient evidence.
     
  10. FireDragon76

    FireDragon76 "Excuse me... what does God need with a starship?" Supporter

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    I like that.

    I think there are some kinds of beliefs that are less potentially harmful than others. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge peoples right to be skeptical of extraordinary claims.
     
  11. public hermit

    public hermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I assume Clifford's intention was that we should follow the evidence wherever it goes. Which, I find a good many people seem to accept as the right course. So, I am thinking he had a more objective idea of sufficiency in mind. But, it's hard for me to imagine how one would know when some objective form of sufficiency has been reached. How does one avoid a kind of Pyrrhonian skepticism that says we should withhold judgment until all the evidence is in? Obviously, such skepticism isn't practical. We sometimes have to make decisions based on what we have at the given moment. If we allow that belief comes in various degrees of credence, then things get complicated.

    Good examples. Another example that often comes up is when one has a medical diagnosis where the odds are against recovery. And yet, it may be to one's advantage to believe one will get better in spite of the odds. I think it has been shown that believing one will get better actually increases the odds of doing so.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2020
  12. Strathos

    Strathos No one important

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    Everyone believes something that they can't substantiate, whether they want to admit it or not.
     
  13. public hermit

    public hermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I think that's right. Clifford's principle seems overly stringent. The idea that we should follow the evidence wherever it leads does seem wise. But, sometimes we have to make decisions before all the evidence is in, based on what we believe is true at the moment.

    As I have been thinking about it, I wonder to what extent Clifford's principle can be based on sufficient evidence. Or is it, perhaps, self-referentially incoherent?
     
  14. zippy2006

    zippy2006 Dragonsworn

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    I am inclined to agree with his statement. Of course words like "evidence" and "sufficiency" leave a lot of leeway. I suppose my interpretation would fall close to what John Henry Newman has written. What he says about religious judgment could equally be applied to secular judgment:

    My argument is in outline as follows: that that absolute certitude which we were able to possess, whether as to the truths of natural theology, or as to the fact of a revelation, was the result of an assemblage of concurring and converging probabilities, and that, both according to the constitution of the human mind and the will of its Maker; that certitude was a habit of mind, that certainty was a quality of propositions; that probabilities which did not reach to logical certainty, might create a mental certitude; that the certitude thus created might equal in measure and strength the certitude which was created by the strictest scientific demonstration; and that to have such certitude might in given cases and to given individuals be a plain duty, though not to others in other circumstances:—

    Moreover, that as there were probabilities which sufficed to create certitude, so there were other probabilities which were legitimately adapted to create opinion; that it might be quite as much a matter of duty in given cases and to given persons to have about a fact an opinion of a definite strength and consistency, as in the case of greater or of more numerous probabilities it was a duty to have a certitude; that accordingly we were bound to be more or less sure, on a sort of (as it were) graduated scale of assent, viz. according as the probabilities attaching to a professed fact were brought home to us, and, as the case might be, to entertain about it a pious belief, or a pious opinion, or a religious conjecture, or at least, a tolerance of such belief, or opinion, or conjecture in others; that on the other hand, as it was a duty to have a belief, of more or less strong texture, in given cases, so in other cases it was a duty not to believe, not to opine, not to conjecture, not even to tolerate the notion that a professed fact was true, inasmuch as it would be credulity or superstition, or some other moral fault, to do so. This was the region of private judgment in religion; that is, of a private judgment, not formed arbitrarily and according to one's fancy or liking, but conscientiously, and under a sense of duty.

    -Apologia pro Vita Sua
     
  15. Ken-1122

    Ken-1122 Newbie

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    Yes.
     
  16. durangodawood

    durangodawood Dis Member

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    How do you know this?
     
  17. Ken-1122

    Ken-1122 Newbie

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    Agreed
     
  18. Ken-1122

    Ken-1122 Newbie

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    True, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
     
  19. Ken-1122

    Ken-1122 Newbie

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    I disagree; it depends on the claim. If my friend told me he had a chicken that laid 2-3 eggs per day, I would likely take his word for it because this is typical of what Chickens will lay. As a matter of fact if i were in the market of buying chickens, I would likely be willing to purchase his chicken based strictly on his word and my trust for him as my friend. However, if he told me he had a chicken that will lay golden eggs; eggs of solid gold, and that he is willing to sell me this bird for a fair price, now his word is no longer good enough, before I am willing to make such an investment, I will require an inspection of a golden egg, and will probably go as far as requiring a demonstration of said chicken laying eggs of Gold. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, typical claims may not.
     
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  20. public hermit

    public hermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Surely, there was an easier way for him to say this.

    Help me understand. I take it he is saying that our certitude should be in proportion to the strength of an assemblage of convergent probabilities in relation the subject in question. So, the subject may not readily give certainty in a logical or scientific sense, but given this convergence of probabilities our subjective certitude is justified (relative to the circumstances we are under)?
     
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