Monday, October 12, 2009

Clifford's The Ethics of Belief

I am redating this post with a link to the actual Clifford essay. Though Internet Infidels has a longer version, here.

"It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything for insufficient evidence."

27 comments:

Ilíon said...

"It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything for insufficient evidence."

Does this belief asserted meet its own standard?

Ilíon said...

... to say nothing of on what basis is this *ought* asserted?

Ilíon said...

... and who, exactly, is it that is the proper adjudicator of the "sufficiency" of the evidence?

Anonymous said...

http://comp.uark.edu/~senor/wrong.html

Van Inwagen, I think, has some great things to say about this.

Clayton said...

Does this belief asserted meet its own standard?

Does it not? Clifford did write an article that contains arguments and evidence for the thesis.

Ilíon said...

Cliffod gave a lecture, intending to bamboozle others with slick talk, as he had deluded himself, into adopting his double-standard.


"Does it not? Clifford did write an article that contains arguments and evidence for the thesis."

Ah, so "evidence" *does* consist of non-empirical truth-claims and rational inferences from such? So "evidence" *does* consist of moral claims (claims of oughtness)?

Does "evidence" also adjudicate its own sufficiency? Or do we have to find Clifford's Heir (a Pope of Atheists) to tell us when we have "sufficient" "evidence" to believe some proposition ... say, that Clayton is an intellectually honest person.

Ilíon said...

It's rather amusing, really ... you see, am I not implicitly applying "Clifford's Principle" and "Clifford's Other Principle" as components in the recursive process I use in helping me to determine that some specific person is being intellectually dishonest? And yet, you 'atheists' (and dhimmified "theists") always whinge and bitch ... and try to silence me ... when I tell you that you are being intellectually dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Ilion, stop yapping.

Ilíon said...

Anonymouse, crawl back under that rock.

Perezoso said...

"It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything for insufficient evidence."

Yep. Not only that, but a fact-claim should be capable of verification of some sort, even probabilistic (and we might have to define sufficient evidence). Proximity to the supposed claim another matter--establishing the facts of the beer hall putsch is a lot easier task than verifying claims from the reign of Octavius.

The uniformity of experience (Hume's term) also relevant. Saying the judge's wife robbed and murdered someone requires a lot of evidence--but that's nothing like miraculous claims, which require extraordinary evidence, if not a duplication of the supposed miraculous event.

When someone says he saw a seven-headed beast with a hot babe on it (ie the manson-like visionary who scribbled the Book of Revelation), it's not really capable of any confirmation. He just has to produce the beast on the spot, or it's thorazine time.

Perezoso said...

"It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything for insufficient evidence."

Does this belief asserted meet its own standard?""""


This is a sophist's trick: it seems sort of clever (if not deceitful) for the Ilion: but on inspection, found to be BS--about like saying, ""but what's Truth itself??""

The theists formerly used that tactic against Ayers and Co when the positivists argued for verificationism ( falsification, evidentiary reasoning of various sorts, induction, etc). IN other words, they suggest since the verificationist can't empirically prove his own criteria (in all possible worlds, man), it is false.

That's BS. For one, the criteria-statement is itself based on empirical observation--sort of a statement of empirical epistemology. CLifford offers a criteria based on how real-world knowledge functions: after examining the methods of scientists, or lawyers, researchers, cops, etc. one identifies certain shared features, and obviously something like a search for facts and evidence does occur. Scientists do make empirical observations, whether at level of microscope, or telescopes (that's not all they do, but critical point). Call it verificationism, or confirmation, or expand it to Quine's web of beliefs (really macro-verificationism). Sufficiency can be defined (as with statistics, and setting confidence intervals, etc.).

legodesi said...

Something can only be wrong to do so if it was by choice. Does this imply free-will?

legodesi said...

"The theists formerly used that tactic against Ayers"

Yeah. and then Ayers agreed with them. See his 1959 book.

Ilíon said...

Oh, Legodesi! What's up with "spewing" facts? ;)

Perezoso said...

Facts?

Theologians don't deal with facts.

In terms of "uniform experience" the criteria seems applicable: though gambling might offer a type of counter-example (people might gamble recklessly, thinking they will win with bad odds (betting snake eyes), and still win--though that might not count as insufficient evidence, but low probability--similar).

In terms of the ad nauseum theology chat, it's sound--there's insufficient evidence of miracles for one (if any, except for the dogma): not that it will have any effect on RaptureBots.

legodesi said...

Heh. Facts are

Perezoso, please respond to a point made, instead of shifting to a new one with cute comebacks like "theologians don't deal with facts." Well I just did, that Ayers, who originally started up the logical positivism movement stated that its flawed, contrary to your assertion that only theists use it as a "tactic" against Ayers. Apart from the combative language, quite useful in propaganda, your point concerning verificationism is moot.

legodesi said...

I meant to try to say something witty about the nature of facts, but didn't and forgot to remove the "Facts are..." line. oops.

Perezoso said...

You're the derailer here. The point was about the criteria itself, not Ayers, and your point did not begin to address my response to the original post.

So, the answer is yes the criteria can be established by its own standard: there is more than sufficient evidence to justify verificationism, of either traditional sort, or expanded via Quine's domain of knowledge.


Anyway Ayers said strict verificationism had problems, and it does. Sometimes generalizations must be made, and probability figures in.

He did not however therefore agree to the code of....... Billy Sunday. Whether he began to attend church later in life (or not) does not prove anything.

legodesi said...

"Anyway Ayers said strict verificationism"

I only responded to your point that theists use a tactic against Ayers, when it was Ayers himself who abandoned his strong verificationism.

The verificationist principle states that all metaphysical language is necessarily meaningless. If a sentence cannot be empirically verified, it is meaningless. The previously stated sentence cannot be empirically verified, therefore it's meaningless. It's fairly simple.

Perezoso said...

Yes, verificationism (or now, evidentialism) is fairly simple, and tends to really bother believers, since it suggests the Bible (that "old book," as Thoreau said) be subjected to empirical verification as well.

You make the simple, and sophistic error (chanted by anti-rationalists for a few decades) that the criteria itself cannot be itself established, when it can (and Ayers discussed this).

The verification criteria is not an analytic statement: it's a generalization based on observation (and verification has not been "refuted"--it has been expanded, given a wider scope, via Quine into the entire domain of knowledge---the scientific community alas does not help the believers' cause too much).

I'm not defending Ayers anyway--merely pointing out some similarities of Clifford's evidential criteria to verificationism.

Or perhaps you suggest the opposite: believe whatever, without bothering with evidence or verifying facts ? So like bring in the accused: he's guilty, since Judge Schmutzberg doesn't like his shifty eyes?? Aye, good zionist-calvinist law.

Evidentialism may have shortcomings, but they seem fairly negligible compared to anti-evidentialism.

legodesi said...

"it's a generalization based on observation"

So there are observations that support the generalization "Nothing that is not empirically verifiable exists."?

Perezoso said...

No. Certain states of affairs or propositions, fact-claims could be true or hold although we don't know them to be: yet it would be improper to believe they are true (or non-true) lacking sufficient evidence, or without being able to verify that they are true or false (or perhaps probably true). That's contingency in a sense.

Someone who stated the unwarranted belief in terms of a contingent proposition commits a fallacy--hasty generalization. Sort of like a conspriacy buff making unwarranted belief-statements about 9-11, JFK , etc




I haven't read Clifford's book, but some things online. He's not simply rehashing verification, but seems to view evidentialism in more "macro" terms: how a person establishes his own belief system (say in regards to questioning religion, or political ideology). Sounds sort of like schema theory in a sense (and involves cognitive issues, which, admittedly most philosophers are generally not capable of).


As Bertrand Russell said

“[p]erfect rationality consists . . . in attaching to every proposition a degree of belief corresponding to its degree of credibility....”

Specifying "a degree of credibility" may not be that simple a task, but not impossible (and the law specifies certain specific rules for introducing evidence). Researchers in various fields obviously gather facts, data, and evidence. After the data's in, and perhaps with some statistical work (ie reliability, really) then one determines results/implications. The belief-stage is at the end.

The alternative (believe things/contingent statements without sufficient evidence?) would be a far worse doctrine--in legal terms, a denial of due process. Denying due process generally appeals to Billy Bob Calvinists, however: Anti-rationalism serves their purposes better than does careful fact-gathering, or reason as a whole.

Joe said...

Perezoso:
"As Bertrand Russell said

“[p]erfect rationality consists . . . in attaching to every proposition a degree of belief corresponding to its degree of credibility....”

Specifying "a degree of credibility" may not be that simple a task, but not impossible (and the law specifies certain specific rules for introducing evidence)"

Evidentiallism seems self refuting for the reasons legodesi and others previously mentioned.

But this notion of only believing a thing as strongly as the evidence supports leads to an infinite regress (or circularity) and therefore is in the end defunct. Remember our noetic structure does not really contain evidence it contains beliefs about what is evidence. To the extent those beliefs about what is evidence are unsupported then we have a problem. Some beliefs are simply accepted despite not having non circular evidence for them. This is the case in every human noetic structure. No human can think through the infinite regress and thus avoid saying he believes something for no reason or a circular reason.

To the chagrin of some, the characteristics of human rationality can not be so easily summed up. I think instead we have to say certain characteristics are more important than others. One characteristic of a rational human noetic structure is that it should not contain contradictory beliefs. To the extent it does it would be an irrational noetic structure. Another might be to avoid worrying about things out of our control. Another might be accepting evidence against a position even though we have certain emotional attachments to that position. Etc. I think we could produce a list of things.

BTW I believe Clifford not only thought that it was epistemically wrong to believe something on insufficient evidence, but he thought it was morally wrong to believe something on insufficient evidence.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Perezoso said...

the characteristics of human rationality

That's not synonymous with Evidentialism, which is a claim about knowledge, really: not about metaphysics. To reiterate, researchers make use of evidentiary reasoning in various situations fields. So do journalists. Or cops: most Americans who believe in the Constitution hold to the presumption of innocence clause, don't they? That's evidentialism, really: wait until all the facts are in, and then the judge and/or jury pronounce belief (guilty, or not). In theory, at least that's how knowledge should work--not to say that the necessary truth of the accused's guilt or innocence is established.

The word "belief" may be a bit imprecise, or have connotations ( or "folk" in Churchland's terms). "Warrant" might be better: does the evidence/data warrant a particular assessment or judgment? Or justify, substantiate, etc.

The alternative (believe things/contingent statements without sufficient evidence?) would be a far worse doctrine--in legal terms, a denial of due process.




rational human noetic structure


Holy Noetics Batman! Is that similar to like platonic Noesis ? An ancient term which meant something like "supposed "a priori" mental events that ancient greek soothsayers knew nothing about." For that matter, those believers (or philosophasters) who believe in a priori truths should be required to prove them....

Joe said...

Perezoso

I think we can rationally believe things we don't know. I think Clifford and Russell are referring to rational belief. Knowledge does imply belief, but it also requires more.

The presumption of innocence is not in the Constitution. It is sometimes implied by a defendants right to remain silent - the fifth amendment. But there again we are specifically *not* considering all the evidence . We are specifically saying the jury or judge should not be able to consider all the evidence - ie it should not necessarily consider the testimony of the accused.

However I think we are somewhat adrift on the original point. The law may be less than rational or making certain rational decisions about practical circumstances that weigh against a rational principle.

I do agree it would be *a* principle of rationality to consider all the evidence one has on an issue. But there are other principles as well. By saying there are other principles beside that one does not imply I am saying the opposite of that principle. I'm just saying it’s not the whole picture.

Ilíon said...

Joe: "... Knowledge does imply belief, but it also requires more."

It seems to me that 'knowledge' and 'belief' are actually a continuum. And, therefore, anyone who attempts to privilege the beliefs he wishes to hold/support as "'knowledge" while denegrating the beliefs he wishes to oppose/condemn as *mere* "belief" is engaging in erroneous thinking ... at best.

When we indeed and rationally 'know' a thing, why/how do we know it to be true? Why, on the basis of its rational and logical connection to another thing which we 'know' to be true. And why/how do we know that prior thing to be true? Why, on the basis of its rational and logical connection to yet another prior thing we 'know' to be true.

And so on. Yet, soon or late, we must always come to the non-rational "I know it's true because I know it's true." All our knowledge is thus.


Amusingly, those folk who like to assert a claim of the inherent and irredeemable irrationality of "religion" tend to believe and assert as true (and tend to get all bent out of shape when their assertions are ignored, much less mocked) all sorts of things which do not follow the above pattern for rational knowledge.


Joe: "I think we can rationally believe things we don't know. I think Clifford and Russell are referring to rational belief."

I suspect that Clifford and (and I am certain that) Russell were engaging in intellectual dishonesty with their selective hyper-skepticism.

Of course we can rationally believe things when we have "insufficient evidence" to support the belief.

For instance, Russell did not merely not believe that there is a teapot orbiting the sun between the orbits of Earth and Mars; rather, he indeed believed that there is no such object. Yet, by his "argument," he has no right to believe, much less assert, that there is no such object. His "skepticism" was selective, aimed only at Christianity; it was a sham.

For instance, none us merely fail to believe that we are not "brains in a vat;" rather, we all believe that the assertion that we are "brains in a vat" is false. Do we have rational grounds to believe that anyone's assertion "You are a brain in a vat" is false? No, none whatsoever.

Or, how about a positive belief? We all (except certain insane persons) believe that our perceptions of the world-not-ourselves is reliable and essentially correct. At the same time, we *know* that our perceptions can be unreliable; or, to put it better, we *know* that we can and sometimes do misinterpret our physical sensations.

How to reconcile these facts about belief and knowledge to the assertions and argument that Clifford and Russell (and the village atheist who imagines he has found a winner) make? It can't be done -- so, either we reject this selective hyper-skepticism or we reject all possibility of knowledge.

Yet, notice, even the dilemma I just stated cannot rationally be stated as knowledge were Clifford and Russell correct (nor could the statement drawing your attention to the fact).