Essay on A Comparison of W.K Clifford and William James's Arguments on the Right of Belief

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Clifford and James

Summaries of W.K. Clifford and William James’s arguments for belief


In this paper, I hope to effectively summarize W.K Clifford’s (1879) argument on the ethics of belief, followed by a summary of William James’ (1897) argument on the right to believe, and finally, provide an argument for why W.K Clifford’s (1879) argument is stronger by highlighting its strengths while simultaneously arguing against William James’ (1897) argument.
According to Clifford (1879), there is an ethics to belief that makes it always wrong for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence. Clifford (1879) begins his paper by providing an illustrative analogy – one where a ship-owner is preparing to send to sea a ship filled
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James (1897) acknowledges the fact that many beliefs are pre-supposed and without sufficient evidence. To challenge Clifford (1879), he says “our belief in truth itself...that there is a truth...what is it but a passionate affirmation of desire,” (505) effectively questioning Clifford’s (1879) double-standard; if Clifford (1879) requires sufficient evidence for beliefs, where is the sufficient evidence to support the belief of truth held by scientists and philosophers alike? Then, James (1897) extends the argument to say we want to have a truth – it is our will which pushes us to believe in a truth and “puts us in a continually better and better position towards it.” (505)
In discussing telepathy, James claims scientists do not want to consider the evidence for telepathy because “they think...that even if such a thing were true, scientists ought to band together to keep it suppressed... It would undo the uniformity of Nature and all sorts of other things without which scientists cannot carry on their pursuits.” (505) James argues that “[the] very law which the logicians impose upon based on nothing but their own natural wish to exclude all elements for which they...can find no use.” (506) Thus, James effectively argues that even the scientists’ passionate convictions and prejudices form their beliefs, as we see in the case of telepathic research. Finally, in this section, James (1897) argues such