Friday 21 June 2024

Inwagen on Clifford's Principle.

The great mathematician William Clifford's thought one should always have sufficient evidence for one's beliefs. He gave the example of a shipowner who has doubts about the sea-worthiness of his ship. He stifles these doubts and brings himself to believe it is safe to sell tickets to passengers on it. What he has done is morally wrong. However, it was also wrong in law. Even if the ship didn't sink a 'whistle-blower' or independent expert could prove 'reckless endangerment'. There would be a tort as well as a crime. 

My impression is that Clifford's 'mind-stuff' isn't Spinozan univocity, or some meretricious halfway house re. Leibnizian vinculum substantiale,  but cashes out as a belief in 'atomic propositions'- i.e. the ideal limit beyond which no investigation into the origin of things can pass or the simplest possible building blocks of thought. This means there is no de re/de dicto distinction for intensional statements. There is referential transparency. Every intension has a simple, well defined, extension though what that is may require further investigation. 

 Had Clifford lived longer, he might not just have anticipated Einstein but also taken a Pragmatic path after discovering the problems with naive set theory or logical atomism.

I may be wrong. In fact, I am definitely wrong. The fact is, what disturbed nice naturaliter Xtian lads like Clifford was that Newtonian extension is founded in force. Victorians knew all about force. General Napier had told the 'physical force' Chartists that they didn't have any fucking physical force. He did. He had canons. They should just quietly disperse and concentrate on building up grass-roots  institutions, based on mutuality, and focused on piecemeal reform. 

Be such ultracrepidarian speculations as they may, the fact is, Peter van Inwagen, in a recent essay, reopened the Clifford question in a particularly stupid form. This is a more fitting subject for Socioproctology than speculations as to Clifford's motivation, or Hartmann's, for that matter. 

 Is It Wrong Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence?

We can only have defeasible, or sublatable, beliefs about what is right or wrong, save in 'buck-stopped' protocol bound juristic or professional contexts. Even then, no evidence would be sufficient to turn any such belief into certitude as opposed to the absence of 'reasonable doubt'. Even if the 'bat kol' or 'voice from Heaven' affirmed a belief, the Talmud says the Sanhedrin must reject it and proceed in a protocol bound manner.  

Thus, Clifford's Principle is 'impredicative' because the only accessible evidence is what we believe to be evidence. Also the 'intension' of 'wrong' does not have a well defined 'extension'. It changes as the knowledge-base changes or the purpose we have in mind changes.  The intensional fallacy arises in pretending otherwise. 

What I want to do is not so much to challenge (or to vindicate) the principle this sentence expresses as to examine what the consequences of attempting consistently to apply it in our lives would be.

But the consequences of such an attempt would be like the consequences of attempting to never step under a ladder. It would be a purely private taboo or idiosyncratic quirk which, almost always, would be wholly inconsequential.  True, a particular person may say 'my habit of never stepping under a ladder saved my life today' but the outcome would be the same as if he said 'I always make a point of stepping under ladders. However, today I was prevented from doing this because a black cat crossed my path and so I had to return home. Thanks to this superstition of mine, my life was saved.' My point is that though we can imagine a scenario where not walking under ladders or not upholding Clifford's principle would be consequential. But we can as easily imagine equally probable scenarios where some other such shibboleth or superstition cancels out that consequence. 

Various philosophers have attempted something that might be described in these words, and have argued that a strict adherence to the terms of the principle would lead to a chain of requests for further evidence that would terminate only in such presumably unanswerable questions as What evidence have you for supposing that your sensory apparatus is reliable?,

This is where Clifford's 'mind-stuff' comes in. It seemed plausible at that time to think the atom was indivisible and the final limit of our investigation into the nature of things. Thus an infinite regress would be avoided. 

or Yes, but what considerations can you adduce in support of the hypothesis that the future will resemble the past?; and they have drawn the conclusion that anyone who accepts such propositions as that one's sensory apparatus is reliable or that the future will resemble the past must do so in defiance of the principle.

This is false. One can refuse to believe anything at all. If someone says 'but, you are implicitly assuming x', you reply 'Nope. There is insufficient evidence for x.'  Clifford had been religious in youth but like other bright young men responding to Darwin and the work of the geologists, he had embraced agnosticism. He saw that you can be a good and decent man even if you did not subscribe to any particular dogma. Moreover, rejecting the a priori truth of Euclidean geometry or Newtonian Physics didn't mean you were either a knave or a fool. 

You will be relieved to learn that an investigation along these lines is not on the program tonight. I am not going to raise the question whether a strict adherence to the principle would land us in the one of those very abstract sorts of epistemological predicament exemplified by uncertainty about the reliability of sense perception or induction.

That question is easily answered in the negative. The fact that you don't believe shit doesn't mean you are forbidden to do any particular thing. Someone may say to you 'you must have believed the cake shop would sell you a cake because you said 'I want cake' and then walked into a cake shop.' You can reply, 'I didn't even believe I wanted cake nor did I believe that walking into a cake shop would get me cake. This is because there was insufficient evidence that it was cake rather than kisses and cuddles which I really wanted. Also, I was aware that cake shops may run out of cake.' 

Here though there is some evidence of 'correlation', there is no knock-down proof of causation'.  

I shall be looking at consequences of accepting the principle that are much more concrete, much closer to our concerns as epistemically responsible citizens--citizens not only of the body politic but of the community of philosophers.

the community of philosophers is a collection of ignorant shitheads.  

 How can we philosophers possibly regard ourselves as justified in believing much of anything of philosophical significance in this embarrassing circumstance?

You don't have to say you have any belief whatsoever. You can say you deal with conjectures and that  the terminology you use represents conventional 'Schelling focal' solutions to coordination games for you and your ilk. Nothing wrong with being a thoroughgoing Pyrrhonist or sceptic or agnostic or one of those vegan Buddhists or Hindoooos or whatever. 

How can I believe (as I do) that free will is incompatible with determinism

you can say this seems plausible or otherwise useful for you. Anyway, you can get a paper on the subject published.  

or that unrealized possibilities are not physical objects or that human beings are not four-dimensional things extended in time as well as in space, when David Lewis--a philosopher of truly formidable intelligence and insight and ability--rejects these things I believe and is already aware of and understands perfectly every argument that I could produce in their defense?

Why not accept Lewis's suggestion that 'conventions' are Schelling focal solutions to coordination games? I suppose you might say 'my religious faith requires me to have certain beliefs. They are an outward sign of an inward grace or 'election'.' This is fine. We get that a 'separating equilibrium' (which is a discoordination game) may require 'costly signals' like believing five impossible things before breakfast.  

Well, I do believe these things. And I believe that I am justified in believing them. And I am confident that I am right. But how can I take these positions? I don't know.

Faith is founded on a mystery. Nothing wrong with that at all.  

That is itself a philosophical question, and I have no firm opinion about its correct answer. I suppose my best guess is that I enjoy some sort of philosophical insight (I mean in relation to these three particular theses) that, for all his merits, is somehow denied to Lewis. And this would have to be an insight that is incommunicable- -at least I don't know how to communicate it--, for I have done all I can to communicate it to Lewis, and he has understood perfectly everything I have said, and he has not come to share my conclusions.

Faith was not granted to him. Also he got stupider as he got older. But, by then, his discipline had turned to shit.  

But maybe my best guess is wrong. I'm confident about only one thing in this area: the question must have some good answer.

The Church provides it. The first Vatican council said  "If any one say that in Divine Revelation there are contained no mysteries properly so called , but that through reason rightly developed  all the dogmas of faith can be understood and demonstrated from natural principles: let him be anathema'. One could view Clifford's principle as a valiant attempt to combat the supposed 'obscurantism' of Newman and Manning and so forth. Shortly after Clifford died, back in the '80's, I took a different approach which was to go stand outside Cardinal Manning's window and shout 'all you Papists iz fookin poofters, mate!' The police would arrest me for being drunk and disorderly. This was a lie. I am a Hindoooo. Us guys never touch alcohol. 

For not only do my beliefs about these questions seem to me to be undeniably true,

nothing wrong with having undeniably false beliefs- e.g. I am not ugly and stupid and cordially hated by all and sundry.  

but (quite independently of any consideration of which theses it is that seem to me to be true), I don't want to be forced into a position in which I can't see my way clear to accepting any philosophical thesis of any consequence.

In other words, you don't want to admit your subject is shit. I sympathize.  

Let us call this unattractive position philosophical skepticism. (Note that I am not using this phrase in its usual s ense of "comprehensive and general skepticism based on philosophical argument." Note also that philosophical skepticism is not a thesis--if it were, it's hard to see how it could be accepted without pragmatic contradiction

which can be disposed off easily enough. Nobody can prove you have a particular belief rather than a 'revealed preference' or habit of behavior.  

--but a state: philosophical skeptics are people who can't see their way clear to being nominalists or realists, dualists or monists, ordinary-language philosophers or phenomenologists; people, in short, who are aware of many philosophical options but take none of them, people who have listened to many philosophical debates but have never once declared a winner.)

I suppose what Inwagen is getting at is that a philosophical skeptic might be unemployable in particular fields within the discipline. This isn't the case. You can always show that any given belief has not been properly captured by its expression by a person who claims to hold it. This is not to say you have a knock-down argument against that belief which, after all, may be ineffable.  

I think  that any philosopher who does not wish to be a philosophical skeptic--I know of no philosopher who is a philosophical skeptic-

actually a guy doing some complicated type of a mathematical logic might, for all we know, be a skeptic. There is never 'sufficient evidence' that one has or hasn't a belief just as there is never 'sufficient evidence' that it is right everywhere and for all people.  

must agree with me that this question has some good answer: whatever the reason, it must be possible for one to be justified in accepting a philosophical thesis when there are philosophers who, by all objective and external criteria, are at least equally well qualified to pronounce on that thesis and who reject it.

This assumes that philosophy is like the law. If a thing is justiciable, then money can be made by providing 'justifications'. The problem here is that there is a 'buck-stopping' mechanism in the Justice system- i.e. a Supreme Court which can't bind itself. There may be something like this in certain mathematical axiom systems as Kripke has argued. But we can't say any such system is non-arbitrary or corresponds with reality. This was not always the case. At one time, it seemed obvious that Euclidean geometry must be, at least locally, true. Now, we understand that there can be infinitesimal singularities.  

Will someone say that philosophical theses are theses of a very special sort,

and thus philosophy is a case of 'Special Ed' 

and that philosophy is therefore a special case? That adequacy of evidential support is much more easily achieved in respect of philosophical propositions than in respect of geological or medical or historical propositions? Perhaps because nothing really hangs on philosophical questions, and a false or unjustified philosophical opinion is therefore harmless? Or because philosophy is in some sense not about matters of empirical fact? As to the first of these two suggestions, I think it is false that nothing hangs on philosophical questions. What people have believed about the philosophical theses advanced by--for example--Plato, Locke, and Marx has had profound effects on histor y. I don't know what the world would be like if everyone who ever encountered philosophy immediately became, and thereafter remained, a philosophical skeptic, but I'm willing to bet it would be a vastly different world.

 Arcesilaus, a sceptic, took over Plato's academy. This changed nothing. It is said that Pyrrho was influenced by Jain philosophy which could be said to be skeptical. But Jainism is just as boring and preachy as Hinduism or Christianity or Islam. 

Still, one could say that Greek influence on the Jews contributed to the development and spread of Christianity. But this was because certain Christian Emperors kicked ass big time. 

(In any case, I certainly hope this suggestion is false. I'd hate to have to defend my own field of study against a charge of adhering to loose epistemic standards by arguing that it's all right to adopt loose epistemic standards in philosophy because philosophy is detached from life to such a degree that philosophical mistakes can't do any harm.)

The hope is, they can do harm which is why Philosophy is turning into a branch of Grievance Studies.  

In a more general, theoretical way, Clifford has argued, and with some plausibility, that it is in principle impossible to claim on behalf of any subject-matter whatever--on the ground that mistaken beliefs about the things of which that subject-matter treats are harmless--exemption from the strict epistemic standards to which, say, geological, medical, and historical beliefs are properly held. He argues, '[That is not] truly a belief at all which has not some influence upon the actions of him who holds it.

 Clifford was saying 'us sciencey dudes are highly moral.' His notion of 'mind stuff' could be seen as ethical atomism of the Jain kind. Bad beliefs lead to influx of bad karma-binding particles and then to bad actions. If you don't become a Jain, you are bound to start killing animals for food. Don't tell me all those so-called Brahmins aren't sneaking off to Burger King when nobody is looking.' 

He who truly believes that which prompts him to an action has looked upon the action to lust after it, he has committed it already in his heart.

Jimmy Carter was constantly committing adultery in his heart. This is because he was a Baptist. Kennedy, who was Catholic and had a bad back, preferred to commit adultery in his bed.  

If a belief is not realized immediately in open deeds, it is stored up for the guidance of the future. It goes to make a part of that aggregate of beliefs which is the link between sensation and action at every moment of all our lives,

mind-stuff affects material stuff 

and which is so organized and compacted together that no part of it can be isolated from the rest, but every new addition modifies the structure of the whole. No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may some day explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character forever. . .

In other words, if you don't deny that there are 'sacred mysteries' then you will end up a fucking Catholic. Worse yet, you may start talking like a witty Irishman. After that nothing will save you from sodomy. Look at that poofter Oscar Wilde. Did you know he converted to Catholicism on his death bed?  

And no one man's belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone . . . no belief held by one man, however seemingly trivial the belief, and however obscure the believer, is actually insignificant or without its effect on the fate of mankind . . . .

Stay the fuck away from Catholicism. It will turn you totes gay.  

Whether or not you find this general, theoretical argument convincing, it does in any case seem quite impossible to maintain, given the actual history of the relation between philosophy and our social life, that it makes no real difference what people believe about philosophical questions.

I suppose Inwagen has to pretend to be an analytical philosopher so as to get invited to Departmental cocktail parties.  

The second suggestion--that philosophy is different (and that philosophers may therefore properly, in their professional work, observe looser epistemic standards than geologists or physicians observe in theirs) because it's not about matters of empirical fact--is trickier.

It is an empirical fact that Kant didn't write Mein Kampf.  Also he wasn't a penguin. Anyway, that's the ostensible reason my dissertation was rejected. My own suspicion was that it was because

1) I iz bleck

2) McDonalds may not actually be a University and what they were looking for was a CV which stressed relevant experience in the fast food industry. 

Its premise is not that it doesn't make any difference what people believe about philosophical questions; it's rather that the world would look exactly the same whether any given philosophical thesis was true or false.

No one has any such premise. It is obvious that there are some possible philosophical theses which are 'incompossible'- i.e. if they were true, nothing could exist- at least within the sphere they refer to. 

I think that that's a dubious assertion. If the declarative sentences that philosophers characteristically write and speak in their professional capacity are meaningful at all, then

there is 'restricted comprehension' 

many of them express propositions that are necessary truths or necessary falsehoods,

within that restricted context 

and it's at least a very doubtful assertion that the world would look the same if some necessary truth were a falsehood or if some necessary falsehood were a truth.

only if that 'restricted comprehension' includes the world.  

(Would anyone argue that mathematicians may properly hold themselves to looser epistemic standards than geologists because the world would look the same whether or not there was a greatest prime?)

There may be an axiom system where this is the case. If it is useful the world may change in some positive manner.  

And even if it were true that philosophy was, in no sense of this versatile word, about matters of empirical fact, one might well raise the question why this should lend any support to the suggestion that philosophers were entitled to looser epistemic standards than geologists or physiologists, given that philosophical beliefs actually do have important effects on the behavior of those who hold them.

Collingwood explained that philosophy is concerned with 'open questions'. Once a question is 'closed' a greater degree of 'akreibia' or precision permits the development of better tech. With an 'open question'- e.g. is space Euclidean?- one could say the some of Clifford's writing is philosophic precisely because it is not very precise (perhaps if would have been had he lived longer) or fully fleshed out. However, after the Michelson-Morley and Eddington experiments things could proceed very rapidly.  

Rather than address the issues that these speculations raise, however, I will simply change the subject. Let us consider politics. Almost everyone will admit that it makes a difference what people believe about politics--

expectations and preferences matter but do they amount to 'beliefs'? One might say that such and such percentage of the supporters of a political party are 'true believers', but one could equally say they expect great things from that party and no other.  

I am using the word in its broadest possible sense- and it would be absurd to say that propositions like Capital punishment is an ineffective deterrent or "Nations that do not maintain a strong military capability actually increase the risk of war" are not about matters of empirical fact.

they are about objective probabilities and thus can affect expectations. But expectations can be wholly subjective and resistant to statistical evidence.  

And yet people disagree about these propositions (and scores of others of equal importance), and their disagreements about them bear a disquieting resemblance to the disagreements of philosophers about nominalism and free will and the covering-law model.

Probably because people are using the same word to mean different things. Still, so long as all those involved end up bumming each other, no great harm is done. 

That is, their disagreements are matters of interminable debate, and impressive authorities can be found on both sides of many of the interminable debates.  It is important to realize that this feature of philosophy and politics is not a universal feature of human discourse. It is clear, for example, that someone who believes in astrology believes in something that is simply indefensible.

No. In India astrology promotes better solutions to the stable marriage problem and other coordination problems. It is 'Muth rational' to form expectations on the basis of 'public signals' as this can promote better correlated equilibria. 

It would be hard to find a philosopher--I hope this is true- who believed that every philosopher who disagreed with his or her position on nominalism held a position that was indefensible in the same way that a belief in astrology was indefensible.

I've just given a pragmatic defense of astrology. The best defense of one's philosophical position is to point out that you got tenure or that your latest book- Phenomenology for the Flatulent- is selling well on Amazon.  

It might be easier to find someone who held the corresponding position about disputed and important political questions. I suspect there really are people who think that those who disagree with them about the deterrent effect of capital punishment or the probable consequences of unilateral disarmament are not only mistaken but hold beliefs that are indefensible in the way that a belief in astrology is indefensible.

Hanging a murderer deters him from killing more people. Unilateral disarmament may be a good idea- if you are going to surrender anyway.  

I can only say that I regard this attitude as ludicrous. On each side of many interminably debated political questions--it is not necessary to my argument to say all--one can find well-informed (indeed, immensely learned) and highly intelligent men and women who adhere to the very highest intellectual standards.

If you pay such people enough, they will recommend coprophagy even if they don't themselves eat their own shit. 

And this is simply not the case with debates about astrology.

Not in India. The guys who are against it tend to be stupider than those who practice it in between finding flaws in Mochizuki's proof of the abc theorem.  

In fact, it is hardly possible to suppose that there could be a very interesting debate about the truth-values of the claims made by astrologers.

This is irrelevant. Protocols have no 'truth-value' in themselves. Observing them may be useful, more particularly if this solves a coordination problem.  

Everyone who is intellectually honest will admit this, will admit that there are interminable political debates with highly intelligent and well informed people on both sides.

Just as in a court case between two wealthy individuals, it is likely that the lawyers on both sides will be highly intelligent. So what?  

And yet few will react to this state of affairs by becoming political skeptics, by declining to have any political beliefs that are disputed by highly intelligent and well-informed people.

I have political expectations. They are not beliefs. They could be, if they solved a Newcombe problem or I felt my faith required me to subscribe to some particular dogma. But this is not the case with respect to the politics of my country.  

But how can this rejection of political skepticism be defended? How can responsible political thinkers believe that the Syndicalist Party is the last, best hope for Ruritania when they know full well that there are well informed (even immensely learned) and highly intelligent people who argue vehemently--all the while adhering to the highest intellectual standards--that a Syndicalist government would be the ruin of Ruritania?

The answer is that some political thinkers have a particular Faith which, they believe, entails adherence to certain dogmas. I imagine, after Vatican One, some German Catholics thought their hope of salvation required them to vote for the Zentrum party.  

Do the friends of Syndicalism claim to see gaps in the arguments of their opponents, "facts" that they have cited that are not really facts, real facts that they have chosen not to mention, a hidden agenda behind their opposition to Syndicalism? No doubt they do. Nevertheless, if they are intelligent and intellectually honest, they will be aware that if these claims were made in public debate, the opponents of Syndicalism would probably be able to muster a very respectable rebuttal.

Or not. The Pope published an encyclical saying that Masons were Satan's minions. Then the Church fell for the Taxil hoax and endorsed the view that Satan had taken the form of a piano playing crocodile. The odd thing was that Catholics continued to cite Taxil's work even after he revealed the thing was a practical joke. 

The friends of Syndicalism will perhaps be confident that they could effectively meet the points raised in this rebuttal, but, if they are intelligent and intellectually honest, they will be aware . . . and so, for all practical purposes, ad infinitum.

The plain fact is, philosophers tend to have bizarre political views. But so do a lot of mathematicians and physicists.  

I ask again: what could it be that justifies us in rejecting political skepticism?

Money. Sex. Both money and sex. Politics is about getting money and money is about getting sex which in turn is about babies. A polity is basically just a collection of grown-up babies.  

How can I believe that my political beliefs are justified when these beliefs are rejected by people whose qualifications for engaging in political discourse are as impressive as David Lewis's qualifications for engaging in philosophical discourse?

But his brain turned to shit quickly enough. Anyway, since the time of Aristophanes, Philosophers have been known to be shit at politics. Socrates's Symposium ends with his quaffing hemlock.  

These people are aware of (at least) all the evidence and all the arguments that I am aware of, and they are (at least) as good at evaluating evidence and arguments as I. How, then, can I maintain that the evidence and arguments I can adduce in support of my beliefs actually justify these beliefs?

This is like 'Aumann agreement'. It doesn't apply if there is Knightian uncertainty. Aumann himself says the Sahnedrin had a rule against unanimity. In other words, it is Muth rational for people with the same Bayesian priors not to agree.  

If this evidence and these arguments are capable of that, then why aren't they capable of convincing these other people that these beliefs are correct?

I've given one answer. Another has to do with 'uncorrelated asymmetries' or oikeiosis or other reasons why it is eusocial to break symmetries in various types of games.  

Well, as with philosophy, I am inclined to think that I must enjoy some sort of incommunicable insight that the others, for all their merits, lack.

You are you. They aren't. There's a reason you wipe your own bum not that of your colleagues. We might say that uncorrelated asymmetries can grant a Hohfeldian immunity with respect to demands for justification.  

I am inclined to think that the evidence and arguments I can adduce in support of my beliefs do not constitute the totality of my justification for these beliefs.

What evidence or argument has this dude 'adduced'? None that I can see.  

But all that I am willing to say for sure is that something justifies me in rejecting political skepticism,

but what justifies that something?  

or at least that it is possible that something does: that it is not a necessary truth that one is not justified in holding a political belief that is controverted by intelligent and well-informed political thinkers.

Because there are no, non-trivial, necessary truths.  

I have now accomplished one of the things I wanted to do in this talk. I have raised the question how it is possible to avoid philosophical and political skepticism.

The answer is 'tell stupid lies' which is more easily done if you are already very stupid and are a habitual liar. One such lie is that expectations or habits of behavior are actually beliefs in which case skepticism is self-defeating because it too is a belief or dogma rather than a perfectly reasonable assertion of defeasibility or sublatability regarding epistemic claims. 

In the remainder of this talk, I am going to turn to questions about religious belief. M y point in raising the questions I have raised about philosophy and politics was primarily to set the stage for comparing religious beliefs with philosophical and political beliefs.

Religion is about faith which is founded on a mystery. There can be political and philosophical beliefs which have this feature but Inwagen hasn't mentioned them. I would say there is an 'ontologically dysphoric' aspect to them. They aren't 'at home in the world'.  

But I think that the questions I have so far raised are interesting in their own right.

The reason this didn't raise a laugh was because his audience was sound asleep.  

Even if everything I say in the remainder of the talk is wrong, even if my comparisons of philosophical and political beliefs with religious beliefs turn out to be entirely wide of the mark, the interest of the questions I have raised so far would remain. How can we philosophers, when we consider the matter carefully, avoid the uncomfortable suspicion that the following words of Clifford might apply to us: Every one of them, if he chose to examine himself in foro conscientiae,

this can't apply to academics teaching shite. They don't have a fucking conscience.  

would know that he had acquired and nourished a belief, when he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him; and therein he would know that he had done a wrong thing. ?

 The context is as follows- 

'There was once an island in which some of the inhabitants professed a religion teaching neither the doctrine of original sin nor that of eternal punishment.

Was it Ceylon? The Brits governed it well enough despite upholding a primitive religion with a sadistic God. 

A suspicion got abroad that the professors of this religion had made use of unfair means to get their doctrines taught to children. They were accused of wresting the laws of their country in such a way as to remove children from the care of their natural and legal guardians; and even of stealing them away and keeping them concealed from their friends and relations. A certain number of men formed themselves into a society for the purpose of agitating the public about this matter. They published grave accusations against against individual citizens of the highest position and character, and did all in their power to injure these citizens in their exercise of their professions. So great was the noise they made, that a Commission was appointed to investigate the facts; but after the Commission had carefully inquired into all the evidence that could be got, it appeared that the accused were innocent. Not only had they been accused of insufficient evidence, but the evidence of their innocence was such as the agitators might easily have obtained, if they had attempted a fair inquiry. After these disclosures the inhabitants of that country looked upon the members of the agitating society, not only as persons whose judgment was to be distrusted, but also as no longer to be counted honourable men. For although they had sincerely and conscientiously believed in the charges they had made, yet they had no right to believe on such evidence as was before them. Their sincere convictions, instead of being honestly earned by patient inquiring, were stolen by listening to the voice of prejudice and passion.

No. We would say 'these particular people believed a story which harmonized with their other beliefs. They were a tad hasty in voicing their suspicions. Only if they fabricated evidence or ignored exculpatory facts could we say they acted in bad faith'. 

Let us vary this case also, and suppose, other things remaining as before, that a still more accurate investigation proved the accused to have been really guilty. Would this make any difference in the guilt of the accusers? Clearly not; the question is not whether their belief was true or false, but whether they entertained it on wrong grounds.

No. I may know that a particular person is a sociopathic murderer. I may be wrong about forensic matters because I'm not a fucking detective. If it turns out the guy is guilty as fuck even though he had planted exculpatory evidence, I am vindicated.  

They would no doubt say, "Now you see that we were right after all; next time perhaps you will believe us." And they might be believed, but they would not thereby become honourable men.

If they were known to be honorable, they would continue to be thought of in that way.  

They would not be innocent, they would only be not found out. Every one of them, if he chose to examine himself in foro conscientiae, would know that he had acquired and nourished a belief, when he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him; and therein he would know that he had done a wrong thing.

Nonsense! Unless you are serving on a jury and the Judge clarifies that you must disregard some but not other pieces of evidence, you are welcome to hold your own views about what is or isn't evidence. There were people who thought OJ was innocent because he seemed a swell guy and swell guys don't beat or kill their wives. Others thought the police were as racist as fuck and so, whether on not OJ was guilty, the evidence would have been fabricated. Perfectly honorable people were welcome to hold such views- unless they were serving on the Jury.  

Now as to religion: Is religion different from philosophy and politics in the respects we have been discussing?

Not necessarily. There can be religious philosophy and religious politics which aims to promote good soteriological, rather than economic, outcomes. 

Should religious beliefs perhaps be held to a stricter evidential standard than philosophical and political beliefs?

No. Demanding an angel show up on the hour, every hour, to affirm that God hasn't fucked off or died in the last 60 minutes, is just silly. 

Or, if they are to be held to the same standard, do typical religious beliefs fare worse under this standard than typical philosophical or political beliefs? It is an extremely popular position that religion is different. Or, at least, it must be that many anti-religious philosophers and other writers hostile to religious belief hold this position, for it seems to be presupposed by almost every aspect of their approach to the subject of religious belief.

I think Islam gets this right. It says Scripture is purely imperative or 'insha'. There is no alethic content (khabar) to religion for which we can find any empirical evidence this side of the grave.  

And yet this position seems never to have been explicitly formulated, much less argued for.

Because it is absurd.  

Let us call it the Difference Thesis.

Angels are different from us. They have wings. Also, unlike pigeons, they can talk.  

An explicit formulation of the Difference Thesis is a tricky matter. I tentatively suggest that it be formulated disjunctively: Either religious beliefs should be held to a stricter epistemic standard than beliefs of certain other types--of which philosophical and political beliefs are --or, if they are to be held to the same epistemic standard as other beliefs, they typically fare worse under this standard than typical beliefs of most other types, including philosophical and political beliefs.

Religions themselves supply the answer. Faith is founded on a mystery beyond mortal ken. Some religions have great Saints who were also philosophers. But they are inferior to the prophets or avatars of God.  

I use this disjunctive formulation because, while I think I see some sort of difference thesis at work in much of the hostile writing on the epistemic status of religious belief, the work of this thesis is generally accomplished at a subliminal level and it is hard to get a clear view of it.

It is easy enough. Just say Religion is a fairy story or swindle perpetrated by parasitical priests and monks. The trouble is lots of very good people are highly religious.  

I suspect that some of the writers I have alluded to are thinking in terms of one of the disjuncts and some in terms of the other. A good example of the Difference Thesis at work is provided by Clifford's lecture. One of the most interesting facts about The Ethics of Belief is that nowhere in it is religious belief explicitly discussed. There are, to be sure, a few glancing references to religion in the lecture, but the fact that they are references to religion, while it doubtless has its polemical function, is never essential to the point that Clifford professes to be making.

And yet, his audience knew what he was getting at. Incidentally, Blasphemy was still a crime back then. It wasn't till 1888 that an avowed atheist could vote in parliament without running the risk of incurring a hefty fine.  

Clifford's shipowner, for example, comes to his dishonest belief partly because he puts his trust in Providence, but Clifford could have made the same philosophical point if he had made the shipowner come to his dishonest belief because he had put his trust in his brother-in-law.

But Clifford's audience knew that the issue here was negligence. It is no defense in law to trust Providence or the brother of the lady you are porking. If you have a duty of care, you must trust someone whom it is prudent and reasonable to trust- e.g. an expert in the field. 

Clifford's other main illustrative case is built round an actual Victorian scandal (described in coyly abstract terms: There was once a certain island in which . . .) involving religious persecution. But he could have made the same philosophical point if he had described a case of purely secular persecution, such as those that attended the investigations of Senator McCarthy; his illustration turned simply on the unwillingness of zealous agitators, convinced that the right was on their side, to examine certain matters of public record and to obtain easily available testimony.

The difference between the Salem witch trials and McCarthy's shenanigans is that witches don't exist. Commies do. But then so do homosexuals. Saying McCarthy was a shirt-lifter was enough to undermine him. 

In both of Clifford's illustrative cases, there is a proposition that is dishonestly accepted, accepted without sufficient attention to the available evidence.

Clifford was wrong. He wasn't a lawyer. What he was talking about was negligence which could either be culpa levis in abstracto (a higher duty of care) or in concreto (a lower duty such as even ordinary people could be expected to uphold). Of course, dishonesty or fraud would arise if there was deliberate suppression of facts.  

In neither case is it a religious or theological proposition. And at no point does Clifford come right out and say that his arguments have any special connection with religious beliefs.

But that question was very much in the air. Guys like Gladstone thought that Newman and Manning were guilty of some sort of dishonesty or dishonorable conduct. That's what led to Newman's apologia rebutting Kingsley.  

It would, however, be disingenuous in the extreme to say that The Ethics of Belief is simply about the ethics of belief in general and is no more directed at religious belief than at any other kind of belief.

Not in its historical context.  

...this conviction that Clifford's specific target is religious belief is no knee-jerk reaction of overly sensitive religious believers or of anti religious polemicists eager to find yet another stick to beat churchgoers with.

Clifford's 'mind stuff' opens the door to Whitehead type 'process theology' or some such shite. The other thing is that after Darwin's 'Origin' came out there was renewed interest in Hinduism and Buddhism- about which the Brits knew a lot- which culminated in the Theosophical Movement.  Inwagen goes on to accept the conventional view that Clifford was writing for a religious audience but then introduces

Clifford's Other Principle. It is something very much like this: "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."

In which case Edward Witten's janitor is guilty of ignoring evidence that Super-String theory is baloney. He should be telling everybody that the Professor is a nitwit. 

Clifford's Other Principle is obviously not Clifford's Principle.

It is mad. 

 I suspect that Clifford tended t o conflate the two principles because of a combination of his anti-religious agenda

an agnostic is not necessarily against religion 

with an underlying assumption that the evidence, such as it is, that people have for their religious beliefs is inadequate because it is incomplete, and incomplete because these believers have declined to examine certain evidence relevant to their beliefs, owing to a  subconscious realization that examination of this evidence would deprive even them of the power to continue to hold their cherished beliefs.

To be fair, Victorian Christianity could be very fucking horrible. At an earlier period Christ's observation 'the poor ye shall always have with you' was taken as an argument for denying Oliver Twist a little more gruel.  

However this may be, having distinguished Clifford's Other Principle from Clifford's Principle, I am not going to discuss it further, beyond pointing out that there does not seem to be any reason to suppose, whatever Clifford may have thought, that those who hold religious beliefs are any more likely to be in violation of Clifford's Other Principle than those who hold philosophical or political beliefs.

No. Everybody violates the other principle because we don't know what evidence is relevant or even what fucking evidence we should be looking for in order to prove 'who smelled it, dealt it'.  

We all know that there are a lot of people who have violated Clifford's Other Principle at one point or another in the course of arriving at their political beliefs and a few who have not. As to philosophy, well, I'm sure that violations of Clifford's Other Principle are quite rare among professional philosophers. No doubt there are a few cases, however. One might cite, fo r example, a recent review of a book by John Searle, in which the author of the review (Dan Dennett) accuses Searle of gross violations of Clifford's Other Principle in his (Searle's) descriptions of current theories in the philosophy of mind. If Dennett' s charge is not just, then it is plausible to suppose that he is in violation of Clifford's Other Principle. So it can happen, even among us.

More particularly because these cretins may be able to write crap but not even they can read that crap.  

.. if evidence that provided ad equate support for a philosophical proposition was readily available throughout a sizable population of careful, qualified philosophers, wouldn't this fact at least induce a significant uniformity of opinion as regards that proposition among those philosophers?

Nope. It would merely prove the subject had become adversely selective. The fact is philosophy only deals with 'open questions' which may be closed by some other discipline. This is what happened by the late sixties or early seventies. As Djikstra showed, 'dining philosophers' would starve to death before they could agree on a rule for sharing spoons. If 'naturality' is far to seek in Category theory and 'natural' or 'absolute' proofs can't exist, then the fact that philosophers think they are doing something useful is itself proof that the opposite must be the case.

I recall reading that Rockefeller University, back in the early Seventies, hired some philosophers in the belief that they would get talking to the Biologists and Physicists and so forth and thus that they would help catalyze progress in STEM subjects. Sadly, the philosophers wouldn't talk to each other let alone anybody else. They were utterly useless so the University shut the Department down. Inwagen may have started out smart but his profession has destroyed his brain. Still, at least he is a Christian. So maybe there is hope for us all- even Socioproctologists.  

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