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“You have probably never heard of William Kingdon Clifford. He is not in the pantheon of great philosophers – perhaps because his life was cut short at the age of 33 – but I cannot think of anyone whose ideas are more relevant for our interconnected, AI-driven, digital age. This might seem strange given that we are talking about a Victorian Briton whose most famous philosophical work is an essay nearly 150 years ago. However, reality has caught up with Clifford. His once seemingly exaggerated claim that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ is no longer hyperbole but a technical reality.
In ‘The Ethics of Belief’ (1877), Clifford gives three arguments as to why we have a moral obligation to believe responsibly, that is, to believe only what we have sufficient evidence for, and what we have diligently investigated. His first argument starts with the simple observation that our beliefs influence our actions. Everyone would agree that our behaviour is shaped by what we take to be true about the world – which is to say, by what we believe. If I believe that it is raining outside, I’ll bring an umbrella. If I believe taxis don’t take credit cards, I make sure I have some cash before jumping into one. And if I believe that stealing is wrong, then I will pay for my goods before leaving the store.
What we believe is then of tremendous practical importance. False beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival. If the singer R Kelly genuinely believed the words of his song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ (1996), I can guarantee you he would not be around by now.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"The biggest topic in British political circles on Monday wasn’t the country’s impending departure from the European Union. It was milkshakes..."
"I often disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., but I've been disturbed by the idea that he should be run out of the Republican Party just because he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses."
"The Icelandic band Hatari, whose members are quite vocal in their animosity towards Israel, held up Palestinian flags... Madonna, likewise, had two of her performers wear Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes."
"To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, I turn to movie critic Roger Ebert's old review of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Trust me on this one.)"
"The money is already here—and has been for years. In the midst of a housing crisis, an injection of cash into the superheated real-estate market seems likely to cause an uptick in evictions and displacement."
"Parents concerned about YouTube debate whether to let their children have their own channels; some forbid it, others send them to summer camp..."
"‘I Had Completely Lost the Knack for Staying Alive..." Warmer weather brings daffodils, rhubarb at the farmer’s market — and, for some, despair."
"With his new book, Howard Stern proves that his rightful place is among the prophets and moral visionaries, not the ‘shock jocks’"
"I’m terrified of parenting in the anti-vaxxer age: Anti-vaccine propaganda isn’t just harmful to children. It threatens to erode our entire sense of community."
"...doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. That is, how what we eat affects how cancers grow..."
"...it represents an impressive achievement: a victory of humankind against the chaos that pervades the universe."
"If trends continue, in 20 years the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. The United States will see a continuing decline in overall numbers, with a growing observant Jewish population..."