Ethics of Belief and The Will To Believe

Ethics of Belief and the Will to Believe

William Kingdon Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief” and William James’s “The Will to Believe” are collectively enlisted in the philosophical narrative. Clifford denotes his opinion, evidentialism, with the absoluteassertion that “it is always wrong, for everyone and everywhere, to trust anything without sufficient evidence.” This illustrates his stand for intellectual honesty (Madigan, 2008). Conversely, James depicts that individual’spassional characternot only lawfully selects apreference between propositions, each time it is a genuine selection that may not by its disposition, be determined on intellectual justifications.

Part A

In the article, “The Ethics of Belief,” William k Clifford contends that believing anything that may fail to offer sufficient evidence should be regarded as unethical. To support his point of view, he provides a narrative of a ship-owner that travels in his ship without any inspection. The owner casts doubts on the ship’s strength as it is believed to be very old and may wreck easily if storms are experienced. Nonetheless, the owner of the vessel suppresses his doubts on the ship’s viability and opts to believe the ship’s ability to survive the existing condition as a result of its ability to withstand the previous storms. Therefore, the ship-owner chooses to sail devoid of any form of inspection.  According to Madigan (2008), Clifford believes that the owner of the vessel is to be held liable for the crews’ death in spite of his conviction that the ship offered a guarantee for safety. In addition, the sole reason for the wrecking of the vessel was not sailing with the vessel but believing that the ship is in an excellent condition to sail. According toMadigan (2008), Clifford believed that the owner of the vessel had confidencedevoid of any significantconfirmation; therefore, his certaintyis considered unethical. Clifford generalized his line of reasoning with all circumstances, not only those with catastrophicresults.

Moreover, he believes that whether the belief turns out to be right may not be of great concern to him. Only a conviction drawn from satisfactoryconfirmation and forbearing investigations is moral.  Based on Clifford’s assessment, the religion is considered to be immoral, as it entails believing in aspects perceived not to portray sufficient evidence. According to Madigan(2008), individuals suffer as a result of numerous false beliefs as well as severe wrong actions that may result in unfavorable adverse effects.  This means thatmessytraditions of belief-formation are morallyinappropriatesince – as human beings are known to be social, and the stakes are high when they believe in a particular aspect. Individuals have the moral duty of not polluting the well of collective knowledge.

Part B

In his article, “The Will to Believe,” James’centers his assertionsconcerning beliefs in God on Pascal’s logic. Pascal’s logic illustrates that even though the theory of God’s presenceis doubtful, there are massiveprobable advantageshaving faith and trusting in God rather than the adoption of theism. James pronounces that the integrity of devotion is neither an external noran innately validated aspect. Instead, faith is ascertained by the readinessof an individual to act. In this case, the assumption made by James precisely resolves the predicament faced by the owner of the ship. In regards to what may be considered as efficient and not efficient, it would be illustrated as a personal decision. Since there is no way the weather may be predicted, the ship-ownermay need to incorporatehis knowledge on previous weather patterns to make his resolution.

According to James (2012), two essential decrees as would-be known would include “Believe the truth!” and “Shun error!”. According to James (2012), Clifford over emphasizes the second aspect and neglects the first, thus, simplyindicating his pre-eminentsecretivedismay of turning out to be a dupe. Whenever one is faced with a correctchoice that is not established by the proof, one may make a decisionfounded on an individual’s “passional nature,” which hypothesis to believe. James then commences an assessment of boththeories in the maxims of conviction and presumes that the human mind pursuesthe certainty and avoids the error. He, therefore, be sure that an individual’s beliefs are fundamentally built-in self. The principles of aperson depend on personal actions, and therefore faith founded on yearning is legitimate and may not be disposed of. His opinion of several convictionsis thereforecentered on the notion that formal logic in confidenceto the degree that it is acceptedindividually, it is thoughtful and binding, no matter how irrational it may seem to the other person. Therefore, the principles of patience and the principles on God are individual, and not one person is wrongto trust or not as far as it is their pronouncement.Alternately, James’s will-to-believe principle is devoted to the suggestion that devout belief can beheld reliably. Nevertheless, he does not provide the devout believer carte blanche to trust any kindof suggestion that favours. To be more specific, he argues that the utmostan individual is warrantedto adopting is what is known as “religious hypothesis.”

Part C

James successfully provides a robust counter-argument in regards to Clifford’s notion not that it is continuouslyincorrect to faith in anythingthat fails to does not sufficient evidence. In addition, not all issues of faith may or ought to bedetermined purely in a rational manner. But faiths are much more preciseas compared to the very vague and overallproclamationoffered by James. James maintains that since the arguments for the presence of the conventional God fail, the traditionalnotion of God diminishes too. The sacredtheory is less of a view about the nature and existence of God, and more of an opinionconcerning the hope in individual’s lives. That is to say, James’s plan for protectingspiritualconviction is purely to convert it intosomething less religious.

Consequently, according to James, religious certainty is not about God, angels, immortality, souls, or phaenomena. It instead is basically the trust that more everlasting things are best. This is the conviction that the will-to-believe principleseeks to protect.Nonetheless, According to Clifford, religious certainty is not an insulatedspectacle, a unique case of epistemic imprudence. In contrast, Clifford clutches that spiritualtrust brings with it a host of other rationalimmoralities of indiscretion.




Madigan, T. J. (2008). WK Clifford and” The Ethics of Belief”. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

James, W. (2012). The will to believe and human immortality. Courier Corporation.


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