Philosophy, Uncategorized

W.K. Clifford, The Ethics Of Belief


This week’s blog prompt is to read and assess William Kingdon Clifford’s essay The Ethics of Belief. The essay is about using ‘belief’ as evidence for truth versus thorough investigation to find evidence for truth. To quote W. K. Clifford: “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” By that statement, we can see that Clifford was definitely not for using belief alone to present truth as, well, truth!

To support the premise of his statement William Clifford turned to himself, William Clifford, and presented a thought experiment in the form of an allegorical story.

The Story

The story is about a ship owner, not a captain, who had an old ship. The old ship had been around the block a few times and had ‘often needed repairs’. Some people (Clifford never stated if they were friends or not) also told the ship owner that ‘possibly she was not seaworthy.’

The ship owner mulled over having her refitted and overhauled; then he thought about how many times she, the ship, had ‘weathered so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come home safely from this trip also.”

He decided to put his ‘trust in Providence’ which would ‘protect’ the ship and it’s passengers. He felt comforted in his belief – then the ship went down with all it’s passengers on board in the middle of the ocean.

Clifford’s Statement

After presenting the story Clifford said that ‘he [the ship owner] was verily guilty of the death of those men.’ Referring to the allegorical men aboard the ship. He went on to say ‘the sincerity of his convictions can in no wise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him.’ Clifford states that evidence should be acquired through the process of investigation and not using belief as a process to an end; to this Clifford said the ship owner must be held accountable for his sole action of belief.

To sum Clifford’s statement informally:

  1. Belief alone does not provide evidence for protection.
  2. Ship owner relies on sole belief to provide evidence for protection, therefore ship goes down.
  3. Ship owner is guilty because investigative action was not taken.

To be honest, in my humble opinion, this seems applicably practical on the surface. Take mathematics for example, one can’t perform most mathematical operations without having your work checked and sometimes re-checked to be sure the end result is true. I also think his statement is somewhat logically true but also unsound. The ship could have gone down because of other circumstances, for example, like forces of nature which can be out of man’s realm of control no matter how well one is prepared.

Clifford then went on with modifying his first allegory with a different outcome for the ship; he made another allegory painting the picture of a group who did not conduct a fair inquiry and again stated ‘they had no right to believe on such evidence as was before them.”

After Affects

Clifford then offered a few causal points (which leans toward a slippery slope fallacy). Namely in that he claims that an individual’s belief is not his own private matter but that of society as a whole. He goes on to basically say that if each individual expresses examination for evidence, instead of placing faith in beliefs, all society will go to hell in a hand basket and evils will occur. To quote Clifford:

“The danger to society is not merely that it should believe the wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.” – W. K. Clifford

My Overall Take

Like I said before, I think Clifford’s logic if valid but not sound. Things cannot be as black and white as they seem, considering what context certain causal events occur that may cause one to lean on belief.

Lastly, for one who was stressing investigating true through honest inquiry Clifford never went into defining what honest inquiry was. He never state how to measure it or what gold standard could be used to define and honest inquiry.

Philosophy, Uncategorized

Every Rose Has It’s Thorn: Fallacies In Philosophy

To quote the awesome american band Poison “every rose has it’s thorn”. Philosophy isn’t any different, metaphorically speaking. The thorns in the sweet smelling rose of philosophy is the logical fallacy. So lets take a sniff of the rose, breathe deep, and learn to try to avoid the poke of the fallacy. By the way, Poke of the Fallacy would make a great punk band name, okay, anyway that’s an aside. Lets get to work!

Philosophy has an obligation to critically evaluate known facts; the test of truth is a critical key-stone of philosophy. Without valuating a premise, or base claim, of an argument how are we to come to a sound and logical conclusion of the same valuation? If you wish, see my last blog about assessing validity and soundness of an argument by looking at the logical workings of a the premise and conclusion within an argument’s form.

Professor Rodriguez (a.k.a. The Profess) has revealed to us, the good students, a link to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s list of 213 most common fallacies. Ten fallacies have been chosen for us to review – I’m so grateful it’s only 10 and not all 213! Below is a list of those ten particular fallacies.

  • Give your own, original examples for the following ten fallacies, plus two of your own choice. 

  1. Begging the Question

  2. Ad Hominem

  3. Equivocation

  4. Slippery Slope

  5. Straw Man

  6. Tu Quoque

  7. Non-sequitur

  8. False Dichotomy

  9. Argument from ignorance

  10. Red Herring

The following answers appear in successive order relative to the numbered fallacies above.

  1. Begging The Question: Cats and dogs are treated the same. However, cats are not supposed to play with balls, only dogs are supposed to play with balls because they are dogs.
  2. Ad Hominem: That man’s mathematical logic must be ill. He married another person like himself, he must be terrible at mathematics!
  3. Equivocation: Nancy said she was a liberated woman, most liberated people are socialists. Communists are socialists, they’ve been know to torture in the name of liberation. Nancy must support torture.
  4. Slippery Slope:If one hangs out with people that ride motorcycles they might start doing crime, join a gang, sell drugs and cause trouble – it all leads to anarchy and the state will fall apart.
  5. Straw Man: Man A: “Violent jihad is killing our country-men. It is a threat to us. All people who subscribe to the Muslim religion must be banned from our country because jihad comes from Muslims.” Man B: “But not all people who ascribe to the Muslim faith believe in violent jihad, or violence in general, they don’t support it. So why ban them all?” Man A: “Because only Muslims commit violent jihad.”
  6. Tu Quoque: “If my dentist lies to his patients, then I too can lie to my doctors!”
  7. Non-sequitur: A high I.Q. can be a trait for an intelligent person. Jim Parsons plays an intelligent person on T.V., he and all actors who play intelligent people must have very high I.Q.’s!
  8. False Dichotomy: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” – G. W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001.
  9. Argument from Ignorance: “Any type of life does not exist anywhere in the Universe because there is no proof that it does.” “Philosophy is resoundingly a woman because there is no proof that philosophy is not a literal woman.”
  10. Red Herring: “In order to fix our immigration issue we need to build a wall along the borders of our country. We need to acquire more specialized taxes to do this, there we will focus all of our attention to designing new tax laws for building things – like special walls.”
  11. Group Think: “My team – the Falcons – won the state championships title four years in a row! No one else is better than us, everyone thinks so, they’re all inherently inferior because they are not the Falcons. It’s the truth!”
  12. Tokenism: “Of course the organization supports women and equal pay, we have a woman in the mail room, she is paid the same as our other woman.”

The above are my examples of the ten listed fallacies but there are many many more of those thorny little ‘things’. Those ten in themselves gave me a lot to think about in regards to what I say and how I think and to think there are two-hundred and thirteen listed on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s page of Fallacies. Does anyone know how many fallacies there are? That would be something to know but that is definitely for another time and blog.

Knowing about fallacies can be used as a reference for every day evaluation, not just critical evaluation and not just for philosophical evaluation. In my opinion, knowing the fallacies and how they operate can help one build a better question for learning about the world around you.  It’s a proverbial icing to the proverbial question cake, it can make your question cake richer (and maybe even tastier).

Okay, I just poured myself a beer. You know it’s said at the bottom of every beer there is an answer to everything or maybe some things. I’m going to put this to the test and figure out if this is a fallacy or not, wish me luck! Ha!

Lastly, I dedicate this Poison song to thorny fallacies on the side of the philosophical rose.




First Blog: First Steps Toward A Better Question

What is this blog about, why is it here? I’ve just stepped onto the pavement of a road toward understanding philosophy. Thankfully I am not alone on this trek for enlightenment. I am currently enrolled in a philosophy class with others who are, in general, seem to be searching for some type of understanding(s) too.

At the helm of this class is the captain of this philosophical ship: Dr. Tanya Rodriguez. I feel very fortunate to have her as a guide – so far she has posed a few questions that have given me pause to think. Also, she has a great sense of style too!

I cannot wait to embark further up the winding staircase of enlightenment of philosophy! I got my first taste of philosophy in a most informal manner back in 2009-2010 through my local Masonic lodge. I joined the lodge and found within some Masonic texts the undertones of quite a few philosophical topics. After a some deeper examination of the texts I had found philosophical elements and topics spoken of by the likes of Plato, Democritus, Thomas Aquinas, Buddha just to name a few. It’s amazing how ideas echo for thousands of years and I hope to drink deep of these ideas with the help of Dr. Rodriguez.

How do I plan to ‘drink deep’ of philosophical ideas? How do I approach this. From what I have observed so far from reading Plato, I need to learn how to form a better question. With direction from Dr. Rodriguez – and a little bit of luck – I hope to be able to do this. Hopefully, with the know-how to form a better question I can be more able to understand the world around me (and maybe someday be able to share my experience with others for their benefit). So here I go, wish me luck!