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Go to the two most modern and free-thinking centres, Paris and America, and you will find them full of devils and angels, of old mysteries and new prophets. Rationalism is fighting for its life against the young and vigorous superstitions. Christianity, which is a very mystical religion, has nevertheless been the religion of the most practical section of mankind.

It has far more paradoxes than the Eastern philosophies, but it also builds far better roads. The Moslem has a pure and logical conception of God, the one Monistic Allah. But he remains a barbarian in Europe, and the grass will not grow where he sets his foot. The East has logic and lives on rice. Christendom has mysteries-and motor cars. Never mind, as I say, about the inference, let us register the fact.

Complete Agnosticism is the obvious attitude for man. We are all Agnostics until we discover that Agnosticism will not work. Then we adopt some philosophy, Mr. Blatchford is no more an Agnostic than I am. The Agnostic would say that he did not know whether man was responsible for his sins. Blatchford says that he knows that man is not. Here we have the seed of the whole huge tree of dogma.

Why does Mr. Blatchford go beyond Agnosticism and assert that there is certainly no free will? Because he cannot run his scheme of morals without asserting that there is no free will. He wishes no man to be blamed for sin.

The Ethics of Belief

Therefore he has to make his disciples quite certain that God did not make them free and therefore blamable. No wild Christian doubt must flit through the mind of the Determinist. No demon must whisper to him in some hour of anger that perhaps the company promoter was responsible for swindling him into the workhouse. No sudden scepticism must suggest to him that perhaps the schoolmaster was blamable for flogging a little boy to death. The Determinist faith must be held firmly, or else certainly the weakness of human nature will lead men to be angered when they are slandered and kick back when they are kicked.

In short, free will seems at first sight to belong to the Unknowable. Yet Mr. Blatchford cannot preach what seems to him common charity without asserting one dogma about it. And I cannot preach what seems to me common honesty without asserting another. Here is the failure of Agnosticism.

That our every-day view of the things we do in the common sense know, actually depends upon our view of the things we do not in the common sense know. This is the real fact. You cannot live without dogmas about these things. You cannot act for twenty-four hours without deciding either to hold people responsible or not to hold them responsible.

Theology is a product far more practical than chemistry. Some Determinists fancy that Christianity invented a dogma like free will for fun -a mere contradiction.

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This is absurd. You have the contradiction whatever you are. Determinists tell me, with a degree of truth, that Determinism makes no difference to daily life. Everyone takes a stance both in theory and in practice, and everyone makes claims that need to be justified. They assume the reality of human dignity and rights, moral responsibility, right and wrong, purpose and meaning which somehow emerged from purposeless, mindless, valueless, impersonal, material origins!

Every adherent to a worldview makes truth-claims or takes a stance on things—not just the Christian. So all of them stand in need of justification and cannot escape intellectual scrutiny. A fourth double-standard is when atheists or skeptics let themselves off the intellectual hook far more readily while holding the believer to a much higher standard.

Or are they operating by a double standard? Is its source intellectual, emotional, moral, spiritual, or even physical? Let us briefly address them. This has to do with doubting that arises from not being at our physical best.

When doubting is intellectual , the doubter should explore rational or evidential reasons for that doubt as well as the array of resources to address it. Rather than advocating a blind leap, the biblical faith presents itself as a knowledge tradition. Today more than ever, ample supports and defences of the Christian faith are available.

Some doubt may be emotional. Why not? These anxieties and insecurities may require counselling and a loving community to address them wisely and lovingly.


Moral doubt about God or objective moral values right and wrong may spring from immoral actions. Author Aldous Huxley frankly admitted his desire for sexual freedom and easily constructed a philosophy to support it, thus trying to keep the Cosmic Authority at a safe distance. Spiritual doubt can be the result of struggles and discouragements with sin and failure—perhaps feeling accused by Satan and his hosts Rev While more can be said about dealing with doubts, perhaps these reflections will help bring issues of doubt into clearer focus and help us deal with doubts wisely and constructively.

Paul Copan Ph. For six years, he served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He has also contributed essays to over thirty books, both scholarly and popular, and he has authored a number of articles in professional journals. In , he was a Visiting Scholar at Oxford University. His website is www. In addition to being sorted according to the type of value involved, doxastic obligations can be sorted according to their structure. The main distinction here is between hypothetical and categorical structure.

Prudential norms usually have a hypothetical structure: if you have prudential reason to survive the disease, and if believing that you are going to do so will help you achieve this end, then you have a prima facie obligation to believe that you are going to survive. Likewise, if you want to protect your relationship with your son, and if believing that he is deceiving you and taking drugs will damage your ability to trust him, then you are prima facie obliged to withhold that belief. Put more generally: if you have a prudential end E , and belief that p is likely to make E obtain, then you have a prima facie obligation to believe that p.

The obligation will be particularly powerful though still prima facie if E cannot be achieved other than through belief that p , and if you are or should be aware of that fact. For more on hypothetical norms generally, see Broome and Schroeder The structure of moral and epistemic norms can also be construed hypothetically in this way. The ends in question will presumably be doing the morally right thing or promoting the moral good , on the one hand, and acquiring significant knowledge or minimizing significant false belief , on the other see Foley Achieving these ends clearly does involve an increase in well-being on most conceptions of the latter.

However, because these ends are putatively set for us not by a contingent act of will but rather by our nature as morally engaged, knowledge-seeking beings, some philosophers regard them as categorical rather than instrumental imperatives. In other words, they take these norms to say not merely that if we want to achieve various hypothetical ends, then we have the prima facie obligation to believe in such-and-such ways.

Rather, the norms say that we do have these ends as a matter of natural or moral necessity, and thus that we prima facie ought to believe in such-and-such ways. And so by the same logic it might be taken to underwrite a categorical—albeit still prudential—norm of belief, especially in life-or-death cases such as that of the cancer diagnosis above.

So far the norms involved in the ethics of belief have been characterized without attention to reflective access requirements. In order to see how such requirements can play a role, consider the following prudential doxastic norm:. If A were the right way to articulate obligations in the ethics of belief, then we would have far more prima facie doxastic obligations than we realize. B is towards the top of the scale in terms of reflective access requirements: S has to know that he has E and that believing that p is likely to make E obtain.

As a sufficient condition for having a doxastic obligation, it may be acceptable, but most ethicists of belief will not want to make the reflective knowledge necessary in order for there to be genuine prima facie prudential obligations. Note that an ethicist of belief who wants to include a reflective access requirement in a doxastic norm would need to do so in a way that doesn't generate an infinite regress. Note too that the norms we considered above govern the positive formation of belief. An account of the plausible conditions of reflective access may be somewhat different for norms of maintaining, suspending, and relinquishing belief for suspending, see Tang and Perin Another closely-related debate has to do with the types of value that can generate doxastic norms and obligations.

Value monists in the ethics of belief argue that only one type of value usually some kind of epistemic value can generate such norms. Other more permissive accounts go beyond the three types of value considered above—prudential, moral, and epistemic—to suggest that there are other types that can generate doxastic obligations as well.

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Perhaps there are aesthetic norms that guide us to beliefs that have some sort of aesthetic merit, or that make us qua subjects more beautiful in virtue of believing them. There may also be social norms that govern beliefs we form in our various communal roles as lawyers, priests, psychiatrists, friends, parents, etc. It's an interesting and open question whether such aesthetic, social, or political norms could be cashed out in terms of epistemic, moral, and prudential norms e. Norms, and types of norms, can be related in different ways.

According to the interpretation of Clifford presented above, there is a strong connection between the epistemic and the moral types: the fact that there is an epistemic norm to believe always and only on sufficient evidence entails that there is an analogous moral norm. The reasoning here seems to be as follows:. P1 We have an epistemic obligation to possess sufficient evidence for all of our beliefs;. C Thus, we have a moral obligation to possess sufficient evidence for all of our beliefs. This formulation keeps the types of values distinct while still forging a link between them in the form of P2.

But of course we would need to find a sound sub-argument in favor of P2 see Dougherty In some places, Clifford seems simply to presume that epistemic duty is a species of ethical duty. Elsewhere Clifford defends P2 by reference to our need to rely on the testimony of others in order to avoid significant harm and advance scientific progress. No belief is without effect, he claims: at the very least, believing on insufficient evidence even with respect to an apparently very insignificant issue is liable to lead to the lowering of epistemic standards in other more important contexts too.

And that could, in turn, have bad moral consequences. Elsewhere still Clifford seems not to recognize a distinction between epistemic and moral obligations at all see Van Inwagen , Haack , Wood , and Zamulinski for further discussion of Clifford on this issue. It was noted earlier that one way to read Locke is as arguing for P2 via the independent theoretical premise that God's will for us is that we follow Evidentialist norms, together with a divine command theory of moral rightness see Wolterstorff A virtue-theoretic approach, by contrast, might defend P2 by claiming not that a particular unjustified belief causes moral harm, but rather that regularly ignoring our epistemic obligations is a bad intellectual habit, and that having a bad intellectual habits is a way of having a bad moral character Zagzebski , Roberts and Wood In addition to using theoretical arguments like these, ethicists of belief can connect doxastic norms by appealing to empirical data.

If we discover through investigation that it is on the whole prudent to be morally good, then prudential norms may be able support some of the moral norms. Similarly, if we discover that following moral norms of belief reliably leads to the acquisition of knowledge, then there may be a track-record argument that goes from epistemic norms to moral norms this would effectively be an empirical argument in support of P2 above. And if we empirically find that adhering to epistemic norms also promotes the moral good, then there will be an argument from the moral to the epistemic.

Finally, norms and types of norms can be in outright tension. The prudential norm recommending belief that your son is not smoking pot when you're gone conflicts with the epistemic norm to follow your perceptual evidence. Likewise, the moral norm to believe the best of others is often tragically in tension with the epistemic norm to believe what the evidence supports, with the prudential norm to believe whatever it takes in order to get ahead, and so on.

Tension or conflict can also exist between doxastic obligations of a diachronic sort. The epistemic norm to gather as much evidence as possible may conflict with the prudential norm to believe in such a way as to save time and effort example: the fastidious boss who never hires anyone until he has investigated a candidate's entire past, called every reference, and confirmed every qualification. It also conflicts with the moral norm not to believe on the basis of evidence gathered in an immoral fashion example: the doctor who gathers evidence about human diseases by performing inhumane experiments on prisoners.

Ethicists of belief who are not value monists often claim that there is a way of ordering norms or types of norms in terms of the relative strength or relative ease with which their claims on us can be defeated. Still others think that one category of norm collapses into another and that this can give us an all things considered conclusion for discussion of whether epistemic rationality collapses into prudential rationality, for example, see Kelly See Broome and Kolodny Questions about what belief is and how it is formed have typically played a marginal role in the ethics of belief debate.

There is agreement among most analytic philosophers that belief is roughly a dispositional, affirmative attitude towards a proposition or state of affairs. It is also widely agreed that the majority of our beliefs are not occurrent at any given time, and that belief comes in degrees of strength, confidence, or firmness.

After this, however, agreement breaks down. Representationalists regard beliefs as structures in the mind that represent the propositions they affirm—usually in something like a mental language see Fodor and the entry on language of thought. Behavioralist-dispositionalists regard beliefs as dispositions to act in certain ways in certain circumstances see Braithwaite — Primitivists think of beliefs as basic mental states which do not admit of analysis.

And so on. There is also a big controversy regarding whether the most fundamental concept here is of degrees of belief or credences.

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This disagreement about the nature of belief has thus far at least not been taken to impinge on the ethics of belief debate in significant ways. Of course, eliminativists and behavioralists will have to say that doxastic norms—if there are any—apply at bottom to non-doxastic states. Still, modulo those kinds of changes, these and other ontological analyses of belief seem compatible with many different accounts of its ethics.

A few philosophers and psychologists argue that simply acquiring significant truth while avoiding significant falsehood is the only aim of belief, and thus that any doxastic obligations will be structured accordingly see David Others argue that there are important aims in addition to, or even in lieu of, the aim of truth-acquisition—aims that can underwrite other doxastic norms Velleman , Sosa , Sosa , Gibbons A common candidate here, of course, is knowledge itself see Williamson , Pritchard , Simion et al.

For example: suppose Smith is the sort of guy who feels great pleasure when he believes that everyone he knows thinks highly of him, and pleasure is an aim that underwrites a doxastic norm. Then Smith has a prima facie obligation to believe that his friend Jones thinks the world of him. We have seen that our conception of the aim of belief can influence our conception of doxastic norms. But it can also affect the extent to which parallels can be drawn between the ethics of belief and the ethics of action generally. That said, it is possible to imagine a diachronic ethics of belief according to which truth is the sole aim of belief, but we evaluate particular beliefs not just on whether they are true but also on their ability to enable or produce the subsequent acquisition of other true beliefs.

If we have a theory according to which the aim of belief is complex, however, then parallels to the ethics of action become more complicated. Whether or not these parallels are illuminating, and whether a view in the ethics of belief constrains our options in the ethics of action, is still an open question see Kornblith , Dougherty There are many other variations here.

It seems possible to defend the view, for instance, that we ought only to believe on sufficient evidence—as the Evidentialists teach—but that our conception of the aims of belief might provide further and more determinate necessary conditions for permissible belief. It is also possible to argue that the aim of belief makes it the case that we have practical reasons for thinking that only epistemic reasons can license belief Whiting Finally, it may be possible to defend the view that belief by its nature has no specific aim, but is rather a state that can constitute or lead to any number of different goods.

If that is right, then we obviously cannot look to the aim of belief to underwrite an account of its ethics. We have already seen that some theorists take knowledge to be the or at least an aim of belief. Some philosophers go further and say that knowledge is also the norm of belief - that is, that any belief that does not also count as knowledge is impermissible or irrational or vicious or defective. Put another way: knowing that p is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for permissibly rationally, virtuously believing that p.

One argument for the claim that knowledge is the norm of belief seeks to infer that result from the claim that knowledge is the aim of belief. The aim generates the norm, and any belief that fails to achieve the aim also fails to obey the norm. One reason that this position can seem counterintuitive is that an important role that norms often play is that of guiding action.

But, again, most epistemologists do not think we are typically able to tell, from the inside, whether we would know the proposition in question if we believed it. And yet that ability seems to be presupposed by the idea that this is an action-guiding norm. Another objection to the idea that knowledge is the norm of belief is more intuitive: knowledge seems to most of us like a different sort of accomplishment than belief, or even justified belief, or after Gettier even justified true belief.

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It is quite another to say that no belief can count as properly formed unless it also counts as knowledge for more on all this, see Benton, Other Internet Resources. A third foundational issue related to the nature of belief has to do with whether or not belief-formation is in some way voluntary or under the control of the will. This issue, too, has an effect on the ethics of belief. Many philosophers and psychologists have concluded that belief is a more or less involuntary response to perceived evidence. Some explicitly reject any parallel between free will and free belief Wagner forthcoming.

Still others focus on the fact that we can be praised and blamed for beliefs as well as actions that are not under our control, even if there are no obligations on belief-formation. Adams , Hieronymi , Southwood and Chuard Yet another response, compatible with many of those list above, involves an account of indirect ways in which belief-formation counts as voluntary and thus susceptible to normative evaluation e. Finally, some ethicists of belief seek to argue that there are some obligations on direct belief-formation while also absorbing the putative empirical datum that much of it is not under the control of the will see Feldman and Conee , Feldman , Adler , Hieronymi and Evidentialism of some sort is far and away the dominant ethic of belief among early modern and contemporary philosophers alike.

The central principle, as mentioned earlier, is that one ought only to base one's beliefs on relevant evidence i. Some also add one of the reflective access requirements mentioned above: for instance, that we ought to know or being a position to know, or justifiably believe, or be justified in believing that we have evidence for the original belief or even that the amount of evidence we have is sufficient for a survey of these positions and their critics, see the essays in Dougherty Once a principle along these lines has been chosen, the relative strictness of a given Evidentialist position will be a function of how many exceptions it allows.

There are problems with such a strict position, however, including the threat of the infinite regress that arises if the strict Evidentialist also requires that we believe that we have sufficient evidence for all of our beliefs. In contrast, moderate Evidentialists take their principles to be exceptionable; thus they allow that there are some circumstances in which subjects are rationally permitted to form beliefs in the absence of sufficient evidence. They might hold that the Cliffordian view applies, say, to the beliefs formed by a military pilot about the location of a legitimate bombing target in the midst of a residential area, or the beliefs formed by a government health official regarding the efficacy of a pharmaceutical trial, at least insofar as these beliefs lead to morally or prudentially significant actions.

But at the same time they might think it permissible to abandon these strict standards in ordinary contexts where not much is at stake—for instance, the everyday belief that there is still some milk in the fridge. If the number of exceptions is very large, then the position ends up looking more like one of the Non-Evidentialist positions described below. As a result, the boundary between a very moderate Evidentialism and full-blown Non-Evidentialism can be quite blurry. As difficult as it is to defend strict or thoroughgoing Evidentialism, it is even harder to defend the view that Evidentialism is in appropriate in every domain.

The cases of the pilot and the health official are ones in which the subject's beliefs largely as a result of the actions to which they lead simply must, we think, meet some very high standards of evidence. Accordingly, at least some sort of moderate or context-specific Evidentialism seems overwhelmingly plausible. We have seen that the distinction between strict Evidentialism and moderate Evidentialism is quite sharp but that the line between moderate Evidentialism and Non-Evidentialism is rather blurry.

Perhaps the best place to make a distinction between moderate Evidentialism and full-blown Non-Evidentialism is over whether a subject can be not only permitted but also obliged to form a belief on insufficient evidence or, depending on the reflective access conditions, on what she takes to be insufficient evidence in certain situations. It was noted earlier that doxastic norms can be either synchronic or diachronic.