The question of people’s beliefs can be discussed from many perspectives. The issue of God’s existence is closely associated with the problem of believing in God when there is no sufficient evidence. From this point, William Clifford and William James’s arguments are significant to be discussed in the philosophical and religious contexts.
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Clifford and James present rather opposite visions of the issue of believing in something in relation to the question of real evidence. In spite of the fact, objecting the position of Clifford, the person can support James’s views, and objecting the position of James, the person can discuss Clifford’s ideas as relevant, it is possible to provide the critical discussion of both arguments with references to their strengths and weaknesses.
Although the basic ideas which are expressed by Clifford and James in their works are opposite to each other, the authors concentrate on the notion of rationalism and the role of mind in making the decisions regarding the issues of belief even in the religious context.
That is why, both authors can be considered as paying too much attention to the rational factor when the problem of beliefs should be discussed from the point of spiritual aspect and trust rather than from the point of mind.
In his essay “The Ethics of Belief”, William Clifford states that it is impossible to believe in something when there is no sufficient evidence to support the possibility of the fact. According to Clifford, the evidence is necessary for supporting the credibility of each fact. That is why, all the hypotheses should be tested before people can believe in them as true. It is impossible to rely only on the belief itself.
Thus, the investigation is the important factor to prevent the person from sufferings when the facts in which he believes are declared as insufficient. Any unjustified beliefs can be harmful, and these beliefs should be tested. However, when the definite belief was tested by another person it is possible to rely on the received evidence.
William James presents the opposite argument to the ideas expressed by Clifford and accentuates the possibility to believe without the evidence presented. On the one hand, James rejects the idea of the intellectual approach to discussing the problem of believing and claims that it is necessary to rely on the non-intellectual or ‘passional’ nature.
On the other hand, James provides some details to support the vision that the religious belief in the form of faith can be also discussed as rather rational in its nature in spite of the fact there is no supporting evidence for it.
Thus, the idea of belief is based on the definite ‘genuine option’ which should be living, forced, and momentous to provide the person with the effective choice between the extremes when it is possible to believe or not in something.
The option is a kind of decision or choice, making by the person regarding the issue of belief. According to James, there are no strict rules for believing in something as it is presented by Clifford who rejects the possibility to believe without evidence.
James states that people can choose in relation to the ‘genuine option’ or wait for the situation when the truth of the definite belief is approved with some evidence. Although James can be considered as more flexible in his discussion of the conditions for believing or not, he presents the fact of believing as closely connected with the intellectual or rational processes.
In spite of the fact Clifford and James accentuate the rational factor regarding the question of belief in different ways, the moral aspect and the concept of ‘heart’ in believing remains to be unappreciated. Thus, Clifford pays much attention to the issue of evidence when James concentrates on the choice between the possibilities to believe or not without any evidence.
Clifford’s argument is based on two rational principles which are the investigation to find the necessary evidence and judgment to discuss the credibility of the evidence. From this point, the fact of evidence becomes more important than the fact of belief itself.
It is possible to state that Clifford is inclined to substitute the fact of believing in something with the fact of judging something according to the evidence. Moreover, Clifford’s ideas in relation to the necessity of evidence can be interpreted to discuss the problem of believing in God. Thus, when there is no evidence to support the fact that God exists, the person cannot believe in God.
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Nevertheless, there are no enough evidences that God exists, and there are no enough evidences to repute the statement. According to the Christian tradition, people believe in God basing predominately on their intuition and inner feelings, but not because of some evidence.
In this case, the evidence can be discussed as the supporting element for beliefs, but not as the basic one. Clifford’s intentions to avoid some errors while believing in something untrue make the idea of belief more rational in nature than it is traditionally discussed in the religious context.
In his turn, James pays much attention to the fact that it is permissible to believe in something without reference to the evidence. However, he also emphasizes that such beliefs are permissible not only from the moral point but also from the rational perspective. Accentuating the idea of the option as the main choice making by the person, James focuses on the intellectual approach to resolving the moral problem.
Making the choice with references to the living, forced, and momentous options, the person concentrates on his rational arguments but not on the voice of his heart which is significant in relation to the issue of believing in something. James discusses the possibility to believe in God in spite of the wrong or write choices and in spite of the evidence, but the question of the religious faith is also presented as rational to a certain extent.
To conclude, believing in something, people are inclined to rely on their intuition and vision of the fact, idea, or concept. Clifford states that the beliefs which are not supported by the evidences can be harmful for people. James states that people have the right to believe without testing the hypotheses and ideas to rely on them.
However, both authors focus on the rational category in relation to the discussion of beliefs rather than on the moral or spiritual aspect. That is why, beliefs are perceived as the people’s visions associated more with the rational sphere than with the person’s spiritual world. From this point, Clifford and James’s arguments are rather controversial to explain the nature of the belief in God in spite of the issue of evidence.