Ethics also referred to as moral philosophy plays an important role in philosophy. Ethics is a unique branch of philosophy, which addresses distinct questions about human beings morality. This implies that it addresses various concepts such as right and wrong, good and evil, vice and virtue, justice, and many more. Ethics has five main branches namely: Meta-ethics, normative ethics, applied ethics, moral psychology, and descriptive ethics (William 29). All these branches address critical areas in ethics, and each of them comprise of many diverse schools of thought and sub-fields.
Thus, the field of philosophy ethics involves defending, systematizing, and recommending various concepts of wrong and right behavior. Ethics is paramount in philosophy as it aids in answering different controversial issues that often arise in our societies. Ethics is very essential in very human life as it provides means of deciding the course of action to take. Without ethics, people’s actions would be aimless and random. If any flaws occur in people’s ethics, their abilities to be successful in their endeavors will be largely reduced.
Ethics can be said to be the unwritten rules that govern people’s relationships with themselves and the world at large. Ethics helps us to believe in certain aspects within our societies or religions. Ethical beliefs often arise from ethics and help in defining what people belief in even without enough evidence. These ethical beliefs are important as they carry people through their everyday lives and define their decision-making processes. Thus, ethics has a lot of importance in philosophy and it leads us to one belief or another.
W.K. Clifford wrote an essay entitled “The Ethics of Belief” in which he asserts that forming ones beliefs in the right manner is a specific matter of real ethical essence. Thus, Clifford begins his essay with an elaborate example where there is very strong connection between ethical and belief considerations: the ship owner is aware that his ship might require being completely overhauled. However, before his ship leaves the port, the owner disregards all his doubts. He reminds himself about the success of his ship as it has successfully sailed for many times in the past. In addition, he reminds himself that he entirely believes in providence and he decides against distrusting the contractors and ship builders who have successfully worked on this particular boat in the past. As a result, the ship sinks in the mid-ocean killing all the people aboard it.
Clifford vehemently insists that the owner of the ship is morally responsible for all these deaths because he failed by letting his beliefs be fully guided not by evidence but by other things. Furthermore, as Clifford and Timothy insist,” the ship owner would also be guilty even if the ship never sunk because what make people actions wrong are not the obtained results” (34). Thus, according to Clifford, results are not what make actions wrong. Hence, the ship owner had no right to hold a belief that his ship was in good conditions and safe; it was very wrong for the ship owner to hold that particular belief even if he was lucky enough that the ship did not sink and the results were good. Thus, it clearly occurs that what was actually wrong was his acting on this particular belief but not on holding that belief.
Clifford concurs that even if people’s beliefs are fixed, they can control their actions and they have duties to specifically act in certain ways. For instance, to have their ships thoroughly checked before sending them on long voyages even if they believe that they are in good conditions. Clifford argues that if one holds a belief without evidence, the belief will cloud their judgments when they try to fully investigate the facts. Clifford sums up his essay buy saying that, “it is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone, to believe anything based on insufficient evidence” (Clifford and Timothy 131). The consequence of this statement is very clear; If Clifford was right, then one’s believe in God with no sufficient evidence is wrong.
On the other hand, William James delivered a unique lecture about “The Will to Believe” in which he defended people’s rights, in specific cases, to fully adopt a certain belief on faith in certain aspects even without any prior evidences of their truth. In this article, which was published for the first time in 1896, William is particularly concerned about defending people’s rights to diverse religious faith even if they lack enough evidence of the religious truth. James, in his unique masterpiece talks about the will to believe. The author uses strong language to deliver his central argument, which generally hinges on a specific idea that for specific truth, beliefs, or people’s access to distinct evidence of their truth, essentially believe upon first adopting the beliefs by concerned people without enough evidence.
For instance, in some instances it is only through first strongly believing upon the insufficient evidence that a person will be capable of successfully accomplishing some hard tasks. William argues that it is rational for people to have faith in their own abilities to accomplish different tasks, which require a lot of confidence even if these people at that particular time lack enough evidence for whether they truly possess those abilities. He then extends these results into the defense of religious beliefs rights even upon the existence of insufficient evidences by claiming that religious beliefs’ truth similarly depends upon people’s first possessing those religious beliefs.
In this article, William largely concurs with Pascal’s Wager criticisms that people either, should not, or are even unable to disbelieve or believe at will. In saying this, James seems to vehemently reject the doxastic voluntarism, “which is a doctrine in philosophy that says that people possess voluntary control over their own beliefs “(William 328). In the third section, James further qualifies his unique endorsement of Pascal’s Wager criticism by saying that the only things that people are unable to strongly believe at will are those that they already disbelieve.
Morals and ethics can greatly influence what we believe in and our beliefs in many ways. Morals make us decide our beliefs and what to believe in by defining various moral standards and values in our religions and society. Moral values such as sympathy, pity, disgust, anger, and many others influence our thinking and eventually depict what we believe in. As William Posits, “Our moral passions frequently influences our beliefs and playa significant role in retaining our distinct believes” (328). Ethics influences our beliefs in that they clearly define right and wrong aspects of religions and society which eventually forms our believes.
Distinct experiences in our lives are really what shape the way we believe in various things. For instance, if people grow in a society that is purely vegetarian and believes that killing animals and eating their meat is wrong, they will always remain fixed to this believe and they will never eat any meat. In addition, life experiences also shape our morals and ethics from a young age. We do not have free will in what we believe. Though we may choose whether we believe a certain thing or not, this is only a product of our experiences so we really have no control over it. For instance, if people watch many horror films and gothic architecture, they will most likely believe in demons and supernatural powers whether they want it or not; it is based purely on the experiences they have encountered.
This view of ethics and beliefs based on experience is similar to W.K. Clifford’s article “The Ethics of Belief”. Clifford gave an example of a ship owner who was compelled by experiences to believe that his boat did not need an overhaul, which eventually resulted in the sinking of the ship and loss of many lives.