Clifford’s Theory of Knowledge
In his essay, The shipowner, Clifford argues that individuals sometimes perceive one another in the wrong way, due to the rumors they hear about one another. He says that it is wrong for individuals to believe in what they hear, without referring to enough evidence (Clifford 4). In his argument, Clifford thinks that people need to research first, before rushing or jumping into conclusions. This can help them gather enough evidence to guide their judgment. He is of the idea that, when one believes in the availability of insufficient evidence, he/she keeps those superstitions alive. Clifford feels that failure to follow the evidence presented by an individual might end up tearing the society apart. On the contrary, despite the fact that his claims look somehow extreme, Clifford’s thesis has some merits (Clifford 5).
Certain critics object to the thesis that Clifford presents. Some philosophers claim that a belief can be made acceptable, only if it is needed in the opinion of having sufficient evidence. Clifford claims that his thesis, regarding the theory of knowledge, is not about the period that one feels wrong to act. His thesis rotates around the moment, a person needs not to have a belief. Precautions can only be taken if one believes in something. The ability to differentiate a belief from an action provides the evidence required to escape a given objection. Through this example, Clifford tries to justify the times he regards as right or wrong, to believe in something. According to him, enough evidence is the determinant factor in doing the right thing. He believes that at times, the benefit of believing in evidence that seems insufficient outweighs the harm behind it (Clifford 7).
James’ Theory of Knowledge
In his view about the theory of knowledge, James denies that the characteristics of truth can be applied to the concepts explained in his theory (James 1). His objective of the analysis seems to give a suggestion of other concepts, as opposed to correctness. James’ selections of expressions tend to give a typical description of knowledge. His use of language points out explicitly to knowledge rather than to correctness. The interpretation of his pragmatic truth theory not only seems to be compatible with the given hypothesis but also appears to support it. An interpretation of this kind gives one the ability to take James’ writings more seriously, as opposed to its alternative that seems to be more widely accepted. Moreover, it stands to be compatible with the most critical and reflective defenses of James’ theory (James 3).
In a superficial way, it seems evident that the James’ pragmatic theory stands directed at a concept that was investigated by the theories of truth traditionally. He logically starts by admitting that the word ‘truth’ in this case refers to an agreement, which has reality. He further points out that truth is regarded as a property of certain ideas that people have. Moreover, in many cases, the terms ‘truth’ and ‘true’ including their derivatives have been used by James in a certain manner, while referring to the correctness concept. Nevertheless, it may be difficult to identify what counts as evidence, in one way or another. This can occur when there is an argument about difficulties in the use of the terms ‘truth’ and ‘true’ including their derivatives, which seem directed at a single concept (James 4).
In reference to the examples offered by Clifford’s theory, it is evident that beliefs are related to the wrongs in one way or another. In his case, one needs not to get involved in a detailed discussion, regarding morality. Clifford’s explanation points out that behavior, regardless of being right or wrong, is understood as typically immoral, if it has a bad effect on other people. This is also evident in cases, where there are no offsetting benefits. Clifford notes that believing in evidence that appears to be insufficient can have negative effects. The thesis put forward by Clifford is neither detailed nor specific. It appears to be general. The reason is that he uses the words ‘always’ and ‘everywhere’ to insist on how wrong it is for one to believe in the evidence that is not enough.
Therefore, if the thesis by Clifford revolves around morality as it appears in his context, then one may regard it as incorrect since it is not immoral to have beneficial and optimistic beliefs in such circumstances. Therefore, one can judge him negatively for going too far in terms of his generality assertion. In this case, one may prefer James’ theory of knowledge, for the reason that he acknowledges that ‘truth’ must have certain practical consequences for it to be worth of discussion. According to him, if one cannot identify the truth in any given point, then there is no distinction between those points. In conclusion, the arguments raised by the two philosophers about knowledge appear to be educative and interesting. However, James’ theory of knowledge is more logical than that of Clifford.
Clifford, William K, and Timothy J. Madigan. The Ethics of Belief: And Other Essays. New York: Prometheus books, 1999. Print.
James, William. The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. New York: Dover Publications, 1956. Print.