The article The Duty of Inquiry comes from the book The Ethics of Belief by William Kingdon Clifford. The author, William Clifford is a notable English philosopher and mathematician of the 19th century. This article talks about belief and how it necessitates responsible inquiry. It asserts that belief should be accompanied by reasonable investigation rather than baseless assertions. Also, we are the ones responsible for our belief regardless of the consequences (Clifford). These arguments were delivered using hypothetical situations pertaining to belief and the importance of inquiry.
The author’s main argument is that our beliefs precede our actions and even the result of these actions, which is why we have to take full responsibility of these beliefs through appropriate means of inquiry. The author starts by presenting a hypothetical situation of a ship owner and his vessel. The ship owner’s vessel is about to set sail across the ocean with a lot of emigrants aboard. However, the owner thinks that the ship may have some problems, and perhaps it is not fit to set sail at all, however, he thinks that it is all too expensive to repair.
He gives it some more thought, clearing his mind of the doubts, establishing a firm idea that his ship is still capable of sailing. He has convinced himself and he clearly disregarded his prior suspicions, and he finally permits he ship to set sail. The inevitable happens, the ship sank, and all those aboard died or were lost at sea. The ship owner collects the insurance, but deep inside him he is guilty of what happened to the passengers. The ship owner may be sincere with his admission of guilt; however, this is already irrelevant in this situation.
It’s because the belief that he conjured were not made from careful investigation, rather it was from stifling his doubts, from disproving by himself whatever thought of uncertainty he had in the first place. In this situation, the ship owner’s guilt is from the fact that he was the one who knowingly and willingly created the frame of mind that made him to believe that his ship can still sail. He had doubts in the beginning but he was able to convince himself, though his decision is made out of preference rather than what is real.
He didn’t do anything to check up on the ship, to see whether his doubts may hold true or not, instead he just thought about it, thought that it was alright, and made up his mind that it was indeed all right. He is guilty because he didn’t do the appropriate inquiry to verify or disprove his thoughts. Rather than acting upon it, he just thought about it, which if we look at it carefully, it’s a bit careless since a lot of lives are at stake. The author then asserts that the ship owner’s guild is actually determined regardless of its effects, so whatever the consequences of his beliefs, he is still responsible for it.
After giving it some thought, even though the ship may have successfully sailed at that time or even for many more times, the mere fact that he has somehow believed that the ship was unworthy of sailing, he is still responsible for it. His guilt is already determined whether or not the ship survives. It is not about the consequences of the action, but about the belief he had already conjured. From the moment he thought about it, he is already responsible for his belief, so it is his task that to know about his thoughts, to take appropriate means of inquiry in order verify or confirm it.
The author then presents another hypothetical situation, this time regarding religious teaching. It is about a prominent personality who is constantly attacked in an organized way, only to find out after further investigations that the accusations made about him were all false. Because of this, the accusations were immediately discredited. This situation is important because it proves that any reasonable effort to know the truth or reality of situation given could indeed disconfirm or disprove any of the accusations initially made.
This means that because of the effort exerted to know what’s real, the accusations made in the first place are already disconfirmed. Even though the charges directed towards the person were sincere, they are still irrelevant to this situation. The basis of this is that the beliefs presented initially were just based on preference; the accusations made towards that person were the result of their prejudice or perhaps their passion without really giving any attention to factual evidence.
So based on this, they really had no right to believe on whatever is presented before them. So when effort is made to verify any of this, it could be regarded as an act to disprove the accusations, and supports the author’s argument that the morality of the question is already settled even though the consequences are known. The author employed the steps in this order so that the reader could build up on the assumption that indeed beliefs should correspond to the appropriate inquiry.
Without inquiry, these beliefs were just worthless, and it wouldn’t be justified by whatever consequences. By carefully analyzing the hypothetical situations posed by William Clifford, we can see that indeed, belief should be accompanied by reasonable investigation rather than baseless assertions, and that we re responsible for these beliefs. We can achieve this by through appropriate means of inquiry. Work Cited: Clifford, William Kingdon. “The Ethics of Belief”. 1877. December 12 2009. <http://ajburger. homestead. com/files/book. htm#ethics>.
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