Justifiable Belief

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

~ William Kingdon Clifford, 1877



  1. I think it’s acceptable to believe things without sufficient evidence. What’s wrong is to hold onto belief in the face of contradictory evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like Bertrand Russell’s notion of scaling belief based on strength of evidence. Seems like this is how we approach it in the sciences. Tentative beliefs drive experimentation, and either support or refutation of the hypothesis, which should be lightly held. Strongly supported beliefs would require firmer refutation to overturn, etc. This quote gets at the crux, but it is admittedly binary in position. Pre-probabilistic framework.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Now I’m second guessing my source… May well have been Russell, but I could be thinking of Sagan.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Matt and Carol,

      You might have heard of this quote:

      For those who do believe, no proof is necessary.
      For those who don’t, no proof is possible.

      In any case, I shall gladly echo and resonate with the quotation regarding “Justifiable Belief” with my special image as follows:

      Liked by 2 people

      • I accept the first premise but not the second. It implies that people are incapable of changing their minds, no?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Dear Carol,

          Of course, there can always be some exceptions and/or change of heart under certain circumstances or conditions.

          Happy Mother’s Day to you! Did you have a chance to observe and photograph the April super pink moon, which is the very first super moon of 2021 on the 26th or 27th? What a night it was to look upon the full moon shining upon the landscape in all its grandeur, and to reflect deeply in the moment!

          Being a lover of moon myself, I would like to entertain, inspire and resonate with you through my most animation-intensive post presented to you as a courtesy of my dramatic attempt to bring the Full Moon alive, so to speak, in the form of Music Animation with Dynamic Visualization presented in high definition and imbued with a scintillating full moon surrounded by eye-catching astronomical phenomena and stellar activities!

          This post has not only been extended but has also been improved from top to bottom. It is now covered in animations throughout.

          In order to see all of the animations, please make sure that you view the post on my blog and not via the WordPress Reader. Please enjoy to your heart’s content the mixed-media offering of “If My Name Were Moon Tonight…” and its beautifully rendered Music Animation with Dynamic Visualization on the big high-resolution screen of your desktop or laptop computer. Switch the video playback to full-screen mode. The animation starts calmly and will gradually climax.

          Apart from the stylish presentation of my rhyming poem extended with a postlude followed by a special stanza for the April Pink Supermoon, there is also the opportunity to savour my own rendition of “Clair de Lune” recorded on the organ.

          The direct link to the post is https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2020/10/10/if-my-name-were-moon-tonight-with-clair-de-lune/

          I am very curious about what you think and look forward to receiving your feedback there.

          May you and Matt find the rest of 2021 very much to your liking and highly conducive to your writing, reading, thinking and composing whatever posts that take your intellectual fancy or show off your imaginative flight, with or without the power and allure of the Moon! 😉

          Yours sincerely,

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Matt,
    I was going to write that I’m not totally convinced of this one, but then I saw your comment above that beliefs should be scaled on the strength of the evidence, which is basically the point I was wanting to make.
    I’m not usually a fan of binary definitions, and would more usually summarise this idea along the lines of:

    “Beliefs should be appropriately warranted.”

    Which is to say that for incidental and insignificant things, incidental or insignificant warrant is usually fine, but as matters start to have greater consequence, the warrant should similarly strengthen.

    Sometimes I may even deliberately choose willful ignorance over relatively unimportant things because the ‘hassle’ (or opportunity cost) of sorting it out isn’t deemed worth it.
    It’s interesting too, that even though I want my beliefs appropriately warranted, I’ll often act on my best guess (or sometimes even what I hope is true), because the alternative is analysis paralysis.
    I can’t escape some level of inconsistency here… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • What I like about this quote is the connection to morality. I tend to look at the assertion of “belief with claimed certainty” as being an action between two parties. One person asserts to another (or to the world at large) a sense of certain knowledge that a thing is true. When this is meritless, then it is wrong in a moral sense. Pretending to know what one does not know. Falsehood and bluff in epistemic claims should be, in my view, considered wrong, a transgression against ones neighbor and oneself. They can be major or minor, and can result in actual harm in some cases.

      In the original context of Clifford, he also meant the quote within the context of translating into action between parties. In the Wiki link above, it was in the case of a ship owner sending a non seaworthy craft out to sea and killing all aboard. He chose to believe the craft seaworthy despite an evidence problem. I find that this is a clear and present concern in engineering, just as it is in medicine, or in pandemics, or in the context of vaccinations, etc.

      To me, the utility of this quote, if there is one, is the arresting assertion that the whole question is a moral one. The inverse of asserting that faith is a virtue.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for the clarification.
        I’d missed the moral dimension introduced by the word “wrong”.
        Certainly, overturning the notion that ‘faith is a virtue’ is something I can get behind – with solid evidencial reasons to do so! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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SoundEagle 🦅ೋღஜஇ

Where The Eagles Fly . . . . Art Science Poetry Music & Ideas

Michael Seidel, writer

Science fiction, fantasy, mystery and what-not

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