Every day I wake up and say, “today is the first day of a writing and posting on the blog on a regular basis.” Every day I say this, my wife tells me to be quiet and my children ask me, “what is a blog?” Well maybe today is the first day. Probably not.
I’ve recently read the article, “Restricting the Scope of the Ethics of Belief: Haack’s Alternative to Clifford and James,” by Rose Ann Christian from the AAR (Sept. 2009, vol. 77, no. 3, pp. 461-493). It has a very sexy and eye-catching title!
The article looks at Susan Haack’s work, “The Ethics of Belief Reconsidered,” which offers a critique of W.K. Clifford’s “morally demanding” ethical position and William James’ “epistemically over permissive” ethical position. (Wondering what epistemology is? Me to). I am not an ethicist, so this area is not something I have specifically studied, but I do understand the general concepts. We have two sides of ethics: Clifford’s which is data based and James which is experientially and intuitively based. With Clifford one makes a decision based on what would do the least amount of empirically discernable harm. Facts and research are highly valued in this area. With James, decisions are made based on the faith/moral stance of the individual. What one believes is important. Granted, this is a simplistic summary, but hopefully gets the point across.
Christian (the author) and Haack are claiming that an good ethical decision should take into account both sides. One should look for the basic empirical data and at the same time one should be aware of one’s religious beliefs which would inform one’s beliefs. Christian considered the debate of Intelligent Design and Jerry Falwell’s outrageous comments after 9/11 as examples.
Here is one small thing I have gathered from this article: a third way…. sorta. This is a trend I have encountered in the past. Lindbeck tries to carve a middle way (cultural-linguistic) between the cognitive and the experiential-expressivity. Murphy tries to offer a third way in theology, following to a degree, Lindbeck’s path and focusing on language.
One’s beliefs will always be tied to one’s reality. The empirical data is not objective, nor are one’s moral foundations. The two will always be intertwined and this is something we need to be honest about. The view that one must earn money to survive in the world is based on a belief that a capitalist economic system exists, that one is deciding to participate in that system and that such a system can offer a good. One could go into the wild and live in a different system.
Before judging someone’s actions and decisions, we need to consider how the individual views reality and what religious/moral system influences such a system. This is a little rough, but I think gets something of a point across.
Afterthought: it may boil down to this - what you know and what you believe are both very important. So remember what your mother told you:
"You should know better!"
"That isn't the way I raised you!"