The Clifford/James Debate

  • Richard Hall


Introduction: Evidentialism, a doctrine of epistemic justification stipulating that a belief is warranted if and only if it is supported by evidence, is a central tenet of Anglo-American empiricism particularly in its form as logical empiricism or positivism. Advocated by Locke and Hume, it is found early on in this tradition. Perhaps the most impassioned advocate of evidentialism is the English mathematician and philosopher, William K. Clifford, who in his “The Ethics of Belief” gave this doctrine a moral twist by declaring uncompromisingly that to believe anything on insufficient evidence is not merely imprudent or foolish, but morally wrong no less.