Ethics of belief

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The ethics of belief are considerations about how people decide what to believe.

A key dilemma in this field: Should people (a) evaluate the immediate effects of holding a belief? Or should they (b) 'stick to the facts' and adopt a belief even if doing so is potentially harmful?

Some might describe option (a)—believing because you think that believing will have good consequences—as bad faith or wishful thinking. Others might call it pragmatic. A famous example is Pascal's Wager, which suggests that you should believe in God just in case they exist.[1]

The self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon complicates the question further by blurring the line between a belief's factual basis and its consequences. For example: Q believes that strangers are just friends she hasn't met yet, whereas Z believes that strangers are by definition not friends. Q and Z may both prove themselves correct, but Q may end up with more friends.

Relatedly: superstition has effects on its own adherents. A placebo only works in a case of incorrect belief. An effective theory helps physicists to do their work even if it requires a little doublethink.

Another question is what principles should govern the way that people go about finding the evidence that informs their beliefs. One might also ask whether people really make these meta-level decisions voluntarily.[1]

The ethics of belief directly concern the fields of ethics and epistemology. Philosophy of mind, rationalism, psychology and psychoanalysis are all closely connected to these ideas.[2][3][4]


  1. ^ a b Chignell, Andrew (14 June 2010). "The Ethics of Belief". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2011-01-29. 
  2. ^ Self Deception and the Ethics of Belief, David Wisdo, Journal of Value Inquiry 91, 339–347, 1991
  3. ^ The Life of Irony and the Ethics of Belief, David Wisdo, SUNY, Albany, 1993
  4. ^ Self Deception Unmasked, Alfred R. Mele , Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2001

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