The University of Southampton
Courses

PHIL3038 The Ethics of Belief

Module Overview

It is commonplace to hear people say such things as, ‘You shouldn’t believe that God exists—look at all the evil in the world’, or ‘You ought to believe that there is life on other planets—it’s entirely probable’, and the like. These judgements concerning what one ought (not) to believe seem to assume that there are norms governing belief, in something like the way that moral norms govern action. But what are these norms? What would account for them? How can belief be governed by such norms if, unlike action, it is not something we have control over? If belief is subject to such norms, what does this tell us about the nature of belief? The aim of this module is to explore such questions and to consider to what extent belief, like action, has an ethics.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

It is commonplace to hear people say such things as, ‘You shouldn’t believe that God exists—look at all the evil in the world’, or ‘You ought to believe that there is life on other planets—it’s entirely probable’, and the like. These judgements concerning what one ought (not) to believe seem to assume that there are norms governing belief, in something like the way that moral norms govern action. But what are these norms? What would account for them? How can belief be governed by such norms if, unlike action, it is not something we have control over? If belief is subject to such norms, what does this tell us about the nature of belief? The aim of this module is to explore such questions and to consider to what extent belief, like action, has an ethics.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • of the central views concerning the ethics of belief
  • a solid grasp of the problems facing those views and the arguments in support of them
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify and use appropriate source material.
  • present and debate ideas in an open-minded but rigorous way.
  • undertake, with appropriate supervision, independent work, including identifying and analysing problems, and working effectively to deadlines.
  • work with others and make a contribution to shared projects.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • articulate and defend your own answers to the above questions and to relate the issues they concern to issues in other areas of philosophy

Syllabus

Indication of module content: 1. Context Focusing on the historical origins of the debate, especially Pascal’s ‘wager’ and the debate between the British philosopher William K. Clifford and the American pragmatist William James. 2. Evidentialism Focusing on the arguments for and against ‘evidentialism’, according to which one ought to believe only what one’s evidence supports. 3. The norms of belief Critically examining the idea that there are general normative principles governing belief and assessing various formulations those norms. 4. The aim of belief Exploring the idea that belief has a goal or end—for example, truth or knowledge—and the suggestion that the norms of belief might be rules concerning how to reach that goal or end. 5. Believing at will Investigating the claim that humans cannot choose what to believe and asking whether this is a problem for the idea that there is an ethics of belief. 6. The metaethics of belief Considers what the claim that belief has an ethics implies about the nature of belief, drawing on theories in metaethics such as error theory and non-cognitivism.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Reading the relevant material, attendance at lectures; taking notes; contributing to discussion in lectures; participating in group activities; doing research for and preparing; preparing for exams; applying techniques and skills learned both inside and outside the module to your reading and writing.

TypeHours
Teaching33
Independent Study117
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

R Feldman (2000). Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The Ethics of Belief. ,60 , pp. 667-695.

A Chignell (2000). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Ethics of Belief. ,0 , pp. 0.

M Steup (2001). Knowledge, Truth and Duty. 

M Lynch (2005). True to Life: Why Truth Matters. 

Assessment

Formative

Assignment

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (120 minutes) 50%
Project  (3000 words) 50%

Referral

MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (120 minutes) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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