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Ethical dilemma: Who should you believe? - Alex Worsnip


3,544 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

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You’re sitting on the couch, when you hear a knock on the door. The police have arrived to arrest your spouse— for murder. This accusation comes as a total shock, but their fingerprints were found on the murder weapon. Your spouse insists they’re innocent. Should you believe your spouse, even though the evidence against them looks damning? Alex Worsnip takes a look at this classic ethical dilemma.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

In the video, you heard about W.K. Clifford, one of the earliest exponents of the evidentialist view about the ethics of belief. In fact, it was Clifford who coined the phrase ‘the ethics of belief’. Clifford’s original article on the topic is quite readable and raises many further questions that we weren’t to explore in the video. Want to get it straight from the horse’s mouth? You can find Clifford’s original article here.

We were only able to explore two views about the ethics of belief, evidentialism and pragmatism. But there are many different versions of these views, as well as some other views about the ethics of belief. A really helpful overview is provided in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry about the topic, written by the Princeton philosophy Andrew Chignell, which you can access here.

One question you might have after watching the video is this: is there some kind of compromise between evidentialism and pragmatism? One recent attempt to strike a compromise is the view often called pragmatic encroachment, according to which – roughly –your beliefs ought to be determined by your evidence, but how much evidence you need in order to responsibly believe something depends on practical, and perhaps moral, factors. Recently, this idea has been applied in a very interesting way: to cases of beliefs that are based on racial generalization. Some of the most important work on this topic is by the philosopher Rima Basu. You can find one of her papers that explains the basic idea here.

One idea that played an important role in our discussion of the accused spouse case was that you might owe it to your friends and loved ones to believe well of them. This idea was made popular by a seminal article by the philosopher Sarah Stroud called “Epistemic Partiality in Friendship.” Unfortunately, that article isn’t available freely online, but if you have access to a university library login, you can access it here. Again, Rima Basu has also done important work on this topic: you can find a relevant paper of hers here.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Alex Worsnip
  • Director Emily Howells, Aaron Brady
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Emily Howells, Aaron Brady
  • Composer Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler

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