The Ethics of Belief and Martial Arts
Hi. what follows is a brief rant I put together on belief in the martial arts from a Philosopher's/Skeptic's point of view. If it is in the wrong place, I'm sorry - feel free to move or delete the post and/or flame me as a stupid n00blet. I figured this fits, because it is in relation ot standards required for a claim to be valid. ~Deadmeat
William Kingdon Clifford (1845 – 1879) wrote about many things ranging from mathematics to philosophy. Of particular interest were his writings about ethics, and about belief. In “The Ethics of Belief” he stated "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." He argued that it was actually immoral to believe something without sufficient evidence, and used the following example.
“A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not over-well built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.” – The ethics of Belief (1879)
Obviously, Clifford places the guilt for this tragedy on the ship owner. However, what if the ship had not sunk? Surely, one would argue no-harm-no-foul? Clifford Disagrees; in fact, the guilt on the shipmaster is identical regardless of whether or not the ship sunk, because “he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him.”[/SIZE]
It doesn’t matter, according to Clifford, if he was completely sincere in his belief that the ship would not sink. He is still morally wrong to believe in the ship’s seaworthiness, without sufficient evidence.
So what does a story about a ship in the 19th century have to do with modern martial arts? The answer is simple. Many martial arts instructors claim that their particular fighting techniques are able to carry you through a dangerous confrontation in safety. The metaphor isn’t great, but the point is clear. Clifford would say that it is morally wrong to believe in any claim (including one about the effectiveness of a martial art) without sufficient evidence.
People often say that of course it is morally wrong of an instructor with no real credentials to pass off his/her martial art as being a deadly and effective system of self defence, but few people stop to consider that it is also wrong to believe such a claim if it is presented to you, without verifying it for yourself.
People wonder, “What if an instructor sincerely believes that their techniques are effective. Even if their wrong, they aren’t being immoral, are they?” The answer, according to Clifford is - Yes they are being immoral.
To go a step further, training in the martial arts is an excellent pursuit for many reasons. It can increase one’s health and well being, sense of discipline, respect, self esteem, and many other traits. These are all great things. However, it would be wrong to think that training in a martial art necessarily ensures that you are a great fighter. It has been said by various people on numerous occasions that styles do not win fights, fighters do. Personally I have known people who were very talented at defending themselves in a confrontation, without formal training due to their instinct, tenacity, and real-life experience. Conversely, I have known people with extensive training, who could not apply their skills in a critical situation, due to lack of experience, or spirit.
If you are an instructor, it is your responsibility to ensure that anything you claim is accurate. If you are a legitimate 3rd dan blackbelt under Joe Bloggs from the International Grand Dragon School of Modern Combat, Fine. You are entitled to say that you hold that rank with that organisation. You are NOT morally entitled to say that you are a phenomenally deadly weapon with the ability to kill a Yak at 100 paces with mind bullets unless you have done so under controlled conditions, in a legitimate and replicable experiment – regardless of whether you believe you can or not.
As for purely fraudulent claims, i.e. where you KNOW that your “powers” aren’t genuine… well, that is the lowest of the low.
If you are a student, or a prospective student, and you believe an instructors outlandish claims that they must not demonstrate their true art because the CIA/UFOs/Koga Ninjas/other are watching, or their technique is so deadly that it will make you weep blood from every orifice… Your moral obligation is to disbelieve such a claim. If you believe it, and train diligently under the aforementioned trainer, only to be severely beaten by an irate old woman in the street – you have behaved immorally yourself, and deserve no pity.[/SIZE]
But how do you know what would constitute sufficient evidence to believe in a claim? Isn’t that a subjective judgement?
Occam’s Razor - one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything. In other words, if there is a simpler, more logical explanation, don’t bother looking for another. Which is the simpler explanation – that some overweight balding man with soft hands can harness the power of the universe and crush anyone in his path, or that he using completely mundane tricks to convince people he’s something he’s not in order to make money?
Sagan’s (A.K.A. Hume’s) Balance - extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. David Hume (1711-1776) said that to believe a miraculous claim, the evidence must be so strong that to disbelieve it would be more miraculous than the claim itself. The amount of evidence must be proportionate to the strangeness of the claim.
Lastly, we come to the Burden of Proof. If someone makes an unlikely claim, it is their responsibility to meet the burden of proof. If they fail to meet it, you must not believe the claim until they do. As Clifford would say, it would be immoral to do so.