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輕信不思考 毫無道德可言 Believing without evidence is always morally wrong

2018/11/19 — 10:58

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【文:Francisco Mejia Uribe;翻譯:Ben】

英文原文在中文譯文之下。 Original text is beaneth the translation.

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威廉·金頓·克利福德 (William Kingdon Clifford) 的名字也許大家從未聽過。他沒有晉身偉大哲學家的神聖行列,也許是因為他 33 歲就英年早逝,但我想不出有哪個人的想法跟我們這標榜人工智能的互聯網數碼時代更密切相關。這好像有點奇怪,因為我們說的這位維多利亞時期英國人,最負盛名的哲學著作是近 150 年前寫的一篇文章。然而,今天的現實已趕上了昔日的克利福德。他曾看似誇張地說:「任何時候、任何地方、任何人在證據不足的情況下相信任何事情,都是錯誤的。」但這句話已不再是誇大其詞,而是我們眼下的科技現實。

信念的倫理

廣告

克利福德在《信念的倫理》(1877)一文提出了三個論點,說明為什麼我們有道德義務去明辨是非,然後才去相信,即是說:我們只應相信有充分證據及用心研究過的事物。他的第一個論據始於一項簡單觀察,即人的信念影響其行為。誰都會同意人若認為世上甚麼才是真實,就會作出相應的行為,也就是說,行為由信念決定。如果我相信外面在下雨,我會帶一把雨傘。如果我認為的士不接受信用卡,我會在上車前預備現金。如果我認為偷竊是錯的,那麼我會在離開商店前支付貨物。

輕信別人危害整體利益

因此,我們相信甚麼,在實踐上事關重大。要是我們對物理事實或社會情況具有錯誤的信念,便會養成惡劣的行為習慣,尤有甚者,可能會威脅到自身的生存。如果美國節奏藍調歌手勞·凱利 (R Kelly) 真的相信他唱的歌《我相信我能飛》(1996),我可以向你保證他現在早已不在人世。

但不僅是我們的自我保護會受到威脅。人類身為群體動物,其行動力量會對周圍的人產生影響,所以不正當的信念會使其他人陷入危險。正如克利福德提出警告:「我們都由於認同與支持錯誤信念,因而對致命錯誤一意孤行而深受其害..... 」簡言之,草率形成的信念是不道德的,因為身為社群成員,當我們相信某些事情而行動時,都得冒著極大風險。

對這第一個論點,反對的人自然會說,儘管我們的某些信念確實會導致某些行為,對他人造成禍害,但在現實上,我們所相信的大部分內容,對他人可說是無關痛癢。因此,像克利福德那樣認為在任何情況下沒有充分證據就貿然相信都是錯誤的,這似乎言過其實。我想以前批評他的人不無道理,但這道理再也行不通。今天這個世界,幾乎每個人的信念都可馬上用最低成本分享給全世界人,每一種信念都能如克利福德所想的後果嚴重?

如果你仍認為這是誇大其詞,那麼想想在阿富汗一個山洞內形成的信念,如何化為行動,而這些行動如何奪去了紐約、巴黎和倫敦的無數性命。或者考慮一下,社交媒體上如潮湧來的閒話扯談,如何影響你自己的日常行為。在我們現居的數碼地球村,錯誤的信念在社交網絡上更無遠弗屆,因此克利福德的論點初提出時或嫌誇張,但今天看來絕不失實。

隨便相信人易被利用

克利福德提出第二個論點,來支持他說的證據不足而妄信總是不對。他說輕率形成的信念,會令我們變成粗心大意、盲目輕信的信徒。克利福德說得好:「只要是真正的信念,無論看起來多麼微不足道,支離破碎,到頭來都不會無足輕重;因為這信念可以令我們準備接受更多類似信念,鞏固先前那些與之相似的想法,並削弱其他意念;於是漸漸在我們內心深處孕育出一連串隱秘的念頭,終有一天會迸發為行動,在我們的個性上留下印記。」

將克利福德的警告換到我們這互相緊密關聯的時代,他要告訴我們的是:輕率相信別人的話,很容易使我們被散播假新聞的人、陰謀理論家和騙子所利用。讓自己抱持這些錯誤信念,是不道德的,因為正如我們所見,這些錯誤會對社會造成極大災難。在今天擁有清醒警覺的認識,比在以往任何年代更為珍貴,因為此刻我們極需在彼此衝突的信息中篩選取捨,否則哪怕拿著智能手機點擊幾下,也難免會淪為輕信他人的奴隸。

集體知識是共同財產

克利福德第三個也是最後一個論點,是我們身為信念的傳播者,須負起道德上的責任,不應污染集體知識的泉源。在克利福德的時代,我們主要通過說話和寫作,把信念轉化為集體知識的「寶庫」。由於這種溝通能力,「我們用的字詞、句子、表達形式、過程以及思維模式,都會成為人類的『共同財產』」。若他所說的這種「家傳至寶」被添加的錯誤信念所顛覆,這樣做就是不道德的,因為每個人的生命最終依賴於這種不可或缺的共享資源。

雖然克利福德的最終論證聽來不錯,但說每個小小的虛假信念都會冒犯我們的共同知識,也似乎言過其實。然而現實再次支持克利福德的說法,令他仿佛具有先見之明。今天,我們的確擁有一個全球的信念儲存庫,我們所有的承諾都會仔細慎密地添加進去,這儲存庫稱為大數據。你甚至不需要成為活躍網民,在 Twitter 上頻發帖子或在臉書上留言吐槽——我們在現實世界中做的事情,正越來越被人錄下來並數碼化,即使我們還沒有把信念宣之於口,利用程式運算很容易就可推知我們相信甚麼。

反過來,利用程式運算也可使這巨大的信念存儲庫為我們做出決定,也能針對我們來做出決定。當我們想尋找問題答案及想獲得新信念時,搜索引擎使用的也是這個儲存庫。因此,將錯誤成分添加到大數據之中,很可能會獲得毒害人心的信息。說到底,若問哪個時代具備批判思維才是義不容辭之責,盲目輕信只會闖下彌天大禍,那就是今時今日。

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You have probably never heard of William Kingdon Clifford. He is not in the pantheon of great philosophers – perhaps because his life was cut short at the age of 33 – but I cannot think of anyone whose ideas are more relevant for our interconnected, AI-driven, digital age. This might seem strange given that we are talking about a Victorian Briton whose most famous philosophical work is an essay nearly 150 years ago. However, reality has caught up with Clifford. His once seemingly exaggerated claim that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ is no longer hyperbole but a technical reality.

In ‘The Ethics of Belief’ (1877), Clifford gives three arguments as to why we have a moral obligation to believe responsibly, that is, to believe only what we have sufficient evidence for, and what we have diligently investigated. His first argument starts with the simple observation that our beliefs influence our actions. Everyone would agree that our behaviour is shaped by what we take to be true about the world – which is to say, by what we believe. If I believe that it is raining outside, I’ll bring an umbrella. If I believe taxis don’t take credit cards, I make sure I have some cash before jumping into one. And if I believe that stealing is wrong, then I will pay for my goods before leaving the store.

What we believe is then of tremendous practical importance. False beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival. If the singer R Kelly genuinely believed the words of his song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ (1996), I can guarantee you he would not be around by now.

But it is not only our own self-preservation that is at stake here. As social animals, our agency impacts on those around us, and improper believing puts our fellow humans at risk. As Clifford warns: ‘We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to …’ In short, sloppy practices of belief-formation are ethically wrong because – as social beings – when we believe something, the stakes are very high.

The most natural objection to this first argument is that while it might be true that some of our beliefs do lead to actions that can be devastating for others, in reality most of what we believe is probably inconsequential for our fellow humans. As such, claiming as Clifford did that it is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence seems like a stretch. I think critics had a point – had – but that is no longer so. In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined. If you still believe this is an exaggeration, think about how beliefs fashioned in a cave in Afghanistan lead to acts that ended lives in New York, Paris and London. Or consider how influential the ramblings pouring through your social media feeds have become in your very own daily behaviour. In the digital global village that we now inhabit, false beliefs cast a wider social net, hence Clifford’s argument might have been hyperbole when he first made it, but is no longer so today.

The second argument Clifford provides to back his claim that it is always wrong to believe on insufficient evidence is that poor practices of belief-formation turn us into careless, credulous believers. Clifford puts it nicely: ‘No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character.’ Translating Clifford’s warning to our interconnected times, what he tells us is that careless believing turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars, conspiracy theorists and charlatans. And letting ourselves become hosts to these false beliefs is morally wrong because, as we have seen, the error cost for society can be devastating. Epistemic alertness is a much more precious virtue today than it ever was, since the need to sift through conflicting information has exponentially increased, and the risk of becoming a vessel of credulity is just a few taps of a smartphone away.

Clifford’s third and final argument as to why believing without evidence is morally wrong is that, in our capacity as communicators of belief, we have the moral responsibility not to pollute the well of collective knowledge. In Clifford’s time, the way in which our beliefs were woven into the ‘precious deposit’ of common knowledge was primarily through speech and writing. Because of this capacity to communicate, ‘our words, our phrases, our forms and processes and modes of thought’ become ‘common property’. Subverting this ‘heirloom’, as he called it, by adding false beliefs is immoral because everyone’s lives ultimately rely on this vital, shared resource.

While Clifford’s final argument rings true, it again seems exaggerated to claim that every little false belief we harbour is a moral affront to common knowledge. Yet reality, once more, is aligning with Clifford, and his words seem prophetic. Today, we truly have a global reservoir of belief into which all of our commitments are being painstakingly added: it’s called Big Data. You don’t even need to be an active netizen posting on Twitter or ranting on Facebook: more and more of what we do in the real world is being recorded and digitised, and from there algorithms can easily infer what we believe before we even express a view. In turn, this enormous pool of stored belief is used by algorithms to make decisions for and about us. And it’s the same reservoir that search engines tap into when we seek answers to our questions and acquire new beliefs. Add the wrong ingredients into the Big Data recipe, and what you’ll get is a potentially toxic output. If there was ever a time when critical thinking was a moral imperative, and credulity a calamitous sin, it is now.Aeon counter – do not remove

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Francisco Mejia Uribe 是投資銀行高盛集團在香港的執行總監,擁有哥倫比亞波哥大安第斯大學的哲學及經濟學位,其網誌為:The Philosopher Blog

Francisco Mejia Uribe is an executive director at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong. He has degrees in philosophy and economics from the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and blogs at The Philosopher Blog.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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