- Plural of belief
Belief, knowledge and epistemology
The relationship between belief and knowledge is subtle. Believers in a claim typically say that they know that claim. For instance, those who believe that the Sun is a god will report that they know that the Sun is a god. However, the terms belief and knowledge are used differently by philosophers.
Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge and belief. A primary problem for epistemology is exactly what is needed in order for us to have knowledge. In a notion derived from Plato's dialogue Theaetetus, philosophy has traditionally defined knowledge as justified true belief. The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge if the belief is true, and if the believer has a justification (reasonable and necessarily plausible assertions/evidence/guidance) for believing it is true.
A false belief is not considered to be knowledge, even if it is sincere. A sincere believer in the flat earth theory does not know that the Earth is flat. Similarly, a truth that nobody believes is not knowledge, because in order to be knowledge, there must be some person who knows it.
Later epistemologists have questioned the "justified true belief" definition, and some philosophers have questioned whether "belief" is a useful notion at all.
Belief as a psychological theoryMainstream psychology and related disciplines have traditionally treated belief as if it were the simplest form of mental representation and therefore one of the building blocks of conscious thought. Philosophers have tended to be more rigorous in their analysis and much of the work examining the viability of the belief concept stems from philosophical analysis.
The concept of belief presumes a subject (the believer) and an object of belief (the proposition). So like other propositional attitudes, belief implies the existence of mental states and intentionality, both of which are hotly debated topics in the philosophy of mind and whose foundations and relation to brain states are still controversial.
Beliefs are sometimes divided into core beliefs (those which you may be actively thinking about) and dispositional beliefs (those which you may ascribe to but have never previously thought about). For example, if asked 'do you believe tigers wear pink pajamas ?' a person might answer that they do not, despite the fact they may never have thought about this situation before.
That a belief is a mental state has been seen, by some, as contentious. While some philosophers have argued that beliefs are represented in the mind as sentence-like constructs others have gone as far as arguing that there is no consistent or coherent mental representation that underlies our common use of the belief concept and is therefore obsolete and should be rejected.
This has important implications for understanding the neuropsychology and neuroscience of belief. If the concept of belief is incoherent or ultimately indefensible then any attempt to find the underlying neural processes which support it will fail. If the concept of belief does turn out to be useful, then this goal should (in principle) be achievable.
Philosopher Lynne Rudder Baker has outlined four main contemporary approaches to belief in her book Saving Belief:
- Our common-sense understanding of belief is correct - Sometimes called the ‘mental sentence theory’, in this conception, beliefs exist as coherent entities and the way we talk about them in everyday life is a valid basis for scientific endeavour. Jerry Fodor is one of the principal defenders of this point of view.
- Our common-sense understanding of belief may not be entirely correct, but it is close enough to make some useful predictions - This view argues that we will eventually reject the idea of belief as we use it now, but that there may be a correlation between what we take to be a belief when someone says 'I believe that snow is white' and however a future theory of psychology will explain this behaviour. Most notably philosopher Stephen Stich has argued for this particular understanding of belief.
- Our common-sense understanding of belief is entirely wrong and will be completely superseded by a radically different theory which will have no use for the concept of belief as we know it - Known as eliminativism, this view, (most notably proposed by Paul and Patricia Churchland), argues that the concept of belief is like obsolete theories of times past such as the four humours theory of medicine, or the phlogiston theory of combustion. In these cases science hasn’t provided us with a more detailed account of these theories, but completely rejected them as valid scientific concepts to be replaced by entirely different accounts. The Churchlands argue that our common-sense concept of belief is similar, in that as we discover more about neuroscience and the brain, the inevitable conclusion will be to reject the belief hypothesis in its entirety.
- Our common-sense understanding of belief is entirely wrong, however treating people, animals and even computers as if they had beliefs, is often a successful strategy - The major proponents of this view, Daniel Dennett and Lynne Rudder Baker, are both eliminativists in that they believe that beliefs are not a scientifically valid concept, but they don’t go as far as rejecting the concept of belief as a predictive device. Dennett gives the example of playing a computer at chess. While few people would agree that the computer held beliefs, treating the computer as if it did (e.g. that the computer believes that taking the opposition’s queen will give it a considerable advantage) is likely to be a successful and predictive strategy. In this understanding of belief, named by Dennett the intentional stance, belief based explanations of mind and behaviour are at a different level of explanation and are not reducible to those based on fundamental neuroscience although both may be explanatory at their own level.
Is belief voluntary?
Most philosophers hold the view that belief formation is to some extent spontaneous and involuntary. Some think that one can freely investigate and research a topic, however, one cannot choose to believe something because the belief system either "makes sense" or it "does not make sense." Many people only accept information supporting narrow specific beliefs, rather than a more challenging broad study of evidence across cultures. Human imagination may well be the true catalyst for creating, modification and perpetuation of belief. In some cases people deny things especially about matters in which they are emotionally involved. Belief, as a component of the human mind, becomes speculation when assumptions cannot be logically reconciled to the external world. It is technically impossible for all variations of world belief to be simultaneously true. The mutually exclusive phenomena of belief variation clearly demonstrates diverging human imagination which exists in various minds. From an individual and/or group viewpoint, a preferred belief is usually strongly imagined to be “true,” fostering the survival or modification of very specific perspectives. Hope for a world different or better than the present world allows some people to hold contradictory information in their mind (dualism) as valid. People often believe what they wish to be true and may stand in direct opposition to their direct experience. Belief is often mandatory for group affiliation.
Delusions are defined as beliefs in psychiatric diagnostic criteria (for example in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Psychiatrist and historian G. E. Berrios has challenged the view that delusions are genuine beliefs and instead labels them as "empty speech acts", where affected persons are motivated to express false or bizarre belief statements due to an underlying psychological disturbance. However, the majority of mental health professionals and researchers treat delusions as if they were genuine beliefs.
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and a number of other critics of religion have proposed the idea that many (if not most) faith-based religious beliefs are actually delusional beliefs. Some critics of atheism disagree with this view of religious beliefs. John P. Koster (The Atheist Syndrome), R.C. Sproul (If There is a God Why are There Atheists), Ravi Zacharias (The Real Face of Atheism), Alister McGrath (The Twilight of Atheism), and Paul Vitz (The Psychology of Atheism) have all argued the contrary to one degree or another.
In Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen says, "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." This is often quoted in mockery of the common ability of people to entertain beliefs contrary to fact.
The term limiting belief is used for a belief that inhibits exploration of a wider cognitive space than would otherwise be the case. Examples of limiting beliefs are seen both in animals and people. These may be strongly held beliefs, or held unconsciously, and are often tied in with self-image or perceptions about the world. Everyday examples of limiting beliefs:
- That one has specific capabilities, roles, or traits which cannot be escaped or changed.
- That one cannot succeed so there is no point committing to trying.
- That a particular opinion is right; therefore, there is no point considering other viewpoints.
- That a particular action or result is the only way to resolve a problem.
To believe something is to hold a thought or opinion based upon evidence or an experience admittedly not assumed to be common among all people. The existence of evidence that causes one to believe is often intangible and may or may not be based in fact.
The action of believing someone might be based upon history, trust, and experience that might not be readily available to everyone. Because each individual has the potential to experience life uniquely, it is necessary to develop the art of believing in order to relate to other people, places, or things. Without the ability to believe, it would be impossible to experience in any form a place you have never been. For example: just because we have never been to Mars doesn’t mean that most of us don’t believe that it is there.
- Believing is the action of sharing unique and personal experience; i.e., this pie is great, you should try it.
- Believing is relating to someone or something outside of your self; i.e., You say it was horribly cold outside? How awful!
- Believing is the development of relationships between you and a desired result; i.e., "If I want to be president someday, I must study hard, make lots of friends, and hide all of the evidence."
- Believing is the assumption or recognition of existing relationships, i.e, a relationship between a sailor and the sea.
Two control modifiers that accompany the concept of believing are “skeptic” and “gullible”. These two concepts are the “pipe and valve” of believing. To be completely gullible is to believe everything. To be completely skeptical is to believe nothing.
To believe something is to relate to it. Even with the use of skepticism it can be difficult to escape the influence of something. For example, before the first UFO sighting, there was no belief and no need to relate to the idea. Once exposed to the idea, if it is not instantly and totally dismissed it becomes part of your world through believing, even if controlled with skepticism.
Disbelieving something is still an expression of the believing action. Believing starts with the exposure to a concept or thing outside of your self. Sometimes such exposures can be painful, i.e., the experience of great loss. The desire to not believe can be strong. The act of not believing is the effort to disassociate or to not relate.
All things are relative. Life is the process of relationship. Perhaps the reason faith (the practice of believing) is so important to religions is because believing is the method of relating to things out side of your self. Believing is a process of internalizing things that are outside.
Believing is assumed to be imperfect and therefore practiced by those seeking to relate to a concept or thing outside of themselves. Those that practice faith think that the process of believing will change their current condition to better match that thing in which they exercise their faith.
The practice of believing is the development of relationships, whether in a partnership, a deity, a science, or a thing. For example: the belief that man could fly was practiced by a select few. With a number of breakthroughs made by visionaries believing in the concept, the idea of Man flying has become a world wide success. Some still choose to believe with skepticism that God ever intended for Man to fly and choose to avoid it.
- Beliefnet - Belief-o-matic
- Compare Different Beliefs Information on different religions/beliefs
- Beliefs and Practices Belief refers to a part of a wider Spirituality
- Think without Beliefs Does rational thinking require the adherence to beliefs at all?
- Religious Beliefs Submit a belief and read about others' thoughts.
- Ethics of Belief Classic WK Clifford essay that belief by its nature is unethical, with counterpoint by William James
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