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Belief is the attitude that something is the case or true. In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer to personal attitudes associated with true or false ideas and concepts. However, "belief" does not require active introspection and circumspection. For example, few ponder whether the sun will rise, just assume it will. Since "belief" is an important aspect of mundane life, according to Eric Schwitzgebel in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a related question asks: "how a physical organism can have beliefs?"
In the context of Ancient Greek thought, two related concepts were identified regarding the concept of belief: pistis and doxa. Simplified, pistis refers to "trust" and "confidence", while doxa refers to "opinion" and "acceptance". The English word "orthodoxy" derives from doxa.
Mainstream 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 abstract 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, whose foundations and relation to brain states are still controversial.
Beliefs are sometimes divided into core beliefs (that are actively thought about) and dispositional beliefs (that may be ascribed to someone who has not thought about the issue). 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.
This has important implications for understanding the neuropsychology and neuroscience of belief. If the concept of belief is incoherent, then any attempt to find the underlying neural processes that support it will fail.
Strategic approaches make a distinction between rules, norms and beliefs as follows: (1) Rules. Explicit regulative processes such as policies, laws, inspection routines, or incentives. Rules function as a coercive regulator of behavior and are dependent upon the imposing entity's ability to enforce them. (2) Norms. Regulative mechanisms accepted by the social collective. Norms are enforced by normative mechanisms within the organization and are not strictly dependent upon law or regulation. (3) Beliefs. The collective perception of fundamental truths governing behavior. The adherence to accepted and shared beliefs by members of a social system will likely persist and be difficult to change over time. Strong beliefs about determinant factors (i.e., security, survival, or honor) are likely to cause a social entity or group to accept rules and norms.
Epistemology is concerned with delineating the boundary between justified belief and opinion, and involved generally with a theoretical philosophical study of knowledge. The primary problem in epistemology is to understand exactly what is needed in order for us to have knowledge. In a notion derived from Plato's dialogue Theaetetus, where the epistemology of Socrates (Platon) most clearly departs from that of the sophists, who at the time of Plato seem to have defined knowledge as what is here expressed as "justified true belief". The tendency to translate from belief (here: doxa – common opinion) to knowledge (here: episteme), which Plato (e.g. Socrates of the dialogue) utterly dismisses, results from failing to distinguish a dispositive belief (gr. 'doxa', not 'pistis') from knowledge (episteme) when the opinion is regarded true (here: orthé), in terms of right, and juristically so (according to the premises of the dialogue), which was the task of the rhetors to prove. Plato dismisses this possibility of an affirmative relation between belief (i.e. opinion) and knowledge even when the one who opines grounds his belief on the rule, and is able to add justification (gr. logos: reasonable and necessarily plausible assertions/evidence/guidance) to it.
Plato has been credited for the "justified true belief" theory of knowledge, even though Plato in the Theaetetus (dialogue) elegantly dismisses it, and even posits this argument of Socrates as a cause for his death penalty. Among American epistemologists, Gettier (1963) and Goldman (1967), have questioned the "justified true belief" definition, and challenged the "sophists" of their time.
Justified true belief is a definition of knowledge that gained approval during the Enlightenment, 'justified' standing in contrast to 'revealed'. There have been attempts to trace it back to Plato and his dialogues.[clarification needed] The concept of justified true belief states that in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but also have justification for doing so. In more formal terms, an agent knows that a proposition is true if and only if:
This theory of knowledge suffered a significant setback with the discovery of Gettier problems, situations in which the above conditions were seemingly met but that many philosophers disagree that anything is known. Robert Nozick suggested a clarification of "justification" which he believed eliminates the problem: the justification has to be such that were the justification false, the knowledge would be false. Bernecker and Dretske (2000) argue that "no epistemologist since Gettier has seriously and successfully defended the traditional view.":3 On the other hand, Paul Boghossian argues that the Justified True Belief account is the "standard, widely accepted" definition of knowledge.
Psychologists study belief formation and the relationship between beliefs and actions. Three models of belief formation and change have been proposed:
When people are asked to estimate the likelihood that a statement is true, they search their memory for information that has implications for the validity of this statement. Once this information has been identified, they estimate a) the likelihood that the statement would be true if the information were true, and b) the likelihood that the statement would be true if the information were false. If their estimates for these two probabilities differ, people average them, weighting each by the likelihood that the information is true and false (respectively). Thus, information bears directly on beliefs of another, related statement.
Unlike the previous model, this one takes into consideration the possibility of multiple factors influencing belief formation. Using regression procedures, this model predicts belief formation on the basis of several different pieces of information, with weights assigned to each piece on the basis of their relative importance.
These models address the fact that the responses people have to belief-relevant information is unlikely to be predicted from the objective basis of the information that they can recall at the time their beliefs are reported. Instead, these responses reflect the number and meaning of the thoughts that people have about the message at the time that they encounter it.
Some influences on people's belief formation include:
However, even educated people, well aware of the process by which beliefs form, still strongly cling to their beliefs, and act on those beliefs even against their own self-interest. In Anna Rowley's book, Leadership Therapy, she states "You want your beliefs to change. It's proof that you are keeping your eyes open, living fully, and welcoming everything that the world and people around you can teach you." This means that peoples' beliefs should evolve as they gain new experiences.
An extensive amount of scientific research and philosophical discussion exists around the modification of beliefs, which is commonly referred to as belief revision. Generally speaking, the process of belief revision entails the believer weighing the set of truths and/or evidence, and the dominance of a set of truths or evidence on an alternative to a held belief can lead to revision. One process of belief revision is Bayesian updating and is often referenced for its mathematical basis and conceptual simplicity. However, such a process may not be representative for individuals whose beliefs are not easily characterized as probabilistic.
There are several techniques for individuals or groups to change the beliefs of others; these methods generally fall under the umbrella of persuasion. Persuasion can take on more specific forms such as consciousness raising when considered in an activist or political context. Belief modification may also occur as a result of the experience of outcomes. Because goals are based, in part on beliefs, the success or failure at a particular goal may contribute to modification of beliefs that supported the original goal.
Whether or not belief modification actually occurs is dependent not only on the extent of truths or evidence for the alternative belief, but also characteristics outside the specific truths or evidence. This includes, but is not limited to: the source characteristics of the message, such as credibility; social pressures; the anticipated consequences of a modification; or the ability of the individual or group to act on the modification. Therefore, individuals seeking to achieve belief modification in themselves or others need to consider all possible forms of resistance to belief revision.
Without qualification, "belief" normally implies a lack of doubt, especially insofar as it is a designation of a life stance. In practical everyday use however, belief is normally partial and retractable with varying degrees of certainty.
Different psychological models have tried to predict people's beliefs and some of them try to estimate the exact probabilities of beliefs. For example, Robert Wyer developed a model of subjective probabilities. When people rate the likelihood of a certain statement (e.g., "It will rain tomorrow"), this rating can be seen as a subjective probability value. The subjective probability model posits that these subjective probabilities follow the same rules as objective probabilities. For example, the law of total probability might be applied to predict a subjective probability value. Wyer found that this model produces relatively accurate predictions for probabilities of single events and for changes in these probabilities, but that the probabilities of several beliefs linked by "and" or "or" do not follow the model as well.
Historically belief-in belonged in the realm of religious thought, belief-that instead belonged to epistemological considerations.
To "believe in" someone or something is a distinct concept from "believing-that." There are at least these types of belief-in:
Economic beliefs are beliefs which are reasonably and necessarily contrary to the tenet of rational choice or instrumental rationality.
Studies of the Austrian tradition of the economic thought, in the context of analysis of the influence and subsequent degree of change resulting from existing economic knowledge and belief, has contributed the most to the subsequent holistic collective analysis.
Insofar as the truth of belief is expressed in sentential and propositional form we are using the sense of belief-that rather than belief-in. Delusion arises when the truth value of the form is clearly nil.
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.
In Lewis Carroll's 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.
Religious belief refers to attitudes towards mythological, supernatural, or spiritual aspects of a religion. Religious belief is distinct from religious practice and from religious behaviours – with some believers not practicing religion and some practitioners not believing religion. Religious beliefs, deriving from ideas that are exclusive to religion, often relate to the existence, characteristics and worship of a deity or deities, to the idea of divine intervention in the universe and in human life, or to the deontological explanations for the values and practices centered on the teachings of a spiritual leader or of a spiritual group. In contrast to other belief systems, religious beliefs are usually codified.
A popular view holds that different religions each have identifiable and exclusive sets of beliefs or creeds, but surveys of religious belief have often found that the official doctrine and descriptions of the beliefs offered by religious authorities do not always agree with the privately held beliefs of those who identify as members of a particular religion. For a broad classification of the kinds of religious belief, see below.
First self-applied as a term to the conservative doctrine outlined by anti-modernist Protestants in the United States, "fundamentalism" in religious terms denotes strict adherence to an interpretation of scriptures that are generally associated with theologically conservative positions or traditional understandings of the text and are distrustful of innovative readings, new revelation, or alternative interpretations. Religious fundamentalism has been identified[by whom?] in the media as being associated with fanatical or zealous political movements around the world that have used a strict adherence to a particular religious doctrine as a means to establish political identity and to enforce societal norms.
First used in the context of Early Christianity, the term "orthodoxy" relates to religious belief that closely follows the edicts, apologies, and hermeneutics of a prevailing religious authority. In the case of Early Christianity, this authority was the communion of bishops, and is often referred to by the term "Magisterium". The term orthodox was applied[when?] almost as an epithet to a group of Jewish believers who held to pre-Enlightenment understanding of Judaism – now known as Orthodox Judaism. The Eastern Orthodox Church of Christianity and the Catholic Church each consider themselves to be the true heir to Early Christian belief and practice. The antonym of "orthodox" is "heterodox", and those adhering to orthodoxy often accuse the heterodox of apostasy, schism, or heresy.
The Renaissance and later the Enlightenment in Europe exhibited varying degrees of religious tolerance and intolerance towards new and old religious ideas. The philosophes took particular exception to many of the more fantastical claims of religions and directly challenged religious authority and the prevailing beliefs associated with the established churches. In response to the liberalizing political and social movements, some religious groups attempted to integrate Enlightenment ideals of rationality, equality, and individual liberty into their belief systems, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Reform Judaism and Liberal Christianity offer two examples of such religious associations.
Some believe that religion cannot be separated from other aspects of life, or believe that certain cultures did not or do not separate their religious activities from other activities in the same way that some people in modern Western cultures do.
Some anthropologists[who?] report cultures in which gods are involved in every aspect of life – if a cow goes dry, a god has caused this, and must be propitiated; when the sun rises in the morning, a god has caused this, and must be thanked. Even in modern Western cultures, many people see supernatural forces behind every event, as described by Carl Sagan in his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World.
People with such a worldview often[quantify] regard the influence of Western culture as inimical. Others with this worldview resist the influence of science, and believe that science (or "so-called science") should be guided by religion. Still others with this worldview believe that all political decisions and laws should be guided by religion. This last belief, written into the constitutions of many[which?] Islamic nations, is shared by some fundamentalist Christians.
Beliefs about the supernatural or metaphysical may not presuppose a difference between any such thing as nature and non-nature, nor between science and what most educated people believe. In the view of some historians[who?], the pre-Socratic Athenians saw science, political tradition, culture and religion as not easily distinguishable, but as all part of the same body of knowledge and wisdom available to a community.
Adherents of particular religions deal with the differing doctrines and practices espoused by other religions or by other religious denominations in a variety of ways.
People with exclusivist beliefs typically explain other beliefs either as in error, or as corruptions or counterfeits of the true faith. This approach is a fairly consistent feature among smaller new religious movements that often rely on doctrine that claims a unique revelation by the founders or leaders, and considers it a matter of faith that the "correct" religion has a monopoly on truth. All three major Abrahamic monotheistic religions have passages in their holy scriptures that attest to the primacy of the scriptural testimony, and indeed monotheism itself is often[quantify] vouched[by whom?] as an innovation characterized specifically by its explicit rejection of earlier polytheistic faiths.
Some exclusivist faiths incorporate a specific element of proselytization. This is a strongly-held belief in the Christian tradition which follows the doctrine of the Great Commission, and is less emphasized by the Islamic faith where the Quranic edict "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256) is often quoted as a justification for toleration of alternative beliefs. The Jewish tradition does not actively seek out converts.
Exclusivism correlates with conservative, fundamentalist, and orthodox approaches of many religions, while pluralistic and syncretist approaches either explicitly downplay or reject the exclusivist tendencies within a religion.
People with inclusivist beliefs recognize some truth in all faith systems, highlighting agreements and minimizing differences. This attitude is sometimes associated[by whom?] with Interfaith dialogue or with the Christian Ecumenical movement, though in principle such attempts at pluralism are not necessarily inclusivist and many actors in such interactions (for example, the Roman Catholic Church) still hold to exclusivist dogma while participating in inter-religious organizations.
Explicitly inclusivist religions include many that are associated with the New Age movement, as well as modern reinterpretations of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Bahá'í Faith considers it doctrine that there is truth in all faith-systems.
People with pluralist beliefs make no distinction between faith systems, viewing each one as valid within a particular culture. Examples include:
People with syncretistic views blend the views of a variety of different religions or traditional beliefs into a unique fusion which suits their particular experiences and contexts (see eclecticism). Unitarian Universalism exemplifies a syncretistic faith.
Typical reasons for adherence to religion include the following:
Psychologist James Alcock also summarizes a number of apparent benefits which reinforce religious belief. These include prayer appearing to account for successful resolution of problems, "a bulwark against existential anxiety and fear of annihilation," an increased sense of control, companionship with one's deity, a source of self-significance, and group identity.
Typical reasons for rejection of religion include:
A belief system is a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs of any such system can be classified[by whom?] as religious, philosophical, political, ideological, or a combination of these. Philosopher Jonathan Glover says that beliefs are always part of a belief system, and that tenanted belief systems are difficult for the tenants to completely revise or reject.[need quotation to verify]
A collective belief is referred to when people speak of what "we" believe when this is not simply elliptical for what "we all" believe.
Sociologist Émile Durkheim wrote of collective beliefs and proposed that they, like all "social facts", "inhered in" social groups as opposed to individual persons. Durkheim's discussion of collective belief, though suggestive, is relatively obscure.
Philosopher Margaret Gilbert (1942- ) has offered a related account in terms of the joint commitment of a number of persons to accept a certain belief as a body. According to this account, individuals who together collectively believe something need not personally believe it themselves. Gilbert's work on the topic has stimulated a developing literature among philosophers. One question that has arisen is whether and how philosophical accounts of belief in general need to be sensitive to the possibility of collective belief.
Jonathan Glover (1941- ) believes that he and other philosophers ought to play some role in starting dialogues between people with deeply-held, opposing beliefs, especially if there is risk of violence. Glover also believes that philosophy can offer insights about beliefs that would be relevant to such dialogue.
Glover suggests that beliefs have to be considered[by whom?] holistically, and that no belief exists in isolation in the mind of the believer. Each belief always implicates and relates to other beliefs. Glover provides the example of a patient with an illness who returns to a doctor, but the doctor says that the prescribed medicine is not working. At that point, the patient has a great deal of flexibility in choosing what beliefs to keep or reject: the patient could believe that the doctor is incompetent, that the doctor's assistants made a mistake, that the patient's own body is unique in some unexpected way, that Western medicine is ineffective, or even that Western science is entirely unable to discover truths about ailments.
Glover maintains that any person can continue to hold any belief if they would really like to (for example, with help from ad hoc hypotheses). One belief can be held fixed, and other beliefs will be altered around it. Glover warns that some beliefs may not be entirely explicitly believed (for example, some people may not realize they have racist belief-systems adopted from their environment as a child). Glover believes that people tend to first realize that beliefs can change, and may be contingent on their upbringing, around age 12 or 15.
Glover emphasizes that beliefs are difficult to change. He says that one may try to rebuild one's beliefs on more secure foundations (axioms), like building a new house, but warns that this may not be possible. Glover offers the example of René Descartes, saying: "[Descartes] starts off with the characteristic beliefs of a 17th-century Frenchman; he then junks the lot, he rebuilds the system, and somehow it looks a lot like the beliefs of a 17th-century Frenchman." To Glover, belief systems are not like houses but are instead like boats. As Glover puts it: "Maybe the whole thing needs rebuilding, but inevitably at any point you have to keep enough of it intact to keep floating."
Glover's final message is that if people talk about their beliefs, they may find more deep, relevant, philosophical ways in which they disagree (e.g., less obvious beliefs, or more-deeply-held beliefs). Glover thinks that people often manage to find agreements and consensus through philosophy. He says that at the very least, if people do not convert each other, they will hold their own beliefs more openmindedly and will be less likely to go to war over conflicting beliefs.
The British philosopher Stephen Law (1960-) has described some belief systems (including belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, and alien abduction) as "claptrap" and said that such belief-systems can "draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap [...] if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again".
Religion, in most cultures, is ascribed, not chosen.
A collective belief is referred to when people speak of what 'we' believe when this is not simply elliptical for what 'we all' believe.
Sociologist Émile Durkheim wrote of collective beliefs and proposed that they, like all 'social facts', 'inhered in' social groups as opposed to individual persons. Durkheim's discussion of collective belief, though suggestive, is relatively obscure.
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