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Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.[1]

Contents

Belief, knowledge and epistemology

The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy.

Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge and belief. 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, 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, for instance Gettier (1963)[2] and Goldman (1967)[3], have questioned the "justified true belief" definition, and some philosophers have questioned whether "belief" is a useful notion at all.

Belief as a psychological theory

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 (those you may be actively thinking about) and dispositional beliefs (those 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.[4]

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 that it 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 that 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 controversial book Saving Belief[5]

  • 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 that 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.

How beliefs are formed

Psychologists study belief formation and the relationship between beliefs and actions. Beliefs form in a variety of ways.

  • We tend to internalize the beliefs of the people around us during childhood. Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said that "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." Political beliefs depend most strongly on the political beliefs most common in the community where we live.[6] Most individuals believe the religion they were taught in childhood. [7]
  • People may adopt the beliefs of a charismatic leader, even if those beliefs fly in the face of all previous beliefs, and produce actions that are clearly not in their own self-interest.[8] Is belief voluntary? Rational individuals need to reconcile their direct reality with any said belief; therefore, if belief is not present or possible, it reflects the fact that contradictions were necessarily overcome using cognitive dissonance.
  • The primary thrust of the advertising industry is that repetition forms beliefs, as do associations of beliefs with images of sex, love, and other strong positive emotions.[9]
  • Physical trauma, especially to the head, can radically alter a person's beliefs.[10]

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.

Delusional beliefs

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.

Notes

  1. ^ Schwitzgebel, Eric (2006), "Belief", in Zalta, Edward, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford, CA: The Metaphysics Research Lab, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/belief/, retrieved 2008-09-19  
  2. ^ Gettier, EL 1963, 'Is justified true belief knowledge?', Analysis, vol. 23, no. 6, pp. 121-123
  3. ^ Goldman, AI 1967, 'A causal theory of knowing', The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 64, no. 12, pp. 357-372
  4. ^ Bell, V., Halligan, P.W. & Ellis, H.D. (2006) A Cognitive Neuroscience of Belief. In Peter W. Halligan & Mansel Aylward (eds.) The Power of Belief: Psychological Influence on Illness, Disability, and Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198530102
  5. ^ Lynne Rudder Baker, Saving Belief, Princeton University Press, 1989, ISBN 9780691020501
  6. ^ Andrew Gelman, David Park, Boris Shor, Joseph Bafumi, Jeronimo Cortina, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do, Princeton University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780691139272
  7. ^ Michael Argyle, The Psychology of Religious Belief, Behavior, and Experience, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 9780415123310, p.25 "Religion, in most cultures, is ascribed, not chosen."
  8. ^ Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2002, ISBN 9780060505912
  9. ^ Jane Kilbourne, Mary Pipher, Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, Free Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0684866000
  10. ^ Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 9780393703276

See also

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.

Sourced

  • I would rather work with five people who really believe in what they are doing rather than five hundred who can't see the point.
  • He who believes needs no explanation.
  • He does not believe that does not live according to his belief
  • Dream,believe,achieve
    • Paul White
  • People want to believe in something-even if they know it is false.
  • To succeed, we must first believe that we can.
    • Michael Korda, as quoted in Marketing Construction Services (2000) by Paul Pryor, p. 14
  • Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.
  • If there is anything I have learned in my travels across the Planes, it is that many things may change the nature of a man. Whether regret, or love, or revenge or fear - whatever you believe can change the nature of a man, can. I’ve seen belief move cities, make men stave off death, and turn an evil hag's heart half-circle. This entire Fortress has been constructed from belief. Belief damned a woman, whose heart clung to the hope that another loved her when he did not. Once, it made a man seek immortality and achieve it. And it has made a posturing spirit think it is something more than a part of me.
    • "The Nameless One" in Planescape: Torment
  • Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good ground for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
    • Bertrand Russell, in "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish" in Unpopular Essays (1950)
  • One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one's life has meaning, that one is needed in this world.
  • For the heart, it needs to believe.
  • For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.
    • Franz Werfel, as quoted in Philippine Studies (1953) by Ateneo de Manila, p. 269; also in Everest : The Mountaineering History (2000) by Walt Unsworth, p. 100
  • Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.
  • Hold somebody's hand and feel its warmth. Gram per gram, it converts 10 000 times more energy per second that the sun. You find this hard to believe? Here are the numbers: an average human weighs 70 kilograms and consumes about 12 600 kilojoules / day; that makes about 2 millijoules / gram.second, or 2 milliwatts / gram. For the sun it's miserable 0.2 microjoules / gram.second. Some bacteria, such as the soil bacterium "Azotobacter" convert as much as 10 joules / gram.second, outperforming the sun by a factor 50 million. I am wam because inside each of my body cells there are dozens, hundreds or even thousands of mitochondria that burn the food I eat.
    • Gottfried Schatz in "Jeff's view on science and scientists", Amsterdam, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006, ISBN 978-0-444-52133-0, ISBN 0-444-52133-X (pbk.), p. 43, "The tragic matter"
  • Belief is a beautiful armor, but makes for the heaviest sword; like punching underwater, you never can hit who you're trying for.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers

Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • What is meant by believing in Christ but just going with trusting and loving hearts, and committing to His love and power ourselves, our souls, and all that concerns us for time and eternity?
    • A. H. Boyd, p. 22.
  • Begin by regarding every thing from a moral point of view, and you will end by believing in God.
  • To believe is to be happy; to doubt is to be wretched. To believe is to be strong. Doubt cramps energy. Belief is power. Only so far as a man believes strongly, mightily, can he act cheerfully, or do any thing that is worth the doing.
  • If you wish to be assured of the truth of Christianity, try it. Believe, and if thy belief be right, that insight which gradually transmutes faith into knowledge will be the reward of thy belief.
  • He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend, must have a very long head, or a very short creed.
    • C. C. Colton, p. 23.
  • The man who goes through life with an uncertain doctrine not knowing what he believes, what a poor, powerless creature he is! He goes around through the world as a man goes down through the street with a poor, wounded arm, forever dodging people he meets on the street for fear they may touch him.
  • If that impression does not remain on this intrepid and powerful people, into whose veins all nations pour their mingling blood, it will be our immense calamity. Public action, without it, will lose the dignity of consecration. Eloquence, without it, will miss what is loftiest, will give place to a careless and pulseless disquisition, or fall to the flatness of political slang. Life, without it, will lose its sacred and mystic charm. Society, without it, will fail of inspirations, and be drowned in an animalism whose rising tides will keep pace with its wealth.
    • R. S. Storrs, p. 23.
  • Now God be praised, that to believing souls, Gives light in darkness, comfort in despair!

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Look up belief in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to belief article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

Pronunciation

Etymology

Middle English < Old English lēafa.

Noun

Singular
belief

Plural
beliefs

belief (plural beliefs)

  1. Mental acceptance of a claim as truth.
  2. (countable) Something believed.
    The ancient people have a belief in many deities.
  3. (uncountable) The quality or state of believing.
    My belief that it will rain tomorrow is strong.
  4. (uncountable) Religious faith.
    She often said it was her belief that carried her through the hard times.
  5. (in plural) One's religious or moral convictions.
    I can't do that. It's against my beliefs.

Related terms

Translations

The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

Simple English

Simple English Wiktionary has the word meaning for:

A belief is a firm thought that something is true, often when there are not sufficient facts to make the judgement. Belief is usually a part of belonging to a religion. It is different to knowledge. Knowledge is a thought or idea that can be tested, but belief is not able to be tested. For example, a person may believe in a God or Gods. The word is also used to describe what a person expects will happen based on limited information. For example "I believe Amy will come around today".








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