From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Belief is the psychological state in which an
individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.
Belief, knowledge and
The terms belief and knowledge are used
differently in philosophy.
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) and Goldman (1967), have
questioned the "justified true belief" definition, and some
philosophers have questioned whether "belief" is a useful notion at
Belief as a psychological
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
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.
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
This has important implications for understanding the neuropsychology
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
Philosopher Lynne Rudder Baker has outlined four
main contemporary approaches to belief in her controversial book
- 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.
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
individuals believe the religion they were taught in childhood.
- 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. 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.
- Physical trauma, especially to the head, can radically alter a
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.
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.
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.
Eric (2006), "Belief", in Zalta,
Edward, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford,
CA: The Metaphysics Research Lab, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/belief/, retrieved
Gettier, EL 1963, 'Is justified true belief knowledge?', Analysis, vol. 23, no. 6, pp.
Goldman, AI 1967, 'A causal theory of knowing', The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 64,
no. 12, pp. 357-372
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.
Lynne Rudder Baker, Saving Belief, Princeton University
Press, 1989, ISBN 9780691020501
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
Michael Argyle, The Psychology of Religious Belief, Behavior,
and Experience, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 9780415123310, p.25
"Religion, in most cultures, is ascribed, not chosen."
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial Modern
Classics, 2002, ISBN 9780060505912
Jane Kilbourne, Mary Pipher, Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising
Changes the Way We Think and Feel, Free Press, 2000, ISBN
Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of
Trauma and Trauma Treatment, W. W. Norton & Company, 2000,