Belief
Overview
 
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition
Proposition
In logic and philosophy, the term proposition refers to either the "content" or "meaning" of a meaningful declarative sentence or the pattern of symbols, marks, or sounds that make up a meaningful declarative sentence...

 or premise
Premise
Premise can refer to:* Premise, a claim that is a reason for, or an objection against, some other claim as part of an argument...

 to be true
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

.
The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy.

Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge
Knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

 and belief. The primary problem in epistemology is to understand exactly what is needed in order for us to have true knowledge.
Quotations

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.

Patrick Dixon in Building a Better Business, p. 14

He who believes needs no explanation.

Euripides, Dionysus in "The Bacchae"

He does not believe that does not live according to his belief

Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia (1732)

Dream,believe,achieve

Paul White

People want to believe in something-even if they know it is false.

"Tanis Half-Elven", in Dragonlance

To succeed, we must first believe that we can.

Michael Korda|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.

Montaigne, Essays (1580-88)

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.

Hannah Szenes|Hannah Szenes, in Hannah Senesh : Her Life and Diary (1938)

Encyclopedia
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition
Proposition
In logic and philosophy, the term proposition refers to either the "content" or "meaning" of a meaningful declarative sentence or the pattern of symbols, marks, or sounds that make up a meaningful declarative sentence...

 or premise
Premise
Premise can refer to:* Premise, a claim that is a reason for, or an objection against, some other claim as part of an argument...

 to be true
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

.

Belief, knowledge and epistemology

The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy.

Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge
Knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

 and belief. The primary problem in epistemology is to understand exactly what is needed in order for us to have true knowledge. In a notion derived from Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's dialogue Theaetetus
Theaetetus (dialogue)
The Theaetetus is one of Plato's dialogues concerning the nature of knowledge. The framing of the dialogue begins when Euclides tells his friend Terpsion that he had written a book many years ago based on what Socrates had told him of a conversation he'd had with Theaetetus when Theaetetus was...

, philosophy has traditionally defined knowledge as "justified true belief
Justified true belief
Justified true belief is one definition of knowledge that states in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but one must also have justification for doing so. In more formal terms, a subject S knows that a proposition P is true if,...

". 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. Later epistemologists, for instance Gettier
Edmund Gettier
Edmund L. Gettier III is an American philosopher and Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; he owes his reputation to a single three-page paper published in 1963 called "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?"Gettier was educated at Cornell University, where his mentors...

 (1963) and Goldman
Alvin Goldman
Alvin Ira Goldman is an American professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He previously taught at the University of Michigan and at the University of Arizona. He earned his PhD from Princeton University and is married to Holly Smith, a well known ethicist, former...

 (1967), have questioned the "justified true belief" definition.

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 attitude
Propositional attitude
A propositional attitude is a relational mental state connecting a person to a proposition. They are often assumed to be the simplest components of thought and can express meanings or content that can be true or false...

s, belief implies the existence of mental state
Mental state
* In psychology, mental state is an indication of a person's mental health**Mental status examination, a structured way of observing and describing a patient's current state of mind...

s and intentionality
Intentionality
The term intentionality was introduced by Jeremy Bentham as a principle of utility in his doctrine of consciousness for the purpose of distinguishing acts that are intentional and acts that are not...

, both of which are hotly debated topics in the philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

 whose foundations and relation to brain states are still controversial.

Beliefs are sometimes divided into core beliefs (that are actively thought about) and dispositional belief
Dispositional belief
In philosophy, the term dispositional belief refers to a belief that is not currently being considered by the mind, but is stored in memory of other concepts and will be recalled to conclude in occurrent belief. The term occurrent belief refers to a belief that is currently being considered by the...

s
(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.

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
Neuropsychology
Neuropsychology studies the structure and function of the brain related to specific psychological processes and behaviors. The term neuropsychology has been applied to lesion studies in humans and animals. It has also been applied to efforts to record electrical activity from individual cells in...

 and neuroscience
Neuroscience
Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics,...

 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
Lynne Rudder Baker
Lynne Rudder Baker is an American philosopher and author, currently a "Distinguished Professor" at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a native of Atlanta. She got her Ph.D. in 1972 from Vanderbilt University....

 has outlined four main contemporary approaches to belief in her controversial 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
    Jerry Fodor
    Jerry Alan Fodor is an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He holds the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and is the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he has laid the groundwork for the...

     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 how a future theory of psychology will explain this behaviour. Most notably philosopher Stephen Stich
    Stephen Stich
    Stephen Stich is a professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He is also currently an Honorary Professor of the department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Stich's main philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, epistemology, and moral psychology. He...

     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
    Paul Churchland
    Paul Churchland is a philosopher noted for his studies in neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. He is currently a Professor at the University of California, San Diego, where he holds the Valtz Chair of Philosophy. Churchland holds a joint appointment with the Cognitive Science Faculty and...

     and Patricia Churchland
    Patricia Churchland
    Patricia Smith Churchland is a Canadian-American philosopher noted for her contributions to neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. She has been a Professor at the University of California, San Diego since 1984...

    ), 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
    Phlogiston theory
    The phlogiston theory , first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, is an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called "phlogiston", which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion...

     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
    Daniel Dennett
    Daniel Clement Dennett is an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the Co-director of...

     and Lynne Rudder Baker
    Lynne Rudder Baker
    Lynne Rudder Baker is an American philosopher and author, currently a "Distinguished Professor" at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a native of Atlanta. She got her Ph.D. in 1972 from Vanderbilt University....

    , 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
    Intentional stance
    The intentional stance is a term coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett for the level of abstraction in which we view the behavior of a thing in terms of mental properties...

    , 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 internalise the beliefs of the people around us during childhood. Albert Einstein
    Albert Einstein
    Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

     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. Most 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 person's beliefs.


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 Leadership Theory, 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.

Belief-in

To "believe in" someone or something is a distinct concept from "believe-that". There are two types of belief-in:
  • Commendatory - an expression of confidence in a person or entity, as in, "I believe in his abililty to do the job".
  • Existential claim - to claim belief in the existence of an entity or phenomenon with the implied need to justify its claim to existence. It is often used when the entity is not real, or its existence is in doubt. "He believes in witches and ghosts" or "many children believe in fairies" are typical examples.

Delusional beliefs

Delusion
Delusion
A delusion is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence. Unlike hallucinations, delusions are always pathological...

s are defined as beliefs in psychiatric diagnostic criteria (for example in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification 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
Lewis Carroll
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson , better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll , was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer. His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the...

's Through the Looking-Glass
Through the Looking-Glass
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There is a work of literature by Lewis Carroll . It is the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland...

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.

See also

External links

  • William Kingdon Clifford
    William Kingdon Clifford
    William Kingdon Clifford FRS was an English mathematician and philosopher. Building on the work of Hermann Grassmann, he introduced what is now termed geometric algebra, a special case of the Clifford algebra named in his honour, with interesting applications in contemporary mathematical physics...

    . Ethics of Belief Classic essay that belief by its nature is not ethical, with counterpoint by "The Will to Believe" of William James
    William James
    William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

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