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Look up belief in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Belief is usually defined as a conviction of the truth of a proposition without its verification; therefore a belief is a subjective mental interpretation derived from perceptions, contemplation(reasoning), or communication.

In the religious sense, "belief" refers to a part of a wider spiritual or moral foundation — generally called faith. Historically, faiths were generated by groups seeking a functionally valid foundation to sustain them. The generally accepted faiths usually note that, when the exercise of faith leads to oppression, clarification or further revelation is called for.


[edit] Belief, knowledge and epistemology

Certainty series
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Knowledge is often defined as justified true belief, in that the belief must be considered to correspond to reality and must be derived from valid evidence and arguments. However, this definition has been challenged by the Gettier problem which suggests that justified true belief does not provide a complete picture of knowledge.

Belief can be understood as a state of mind in the process of increasing understanding that is sometimes called deduction. As people develop structures of understandings from observation or learned facts (generally accepted truths), they create a theory that is not unlike a bridge, sitting on those pillars of facts. This structure-building process is sometimes called induction. A general understanding of the specific facts is created. As people use these theories in their daily activities, research or experimentation, they tell themselves: I believe the underlying structure is true, to the best of my understanding — so, based on this theory, I will see what is to come of it. This application and testing of faith is sometimes called deduction. New, specific information is developed by testing general understanding. This application of the general to the specific is what can be called faith; belief is our thinking that our faith is applicable in a given situation.

In essence, religious belief is similar. The difference lies in how specifics are approached: it could be said that science generally builds up from facts using induction, while religion generally builds down from accepted general principles using deduction. The common area of these two pyramids is a diamond that is accepted from both directions. The understanding (faith) and the applicability of that understanding (belief) are such pairs.

[edit] 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 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 pyjamas ?' a person might answer that they do not, despite the fact they may never have thought about this situation before.

The idea that a belief is a mental state is much more 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.

[edit] Is belief voluntary?

Most philosophers hold the view that belief formation is to some extent spontaneous and involuntary.[citation needed] Some people think that one can choose to investigate and research a matter but that one can not choose to believe. On the other hand, most people have the impression that in some cases people don't believe things because they don't want to believe, especially about a matter in which they are emotionally involved.

[edit] Delusional beliefs

Delusions are defined as beliefs in psychiatric diagnostic criteria (for example in the DSM). Psychiatrist and historian German 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 others have proposed the idea that many (if not most) faith-based religious beliefs are actually delusional beliefs. Other theorists have held just the reverse. 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 this to one degree or another.

[edit] Limiting beliefs

A limiting belief is a term 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 certain 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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