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2012-07-08
Why do we believe what we believe?
Hi

I'm interested in belief formation.

Spinoza, and also the psychologist Daniel Gilbert, have argued that we automatically believe whatever enters our mind, rather than after an assessment of truth, and that it's merely disbelief that requires an assessment of truth.

However, such disbelief may occur within a fraction of a second of the formation of the belief - hence our unawareness of our initial complete credulity.

I've come to the conclusion that, from a logical point of view, belief can actually never be the product of an assessment of truth:

The content of any belief is a claim, whether it’s something profound, like ‘There’s an afterlife’, or something mundane, like ‘Tomorrow is Monday’.

However, when we assess whether a claim is true, all we can ever do is assess whether it agrees with our understanding of the matter in question at the moment that we reach our conclusion - which means assessing whether it agrees with what we believe about the matter in question at that moment.

For example, in order to conclude that the claim ‘Tomorrow is Monday’ is true we must first believe that tomorrow is Monday - whether we formed that belief before or during our assessment.

Therefore, assessing that a claim is true is dependent on first believing it, not the other way ‘round.

I've written an article that comes to the same conclusion as Spinoza and Gilbert, although using what I think is an original argument.

I'm wanting to submit it to the popular-philosophy journal Think, and would be grateful for any constructive feedback.

I've had two articles published in Think before, but this is my first article on this topic.

It's available here:

http://www.tryingtothink.org/wiki/How_Belief_Works

Any changes that I decide to make to the article after posting this will be immediately made to the above online version.

Thanks in advance

Derrick

2012-07-16
Why do we believe what we believe?
You say:

The content of any belief is a claim, whether it's something profound, like 'There's an afterlife', or something mundane, like 'Tomorrow is Monday'.

However, when we assess whether a claim is true, all we can ever do is assess whether it agrees with our understanding of the matter in question at the moment that we reach our conclusion - which means assessing whether it agrees with what we believe about the matter in question at that moment.




Two things worry me, if a belief were a claim there should be something that was recognisable as a claim (like a 'content') that would serve to individuate a claim, so, minimally one could have a theory that dwelt on just those things, too easily downgrading beliefs. (Think of this as a department that processes claims.) Secondly, how is one to respond to mere jumpiness in some process as obscuring evaluative notions like assessing? If the suggestion is going to be that the idea of content just occurs convincingly in any kind of slowed assessment on the basis of the necessity of some checking, then I think you could have that without putting into tension any opposing sense of content (linked to atemporal entities, propositions, reasons for reading Gauker, senses etc.)

2012-07-28
Why do we believe what we believe?
Here's an improved version of the section of the article arguing that belief can never be the product of an assessment of truth:



Why belief is never the product of an assessment of truth




The content of any belief is a claim, whether it's something profound, like 'There's an afterlife', or something mundane, like 'Today is Monday'. To conclude that claim X is true is to conclude that it agrees with reality. However, in order to assess whether X agrees with reality all we can ever do is assess whether it agrees with our understanding of the relevant aspect of reality at the moment that we come to that conclusion. And our understanding of a particular aspect of reality is our belief about that aspect. Therefore, to conclude that X is true is to conclude that it agrees with our belief about the relevant aspect of reality at the moment that we come to that conclusion. And we must form that belief before we can compare X to it. Therefore, in order to conclude that X is true, we must first believe X, and not the other way 'round. That is, to conclude that a claim is true is merely to conclude that it agrees with what we believe, with the formation of belief therefore being due to something other than an assessment of truth.


It might be objected that what we believe prior to concluding that X is true isn't X itself, but merely things from which we can infer X, and that that inference constitutes concluding that X agrees with our beliefs - that is, that X is true. Therefore, belief is indeed the product of an assessment of truth. However, inferring X and concluding that X agrees with our beliefs are not the same thing. The former simply involves forming a belief, whereas the latter simply involves comparing a claim with our beliefs. In order to conclude that claim X agrees with our beliefs - that X is true - we must first form belief X, and then compare claim X with belief X. That is, we must infer X before concluding that X is true, even if that belief was only formed immediately prior to that conclusion.


Similarly, it might be objected that believing X and believing that X is true are simply the same thing. That is, neither can be the product of the other, but belief is still dependent on an assessment of truth, in the sense that it is itself an assessment of truth. However, believing X and believing that X is true are actually different beliefs, because the claims X and 'X is true' are different claims. That is, these claims are certainly logically equivalent - that is, they directly imply each other. For example, if today is Monday, then the claim 'Today is Monday' is true - and vice versa. But X and 'X is true' are nevertheless different claims, given that the latter refers to the former. For example, the claim 'Today is Monday' simply concerns today, whereas the claim 'The claim "Today is Monday" is true' concerns a claim about today. Therefore, while believing that today is Monday means that we would the conclude that the claim 'Today is Monday' is true, and believing that this claim is true means that we believe that today is Monday, these are two distinct beliefs. Therefore, again, we must believe X before concluding that X is true, even if that belief was only formed immediately prior to that conclusion.


It might nevertheless be objected that belief-formation, including changing our beliefs, evidently involves assessing the truth of the claims in question. For example, if we believe that today is Monday, but then someone else says that today is actually Sunday, then we may reassess our belief, and assess this contrary claim. And the outcome of that assessment will obviously determine what we believe. However, what actually happens is this. In assessing the truth of these contrary claims, we check for evidence of what day it is, such as looking at our mobile to see what day it's displaying. Upon see that it's displaying 'Sunday' we may form the belief that today is Sunday, and the formation of this belief also constitutes the end of our belief that today is Monday. And after forming this belief we can conclude that our original belief was false, and that the contrary claim of the other person, and which we now also believe, is true. Again, our conclusions of truth are merely conclusions of whether the claims in question agree with our beliefs. Therefore, although assessing the truth of a claim may indeed result in our belief, or unbelief, in it, that belief, or unbelief, must nevertheless occur before our conclusion that the claim is true or false, respectively.


It might also be objected that if we can only ever assess to be true what we already believe, then this implies that we can never form new beliefs, contrary to our evident ability to do so. However, the hidden premise of this objection is that belief is the product of an assessment of truth. Given that beliefs, however they are formed, are not the product of an assessment of truth, the fact that we can only ever assess to be true what we already believe doesn't itself imply that we can never form new beliefs.


The notion that belief is dependent on an assessment of truth arises because:


1) We forget that our beliefs are indeed merely beliefs, and so think, when we're assessing the truth of claims, that we're comparing them directly with reality, and then forming our beliefs accordingly.


2) We know that if we conclude that claim X is true, then we believe X, and we commit the logical error of confusing correlation for causation - that is, we conclude that the latter follows from the former causally, when it actually only follows logically, with the causal relationship actually being the reverse.


Also, as explained:


3) We confuse inferring claim X from our beliefs for concluding that X agrees with our beliefs.


4) We think that believing X and believing that X is true are the same thing, and so think that belief is itself an assessment of truth.


5) Assessing whether a claim is true can stimulate the formation of a belief in it, but we don't notice that the formation of that belief actually occurred just before the conclusion that the claim is true.


2012-07-28
Why do we believe what we believe?
From infancy on, we all try to make sense of the world around us. We infer causal relationships and construct mental models and representations, based on what we have personally experienced or been told by others. We develop our understanding of the world by assimilating new information that is compatible with what we already know and modifying what we already know to accommodate information that isn’t compatible with it (Piaget&Inhelder 1969). 
The question about why we believe what we do has two has two distinct components. One is purely semantic: we automatically believe that what we believe is true because "belief" actually implies "believe to be true." We can believe  that  something is untrue, but not that are belief about it is. We are able, however, to have doubts about whether something we believe is true, since (thankfully) we don't have to be 100% convicted abut everything we believe.

The other issue has to do with content: how do we develop the particular beliefs we have? One way of approaching this is to try an understand why different people develop different beliefs. On the surface at least, this seems to be a function of the particular experiences they have had and the paricular information that has been conveyed to them, particularly during their formative years.

Humans are an odd species. While most other vertebrates fight over territory and mates, we fight over beliefs and ideas. We associate with people that have similar beliefs and are wary of those who believe otherwise. Our history is riddled with groups trying to impose their beliefs on others or, when this doesn't work, trying to exterminate them. Which is why this is such an important question.

Anthony Reading


2012-07-28
Why do we believe what we believe?
However, when we assess whether a claim is true, all we can ever do is assess whether it agrees with our understanding of the matter in question at the moment that we reach our conclusion - which means assessing whether it agrees with what we believe about the matter in question at that moment.

For example, in order to conclude that the claim ‘Tomorrow is Monday’ is true we must first believe that tomorrow is Monday - whether we formed that belief before or during our assessment


Are you assuming a coherence theory of truth?  It sounds like you do when you say the only way to assess whether a claim is true is to assess whether it agrees (coheres?) with what we believe about the matter in question at that moment.  Does your argument still stand if we hold other theories of Truth?  What about a correspondence theory, or a pragmatic theory of Truth?

I disagree with your example.  To conclude that the claim 'Tomorrow is Monday' is true, I do not need to first believe that tomorrow is Monday.  I need only know that Today is Sunday, and know that days follow the ordered sequence Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, ...  I can logically infer that Tomorrow is Monday is true without believing it a priori or simultaneously.  Most mathematical proofs work this way.  I do not need to believe the Riemann Hypothesis in order to conclude that the Riemann Hypothesis is true. I need only form a mathematical argument and see where it leads.


People did not first believe Newtons Laws and then conclude that they were true.  They saw that the laws predicted events accurately, saw that they were true in a correspondence or pragmatic sense, and then came to believe them.  





2012-08-03
Why do we believe what we believe?

What kind of philosophical analysis does the concept of the divine call for? As in all concepts the answers lie in language, for from the language and grammar spurts forth ‘reality’.

The above question is often put as ‘is God real?’ or ‘does God exist?’. But what kinds of question are these? To ask if something is real is a similar question to ‘my Shakespeare first folio is real’, and to verify such a claim one would look to the truth conditions for such an artefact. Does it pass the chemical tests for age, does it conform to Shakespeare’s way of writing etc, etc. We certainly do not ask whether someone believes in Shakespeare’s first folio in the same way as we ask whether someone believes in God. For if the artefact that purports to be Shakespeare’s first folio fails any of these tests then even its most ardent supporter will have to admit that it is a fake. But this situation is not the same with the religious believer. It does not make sense for the religious believer to say ‘I believe in God, but I am prepared to consider the evidence and if the facts are against me I will concede’. For belief, by the very facts of its grammar and syntax, is of a different order. Religious belief is religious belief.

So it seems that we are in two different language systems, or as Wittgenstein would have it we are dealing with two different language games.


2012-08-08
Why do we believe what we believe?
That is interesting.
Where does Spinoza say that exactly?

2012-08-08
Why do we believe what we believe?
Thanks very much for your replies.
Given that my last post took over two weeks to be accepted, I'd prefer to just use other philosophy forums on the web.

If you're interested, I've again revised the article - see the link above - and I think the latest version addresses the objections raised here.

Thanks again - bye.

2012-08-19
Why do we believe what we believe?
Update: I submitted the first part of the latest version of my article to Think, as a standalone article, and it was accepted:

https://www.tryingtothink.org/wiki/How_Belief_Works


I'm going to shortly submit the rest of the above article as a standalone article.


2012-11-12
Why do we believe what we believe?
Further update: I've now had the full article accepted by Think:

http://www.tryingtothink.org/wiki/How_Belief_Works

As I said, I'd had the first part accepted as a standalone article, and was intending to submit the remainder as a second standalone article. However, I found that I needed to include so much of the first article in the second, that I just submitted the full article, which will now be published instead of the first article (if that makes sense!).

I'd still appreciate any further feedback, although please post in the Google Groups forum on my site as I don't normally use this forum.


2013-01-11
Why do we believe what we believe?

After reading your article on How Belief Works, my comments are as follows:

Belief is a product of wisdom plus knowledge equals understanding. We only believe what we understand to be true. And we cannot understand anything without knowledge first. If you claim there is milk in the refrigerator, I have to have some knowledge of the milk first. If I have no understanding of what milk is, how do I believe that there is milk in the first place? Another words, you say there is milk in the refrigerator. How do I believe that statement, when I have no understanding of what milk is? Another way of stating it; you cannot believe or unbelieve something without some knowledge first, whether you understand that knowledge or not.

If  we believe every claim first, then how do I come to understand the truth of the claim? There must be some knowledge of the claim first before I can understand the claim. And if I do not understand the claim, then I cannot believe it.

This brings us back you my formula as stated in my book: wisdom plus knowledge equals understanding. What does that really mean. It means we must have some knowledge to reason through, and when we apply the attitude of wisdom (the power of reason) to that knowledge we come to an understanding about that knowledge. Where does this formula come from? From the wisest man that ever lived: King Soloman, as he states: The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7; NASB) Something to think about.

Respectfully,

Reid Ashbaucher (Author of Made in the Image of God: Understanding the Nature of God and Mankind in a Changing World)