• Banno
    3.4k
    This thread is a discussion of belief.

    In the first few pages there was some confusion that it was an attempt to define belief. It's not, since any such definition will be ultimately circular. The approach here will be analytic, but include some phenomenological observations.

    Of course what is written here is subject to review. I'm making it up as I go along.

    A belief is a propositional attitude.
    That is, it can be placed in a general form as a relation between someone and a proposition. So "John believes that the sky is blue" can be rendered as

    Believes (John, "The sky is blue")

    B(a,p)

    There's ill will in some circles towards this sort of analysis. Think of this as setting up a basic structure or grammar for belief. A belief is a relation between an individual and a proposition. That there is much more to be said about belief is not in contention; this is just a place to start. This is set as a falsifiable proposition. If there are any examples of beliefs that cannot be stated as relations between individuals and propositions, this proposal would have to be revisited.

    It has been suggested that animal and other non-linguistic beliefs are a falsification of this suggestion. The argument is that non-linguistic creatures can have beliefs and yet cannot express these beliefs as propositions, and that hence beliefs cannot be propositional attitudes. But that is a misreading of what is going on here. Any belief, including that of creatures that cannot speak, can be placed in the form of a propositional attitude by those who can speak. A cat, for example, can believe that its bowl is empty, but cannot put that belief in the form B(a,p).

    Belief does not imply truth
    One obvious consequence of a belief being a relation between an individual and a proposition is that the truth of the proposition is unrelated to the truth of the belief.

    That is, folk can believe things that are untrue. Or not believe things that are true.

    A corollary of this is that belief does not stand in opposition to falsehood, but to doubt. Truth goes with falsehood, belief with doubt. And at the extreme end of belief we find certainty. In certainty, doubt is inadmissible.

    If belief does not imply truth, and if one holds to the Justified True Belief definition of knowledge, it follows that belief does not imply knowledge.

    The individual who has the belief holds that the proposition is true.
    This is, if you like, the significance of a belief statement. It follows from Moore's paradox, in which someone is assume to believe something that they hold not to be true. For example:

    "I believe the world is flat, but the world is not flat".

    While this is difficult to set out as a clear contradiction, there is something deeply unhappy about it. The conclusion is that one thinks that what one believes is indeed true.

    Note that Moore's paradox is in the first person. "John believes the world is flat, but the world is not flat" is not paradoxical - John is just wrong. "John believes that the world is flat and John believes the world is not flat" - John is inconsistent.

    The perforative paradox comes about only when expressed in the first person.

    One might think it so trivial that it is not worth saying: to believe some proposition is to believe that proposition to be true.

    That is, talk of belief requires talk of truth.

    One might be tempted, perhaps by pragmatism or by Bayesian thoughts, to replace that with measures of probability. You might think yourself only 99.99% certain that the cat is on the mat, and suppose thereby that you have banished truth. But of course, one is also thereby 99.99% certain that "the cat is on the mat" is true.

    Belief makes sense of error
    Austin talked of words that gain their meaning - use - mostly by being contrasted with their opposite. His example was real.

    "it's not a fake; it's real"
    "it's not a mirage, it's real!"
    It's not a mistake - it's real"

    and so on.

    Belief can be understood in a similar fashion, as gaining it's usefulness from the contrast between a true belief and a false belief. That is, an important aspect of belief is that sometimes we think that something is the case, and yet it is not.

    We bring belief into the discourse in order to make sense of such errors.

    Belief is dynamic
    Beliefs change over time. It follows that a decent account of belief must be able to account for this dynamism.

    Beliefs explain but do not determine actions
    Beliefs are used to explain actions. Further, such explanations are causal and sufficient. So if we have appropriate desires and a beliefs we can explain an action.

    So, given that John is hungry, and that John believes eating a sandwich will remove his hunger, we have a sufficient causal explanation for why John ate the sandwich.

    One may act in ways that are contrary to one's beliefs. A dissident may comply in order to protect herself and her family.

    So given that John is hungry, and has a sandwich at hand, it does not follow that John will eat the sandwich.


    Phenomenal states

    Talk of phenomenal states strikes me as misguided.

    If they are ineffable personal experiences, then they cannot be discussed - that's what "ineffable" means.

    But if they can be spoken of, then they are our feelings, emotions and so on - stuff we already speak of.

    So either phenomenal states do not enter into the discussion, or we have been talking about them for a very long time.

    Either way, they do not add to the discussion.

    An individual's belief is inscrutable
    One can act in ways contrary to one's beliefs. It's a result of the lack of symmetry between beliefs and actions mentioned above - Beliefs explain but do not determine actions. Thanks due to @Hanover and @Cabbage Farmer.

    Any belief can be made to account for any action, by adding suitable auxiliary beliefs.



    This edit July 12
  • WISDOMfromPO-MO
    753
    A belief is simply information/data that has found a place in the mind where it is rarely, if ever, deliberately, consciously questioned, scrutinized, evaluated, etc.

    It does not mean that the person whose mind it has colonized likes it, thinks that it probably corresponds with some external reality, etc. Hence, you get people saying things like, "I don't want to believe A, but I can't shake it".
  • Banno
    3.4k
    has found a place in the mindWISDOMfromPO-MO

    And so it begins.

    Talk of places in the mind must be metaphorical - the mind does not have places.

    What is it to have a place in the mind?
  • WISDOMfromPO-MO
    753
    What is it to have a place in the mind?Banno

    Being a repressed memory.

    Being in conscious thought presently and causing anxiety.

    Etc.
  • mcdoodle
    995
    Banno, I keep thinking about examples like this. I wrote dialogue all my working life as a scriptwriter so I have a certain take on it. I won't be offended if you just rule it out straight away but it is a serious question.

    So - my view - or at least the case I propose - is that 'John believes that the sky is blue' is always something about the speaker or writer of these words in their relation to their addressee(s) and can never be meaningfully removed from them into a pseudo-logical 'rendering'. You are assuming 'use', I am alleging language is always hovering between 'use' and 'mention'.

    We are on Mars where the sky is actually purple.

    We are in a retirement home where John stares out through a bleak window.

    We are in a painting class which is supposed to be portraying the dark grey scene outside.

    What sense does any translation or rendering like 'Believes(John, "The sky is blue")' make in these situations, as instances? How does such a rendering communicate to anyone else what is going on in such scenes? Isn't it just lexical rather than having any wider 'meaning'?
  • WISDOMfromPO-MO
    753
    A belief is probably mental content that needs evidence to be disrupted in any way. The deeper the belief is held, the more evidence will be required to disrupt it.
  • WISDOMfromPO-MO
    753
    It would help to have examples that are from the same class as beliefs--maybe the class is "mental content"--but are non-beliefs.

    Maybe a feeling is mental content but is a non-belief, for example.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    I'm not too avers to the notion.

    What sense does any translation or rendering like 'Believes(John, "The sky is blue")' make in these situations, as instances? How does such a rendering communicate to anyone else what is going on in such scenes? Isn't it just lexical rather than having any wider 'meaning'?mcdoodle

    I'm not claiming that rendering belief in such a relational form is all there is - far from it. I'm hoping that it gives us a starting point, not a whole story.

    • We are on Mars where the sky is actually purple - John's sense of colour has altered.
    • We are in a retirement home where John stares out through a bleak window - John happily contemplates his past
    • We are in a painting class which is supposed to be portraying the dark grey scene outside - John wasn't listening to the instructions.

    What we might gain is a structure from which to build an understanding.
  • mcdoodle
    995
    What we might gain is a structure from which to build an understanding.Banno

    I completely agree. But that might be Chomsky-as-scientist type understanding: logical form might somehow underlie how our minds work.It might however be the wrong sort of clue as to how things are between us as creatures. Maybe philosophically 'belief' is just a silly bit of linguistic bollox ('belief' doesn't always translate well, interestingly, into other languages).

    I'm not meaning I have an answer here.

    I wondered about the idea 'alief' as proposed by Gendler: a normative contrasting feeling-in-the-head. But I don't know if that contributes towards the structure we both want, or if, conversely, it's just inventing some more linguistic bollox :)
  • Banno
    3.4k
    Maybe philosophically 'belief' is just a silly bit of linguistic bolloxmcdoodle

    That's not too far from my own intuition. Hence my question about a belief having a place in the mind - or even being in the mind.

    What could that mean?

    'belief' doesn't always translate well, interestingly, into other languagesmcdoodle

    That's interesting - references? I'd like to know more.
  • Wayfarer
    6.6k
    There’s a current academic I’m reading, Katja Vogt, who has some interesting things to say about this idea, in a book called Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato:

    In A Skeptic Reading of Plato, I explore a Socratic intuition about the difference between belief and knowledge. Beliefs, doxai, are deficient cognitive attitudes. In believing something, one accepts some content as true without knowing that it is true; one holds something to be true that could turn out to be false. Since our actions reflect what we hold to be true, holding beliefs is potentially harmful for oneself and others. Accordingly, beliefs are ethically worrisome and even, in the words of Plato’s Socrates, “shameful.” As I argue, this is a serious philosophical proposal. It speaks to intuitions we are likely to share, but it involves a notion of belief that is rather different from contemporary notions. Today, it is a widespread assumption that true beliefs are better than false beliefs, and that some true beliefs (perhaps those that come with justifications) qualify as knowledge. Socratic epistemology offers a genuinely different picture. In aiming for knowledge, one must aim to get rid of beliefs. Knowledge does not entail belief. Belief and knowledge differ in such important ways that they cannot both count as kinds of belief. As long as one does not have knowledge, one should reserve judgment and investigate by thinking through possible ways of seeing things.

    Note also the customary distinction in Platonic epistemology distinguishing doxa, pistis, dianoia, and noesis, which are elaborated at length in the Analogy of the Divided Line, in the Republic. In this scheme, doxa and pistis correspond to belief, whereas the other terms denote knowledge (of mathematical truths and the Ideas, respectively.)

    In your case, John knows the sky is blue - unless, presumably, John is blind, or he’s relying on someone else’s report. But unless that is the case, he knows it, doesn’t simply believe it.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    In so far as each is a propositional attitude, we can use the same rendering:


    dianoia(Jack, "4 is the square of 2")

    Would that work?
  • Wayfarer
    6.6k
    It trivialises it a bit. I think you have to inject a bit of existentialism into it - like, what does it mean? I mean, you’ve been arguing about ‘the red cup’ on philosophy forums for how long?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    It trivialises it a bit.Wayfarer

    if so the question becomes - what has been lost? Suggestions?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    So what about the spectrometer measuring the number of photons in the wavelength that most people associate with "blue". Does it 'believe' that the sky is blue, or does it contain that information in some other form?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    What do you think?
  • Wayfarer
    6.6k
    It might contain information, but until an observer is informed by it, nothing is ‘blue’. ‘A thermometer’s registration cannot be considered an act of observation, because it contains no meaning’ ~ Erwin Schrodinger.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    So we don't wish to say that the thermostat believes it is cold?

    In the propositional attitude relation from the OP, the relation of belief does not apply to machines.

    So in B(a,p), (a) cannot be a machine.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    So does (a) have to be human?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    I think that if we have a simple definition of belief such as you propose where the 'fact' simply resides in, or belongs to, a person, then we are committed to an epistemological framework which gives some special ability or feature to humans. That they alone can contain/possess beliefs. I see no justification for this additional complication to the theory.

    If the 'fact' that the sky is 'blue' (by which we mean the sky has properties that allow it membership of the set 'things which we call blue') is simply contained in John, then the spectrometer also contains that data.

    The way out of this is to have a behaviourist approach to belief. John is acting in response to the blueness of the sky.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    If the 'fact' that the sky is 'blue'...Pseudonym

    But this is a thread about belief, not facts. I'm not suggesting that facts reside in minds.

    John can believe things that are not facts. Can a thermometer believe it is cold when it is hot?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    Then what is "the sky is blue"? It cannot be a belief because it is itself just a variable in the thing you are defining as a belief. The first variable is a 'person', so what would you call the second variable in your definition?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    What is it to have a place in the mind?
    — Banno

    Being a repressed memory.

    Being in conscious thought presently and causing anxiety.

    Etc.
    WISDOMfromPO-MO

    So beliefs are some of those things that are in the mind.

    Being in the mind does not however mean that it i something we are thinking about - hence you include repressed memories.

    What is it to be in the mind?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    A proposition.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    OK, so what is preventing the spectrometer from containing a proposition?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    So does John contain a proposition?

    Or does he have an attitude towards that proposition?
  • Wayfarer
    6.6k
    So in B(a,p), (a) cannot be a machine.Banno

    (Y)
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    Yes, I would say that in order to avoid the counter-intuitive conclusion that the spectrometer 'believes' the sky is blue, we have to add to our definition that the subject of the belief has some attitude towards it.

    Essentially I would say that John 'believes' the sky is blue if some reaction within John is a consequence of the blueness of the sky.

    Of course this definition means that a computer could believe that the sky is blue, but I have no problem with that.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    I would say that John 'believes' the sky is blue if some reaction within John is a consequence of the blueness of the sky.Pseudonym

    Would you be comfortable with saying that the thermostat believed it was cold, so it turned on the heater?

    Moreover, where is that belief?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Would you be comfortable with saying that the thermostat believed it was cold, so it turned on the heater?Banno

    Yes, I see no reason to ascribe some special factor to human responses to external stimuli. The simplest explanation seems entirely adequate. John's senses have detected that the sky is blue. This information is meaningless until John responds in some way, maybe his brain retrieves some memories of other times the sky was blue, or maybe he is moved to speak the words "the sky is blue". In either case I'm not seeing any magical thing needed to explain John that is not present in the reacting thermometer.

    How would we describe the reaction of a thermometer which was somehow tricked into turning the heating on despite the fact that the room was very warm. To say the thermometer reacted that way because it 'believed' the room was cold seems an entirely consistent use of the word.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    Hm. It seems your view might be contrasted with PO-MO's

    A belief is simply information/data that has found a place in the mindWISDOMfromPO-MO

    Is there a place or thing in the thermostat that we could call the belief that it is cold?
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