Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Friday, February 03, 2006

The immorality of belief part 1

One problem with the concept of belief and believing is the big semantic charge that has been put on it. First, there's the epistemic sense of "something you accept as true", wherein there can be "justified beliefs" and an "unjustified beliefs". I am not talking about this sense, but rather about the more common sense of a tenet or body of tenets accepted on faith.

Let me first dispatch some other common uses of "belief" :

* A belief is not an inductive assumption. Unlike a belief, inductive assumptions are directly supported by experience. Also, an assumption does not set out a specific framework of interpretation, it is part of our daily experience and is interpreted as part of our daily experience.

Examples :
"I believe the Sun will come up tomorrow."
"I believe that people are trustworthy."
Why should I believe in such things ? Either they are reasonable assumptions to make, or they are not. If they are, then simply say "the Sun will come up tomorrow". If they are not, then why believe in them ?

* A belief is not a value. Once again, values are supported by experience and have a direct impact on our daily lives. Furthermore, it makes no sense to believe in a value : either it is part of your value system or it is not. The question of belief is pretty irrelevant in this case. This is the only case where even the epistemic definition of "belief" does not apply, and thus is doubly egregious.

Examples :
"I believe in love."
"You have to believe in yourself."
Why should I "believe" in love ? Either I value love or I don't. My choice does not change the fact that some people do value it, and therefore this cannot be an ontological issue, and belief is not relevant in the same sense than it is with a proposition like "I believe in the existence of God".

* A belief is not a hope. A hope is a mental attitude, not an epistemic position, and it is acknowledged as false when it does not come true. A belief, however, cannot be disproven to the believer.

Examples :
"I believe everything will turn out OK."
"I believe in the afterlife because without it our life is in vain."
Once again, either everything turns our OK or it doesn't, either our life is in vain or it is not (presuming that I accept the reasoning, which I of course do not). There is no reason for belief here. Furthermore, these hopes reflect a mental attitude on my part and not an ontological position. I do not actually hold it as true that everything will turn out OK - it is a hope.

So now that I've eliminated these flawed uses of "belief" and "believe", what do I think counts as an actual belief ? For one thing, a belief is a proposition. That right there eliminates the "value" and "hope" meanings. Secondly, a belief is a proposition accepted on faith. This eliminates the "inductive assumption" meaning.

In part 2, I examine whether belief is immoral.

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At 2/03/2006 7:55 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

This is a really important distinction to make. One of the common Christian rejoinders to atheological arguments (and not just within this blog) is, "but you have faith in things, too!"

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