The Belief reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Belief

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Belief is assent to a proposition.

Belief in the psychological sense, is a representational mental state that takes the form of a propositional attitude. In the religious sense, "belief" refers to a part of a wider spiritual or moral foundation, generally called faith.

Belief is considered propositional in that it is an assertion, claim or expectation about reality that is presumed to be either true or false (even if this cannot be practically determined, such as a belief in the existence of a particular deity).

Historically, philosophical attempts to analyze the nature of belief have been couched in terms of judgement. Both David Hume and Immanuel Kant are both particularly well known for their analyses using this framework.

Table of contents
1 Belief, knowledge and epistemology
2 Belief as a psychological theory
3 Is belief voluntary?
4 Delusional beliefs
5 See also

Belief, knowledge and epistemology

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.

To believe something can be interpreted as assigning a probability of more than 50% that something is true. The rule of the thumb from a school of epistemology that says that certainty should be as big as the corresponding evidence is called evidentialism.

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 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:

Is belief voluntary?

Most philosophers hold the view that belief formation is to some extent spontaneous and involuntary. 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.

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.

See also