Saturday, September 23, 2006

Telling them apart

Beliefs cause problems.

Those of different religions, and those differing within religions, have before - and could again - kill to assert supremacy. And religion will affect social and political policy, and only those who believe will agree with it.
Those of different political views will pull and push and distend the workings of the world around us. And the world will flux and please no-one, because no-one is able to get the total mandate necessary to shape the world in the way they think best.
Those of different moral beliefs will pour distaste and scorn, they will privilege the rich and condemn the poor, or they will demand that there is a standard of behaviour that must be kept. And there will always be some who, by no fault of their own, are branded as the outcast.

Beliefs condemn us to an eternity of incomplete revolutions, because so much hinges on belief, and belief will always be fought tooth-and-nail by those contrary.

This is the case because beliefs are not solely based on evidence, or reason, or otherwise there would be much more agreement.
Consider a morally and socially conservative family, who discover a son or daughter to be gay. After much wailing and gnashing, they come to accept the son or daughter and, therefore, homosexuality in general. Not through evidence, but through familial necessity and strength of emotion.
Consider an atheist who, in middle-age, decides that the empty rotting death of the unbeliever is not a fitting ending. Human life is too precious, so there must be more, and there must be a God to guide us. Not through reason, but through the desire to find spiritual life (and death) insurance.
Consider the businessperson who has disavowed previous ideals - socialist, communist, Leninist, anarchist - and is now part of the conservative status quo, arguing that 'I have to protect my position'. Is this through evidence? Is this through reason? Yes, it would seem so - but used for selfish ends. It is the belief of 'what suits me right now'.

Contrast this with the philosophical use of beliefs, which we might typify as attempts to uncover the truth as much as possible and base action upon it. Commitments to ideals that are the only measures to ensure the future of humanity. Argued over, decried as assumptions, taken as slippery but indispensable, criticised and the focus of attention.

It seems that some people talk about what they believe, but they don't care about the evidence behind or logic within their statements. They do not believe out of truth, but out of some other reason. Are all these things beliefs? Are there two or more types of beliefs that we must differentiate? Are there infinite gradiations of beliefs, starting from the noblest and truest to the most grovellingly self-serving?
Is believing just an action, something you do, regardless of why? Or is the intent of it important too? Perhaps I make the mistake of labelling beliefs that lead to conclusions we do not endorse as false, just to suit my own pretensions. If beliefs aren't trustworthy, I am not even sure how to trust my own.

3 Comments:

Blogger Atum said...

I agree that beliefs cause problems, sort out problems, are trustworthy or untrustworthy etc. They are in truth the expressions of the mind's relationship to its objects, and as such are pretty total when it comes to their importance.

Are there two or more types of beliefs? Strictly speaking there are true and false beliefs, so in this sense there are always two types, but a useful belief, like a belief inferred from evidence, is not necessarily one or the other. You probably guessed that I would, when you say that people don't believe because they think that something is true, want to rubbish this somehow. I do think it right that since belief simply is thinking that something is true, and if it happens that we don't think something is true, we simply don't believe it.

"Perhaps I make the mistake of labelling beliefs that lead to conclusions we do not endorse as false, just to suit my own pretensions. If beliefs aren't trustworthy, I am not even sure how to trust my own."

I suppose it's the same problem as accepting as valid arguments only those of which you think the premises and conclusions are true. Beliefs are always true in the sense that we have them, but beyond this their truth value is totally up for grabs, which is why we like evidence. The only way humanity has been able to guarantee the truth of beliefs is to show that they are necessarily true, so the question of why we should trust our beliefs is about as good a question as we can possibly get. We could even, like Quine for example, say that even necessary beliefs aren't safe, as we are liable to accept different things as necessary at different times.

Are beliefs trustwothy? Not when considered as beliefs, but if we didn't think our beliefs were trustworthy we wouldn't have them.

12:13 PM  
Blogger News is Good said...

My current conclusion is that beliefs are open to abuse. We can posit beliefs as the causes behind human events in ways that suit our own ends, and even stretch this helpful rhetoric to our own beliefs. Someone can actually use a belief that they don't really hold to attain a certain end and, because of the fracture psychology of human thought and its arguments, not quite realise that they are fooling themselvse (albeit in a way that they endorse!).

Let us move away from discussing belief and talk about truth. Or is that just another name for the same trap?

6:23 PM  
Blogger Atum said...

I think to move off of belief would be to give the term up to its false definition. Because we use beliefs that other people hold, promote them as our beliefs, whilst not believing them, the word 'belief' becomes not just a political gesture (beliefs will be this anyway) but a political tool that is deceptive of what we actually do believe. Is talking about truth moving off of the subject of belief? I think if we ask for the truth about our beliefs, then it isn't, but if we're interested in promoting our ability to be truthful in general, we lose sight of the fact that our use of the word 'belief' is a major part of this problem, and so will be looking at a general problem rather than its specific root.

7:28 PM  

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