From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Religious belief)
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the general concept. For other uses, see Belief (disambiguation).

Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty. In other words, belief is when someone thinks something is reality, true, when they have no absolute verified foundation for their certainty of the truth or realness of something.[1] Another way of defining belief is, it is a mental representation of an attitude positively orientated towards the likelihood of something being true.[2] In the context of Ancient Greek thought, two related concepts were identified with regards to the concept of belief: pistis and doxa. Simplified, we may say that pistis refers to trust and confidence, while doxa refers to opinion and acceptance. The English word doctrine is derived from doxa.

In epistemology, philosophers use the term ‘belief’ to refer to personal attitudes associated with true or false ideas and concepts. However, ‘belief’ does not require active introspection and circumspection. For example, we never ponder whether or not the sun will rise. We simply assume the sun will rise. Since ‘belief’ is an important aspect of mundane life, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the question that must be answered is, “how a physical organism can have beliefs” (

A Venn/Euler diagram which grants that truth and belief may be distinguished and that their intersection is knowledge. Unsurprisingly, this is a controversial analysis.

Knowledge and epistemology[edit]

Epistemology is concerned with delineating the boundary between justified belief and opinion,[3] and involved generally with a theoretical philosophical study of knowledge. The primary problem in epistemology is to understand exactly what is needed in order for us to have knowledge. In a notion derived from Plato's dialogue Theaetetus, where the epistemology of Socrates (Platon) most clearly departs from that of the sophists, who at the time of Plato seem to have defined knowledge as what is here expressed as "justified true belief". The tendency to translate from belief (here: doxa - common opinion) to knowledge (here: episteme), which Plato (e.g. Socrates of the dialogue) utterly dismisses, results from failing to distinguish a dispositive belief (gr. 'doxa', not 'pistis') from knowledge (episteme) when the opinion is regarded true (here: orthé), in terms of right, and juristically so (according to the premises of the dialogue). Which was the task of the rhetors to prove. Plato dismisses this possibility of an affirmative relation between belief (i.e. opinion) and knowledge even when the one who opines grounds his belief on the rule, and is able to add justification (gr. logos: reasonable and necessarily plausible assertions/evidence/guidance) to it [3].[4] It is important to keep in mind that the sort of belief in the context of Theaetetus is not derived from the theological concept of belief, which is pistis, but doxa, which in theological terms refers to acceptance in the form of praise and glory.

Strangely, or not, Plato has been credited for the "justified true belief" theory of knowledge, even though Plato in the Theaetetus (dialogue) elegantly dismisses it, and even posits this argument of Socrates as a cause for his death penalty . Among American epistemologists, Gettier (1963)[5] and Goldman (1967),[6] have questioned the "justified true belief" definition, and challenged the "sophists" of their time.

As a psychological phenomenon[edit]

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 abstract in their analysis, and much of the work examining the viability of the belief concept stems from philosophical analysis.

The concept of 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, whose foundations and relation to brain states are still controversial.

Beliefs are sometimes divided into core beliefs (that are actively thought about) and dispositional beliefs (that may be ascribed to someone who has not thought about the issue). For example, if asked "do you believe tigers wear pink pajamas?" a person might answer that they do not, despite the fact they may never have thought about this situation before.[7]

This has important implications for understanding the neuropsychology and neuroscience of belief. If the concept of belief is incoherent, then any attempt to find the underlying neural processes that support it will fail.

Philosopher Lynne Rudder Baker has outlined four main contemporary approaches to belief in her controversial book Saving Belief:[8]

  • Our common-sense understanding of belief is correct - Sometimes called the "mental sentence theory," in this conception, beliefs exist as coherent entities, and the way we talk about them in everyday life is a valid basis for scientific endeavour. Jerry Fodor is one of the principal defenders of this point of view.
  • Our common-sense understanding of belief may not be entirely correct, but it is close enough to make some useful predictions - This view argues that we will eventually reject the idea of belief as we use it now, but that there may be a correlation between what we take to be a belief when someone says "I believe that snow is white" and how a future theory of psychology will explain this behaviour. Most notably, philosopher Stephen Stich has argued for this particular understanding of belief.
  • Our common-sense understanding of belief is entirely wrong and will be completely superseded by a radically different theory that will have no use for the concept of belief as we know it - Known as eliminativism, this view (most notably proposed by Paul and Patricia Churchland) argues that the concept of belief is like obsolete theories of times past such as the four humours theory of medicine, or the phlogiston theory of combustion. In these cases science hasn't provided us with a more detailed account of these theories, but completely rejected them as valid scientific concepts to be replaced by entirely different accounts. The Churchlands argue that our common-sense concept of belief is similar in that as we discover more about neuroscience and the brain, the inevitable conclusion will be to reject the belief hypothesis in its entirety.
  • Our common-sense understanding of belief is entirely wrong; however, treating people, animals, and even computers as if they had beliefs is often a successful strategy - The major proponents of this view, Daniel Dennett and Lynne Rudder Baker, are both eliminativists in that they hold that beliefs are not a scientifically valid concept, but they don't go as far as rejecting the concept of belief as a predictive device. Dennett gives the example of playing a computer at chess. While few people would agree that the computer held beliefs, treating the computer as if it did (e.g. that the computer believes that taking the opposition's queen will give it a considerable advantage) is likely to be a successful and predictive strategy. In this understanding of belief, named by Dennett the intentional stance, belief-based explanations of mind and behaviour are at a different level of explanation and are not reducible to those based on fundamental neuroscience, although both may be explanatory at their own level.

Epistemological belief compared to religious belief[edit]

Historically belief-in belonged in the realm of religious thought, belief-that instead belonged to epistemological considerations.[9]


To "believe in" someone or something is a distinct concept from "believing-that." There are at least these types of belief-in:[10]

  • Commendatory / Faith - we may make an expression of 'faith' in respect of some performance by an agent X, when without prejudice to the truth value of the factual outcome or even confidence in X otherwise, we expect that specific performance. In particular self-confidence or faith in one's self is this kind of belief.
  • Existential claim - to claim belief in the existence of an entity or phenomenon in a general way with the implied need to justify its claim to existence. It is often used when the entity is not real, or its existence is in doubt. "He believes in witches and ghosts" or "many children believe in Santa Claus" or "I believe in a deity" are typical examples.[11] The linguistic form is distinct from the assertion of the truth of a proposition since verification is either considered impossible/irrelevant or a counterfactual situation is assumed.


Economical belief[edit]

Economic beliefs are beliefs which are reasonably and necessarily contrary to the tenet of rational choice or instrumental rationality.[12]

Studies of the Austrian tradition of the economic thought, in the context of analysis of the influence and subsequent degree of change resulting from existing economic knowledge and belief, has contributed the most to the subsequent holistic collective analysis.[13]


Insofar as the truth of belief is expressed in sentential and propositional form we are using the sense of belief-that rather than belief-in. Delusion arises when the truth value of the form is clearly nil. [14][15][16]

Delusions are defined as beliefs in psychiatric diagnostic criteria[17] (for example in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Psychiatrist and historian G.E. 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.

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass the White Queen says, "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." This is often quoted in mockery of the common ability of people to entertain beliefs contrary to fact.


We are influenced by many factors that ripple through our minds as our beliefs form, evolve, and may eventually change

Psychologists study belief formation and the relationship between beliefs and actions. Three models of belief formation and change have been proposed:

The Conditional Inference Process

When people are asked to estimate the likelihood that a statement is true, they search their memory for information that has implications for the validity of this statement. Once this information has been identified, they estimate a) the likelihood that the statement would be true if the information were true, and b) the likelihood that the statement would be true if the information were false. If their estimates for these two probabilities differ, people average them, weighting each by the likelihood that the information is true and false (respectively). Thus, information bears directly on beliefs of another, related statement.[18]

Linear Models of Belief Formation

Unlike the previous model, this one takes into consideration the possibility of multiple factors influencing belief formation. Using regression procedures, this model predicts belief formation on the basis of several different pieces of information, with weights assigned to each piece on the basis of their relative importance.[18]

Information Processing Models of Belief Formation and Change

These models address the fact that the responses people have to belief-relevant information is unlikely to be predicted from the objective basis of the information that they can recall at the time their beliefs are reported. Instead, these responses reflect the number and meaning of the thoughts that people have about the message at the time that they encounter it.[18]

Some influences on people's belief formation include:

  • Internalization of beliefs during childhood, which can form and shape our beliefs in different domains. Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said that "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." Political beliefs depend most strongly on the political beliefs most common in the community where we live.[19] Most individuals believe the religion they were taught in childhood.[20]
  • Charismatic leaders can form and/or modify beliefs (even if those beliefs fly in the face of all previous beliefs).[21] Is belief voluntary? Rational individuals need to reconcile their direct reality with any said belief; therefore, if belief is not present or possible, it reflects the fact that contradictions were necessarily overcome using cognitive dissonance.
  • Advertising can form or change beliefs through repetition, shock, and association with images of sex, love, beauty, and other strong positive emotions.[22] Contrary to intuition, a delay, known as the sleeper effect, instead of immediate succession may increase an advertisement's ability to persuade viewer's beliefs if a discounting cue is present.[23]
  • Physical trauma, especially to the head, can radically alter a person's beliefs.[24]

However, even educated people, well aware of the process by which beliefs form, still strongly cling to their beliefs, and act on those beliefs even against their own self-interest. In Anna Rowley's book, Leadership Therapy, she states "You want your beliefs to change. It's proof that you are keeping your eyes open, living fully, and welcoming everything that the world and people around you can teach you." This means that peoples' beliefs should evolve as they gain new experiences.[25]

Justified true belief[edit]

Justified true belief is a definition of knowledge that is most frequently credited to Plato and his dialogues.[26] The concept of justified true belief states that in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but also have justification for doing so. In more formal terms, a subject S knows that a proposition P is true if and only if:

  1. P is true
  2. S believes that P is true, and
  3. S is justified in believing that P is true

This theory of knowledge suffered a significant setback with the discovery of Gettier problems, situations in which the above conditions were seemingly met but that many philosophers disagree that anything is known.[27] Robert Nozick suggested a clarification of "justification" which he believed eliminates the problem: the justification has to be such that were the justification false, the knowledge would be false. If so we can say belief becomes knowledge (accepted reality) when it is justified.


See also: Belief revision

An extensive amount of scientific research and philosophical discussion exists around the modification of beliefs, which is commonly referred to as belief revision. Generally speaking, the process of belief revision entails the believer weighing the set of truths and/or evidence, and the dominance of a set of truths or evidence on an alternative to a held belief can lead to revision. One process of belief revision is Bayesian updating and is often referenced for its mathematical basis and conceptual simplicity. However, such a process may not be representative for individuals whose beliefs are not easily characterized as probabilistic.

There are several techniques for individuals or groups to change the beliefs of others; these methods generally fall under the umbrella of persuasion. Persuasion can take on more specific forms such as consciousness raising when considered in an activist or political context. Belief modification may also occur as a result of the experience of outcomes. Because goals are based, in part on beliefs, the success or failure at a particular goal may contribute to modification of beliefs that supported the original goal.

Whether or not belief modification actually occurs is dependent not only on the extent of truths or evidence for the alternative belief, but also characteristics outside the specific truths or evidence. This includes, but is not limited to: the source characteristics of the message, such as credibility; social pressures; the anticipated consequences of a modification; or the ability of the individual or group to act on the modification. Therefore, individuals seeking to achieve belief modification in themselves or others need to consider all possible forms of resistance to belief revision.


Without qualification, "belief" normally implies a lack of doubt, especially insofar as it is a designation of a life stance. In practical everyday use however, belief is normally partial and retractable with varying degrees of certainty.

A copious literature exists in multiple disciplines to accommodate this reality. In mathematics probability, fuzzy logic, fuzzy set theory, and other topics are largely directed to this.


Different psychological models have tried to predict people's beliefs and some of them try to estimate the exact probabilities of beliefs. For example, Robert Wyer developed a model of subjective probabilities.[28][29] When people rate the likelihood of a certain statement (e.g., "It will rain tomorrow"), this rating can be seen as a subjective probability value. The subjective probability model posits that these subjective probabilities follow the same rules as objective probabilities. For example, the law of total probability might be applied to predict a subjective probability value. Wyer found that this model produces relatively accurate predictions for probabilities of single events and for changes in these probabilities, but that the probabilities of several beliefs linked by "and" or "or" do not follow the model as well.[28][29]


Religion collage updated.jpg

Religious belief refers to attitudes towards mythological, supernatural, or spiritual aspects of a religion. Religious belief is distinct from religious practice or religious behaviours with some believers not practicing religion and some practitioners not believing religion. Religious beliefs, being derived from ideas that are exclusive to religion, often relate to the existence, characteristics and worship of a deity or deities, divine intervention in the universe and human life, or the deontological explanations for the values and practices centered on the teachings of a spiritual leader or group. In contrast to other belief systems, religious beliefs are usually codified.[30]

Forms of religious belief[edit]

While it is popularly conceived that religions each have identifiable and exclusive sets of beliefs or creeds, surveys of religious belief have often found that the official doctrine and descriptions of the beliefs offered by religious authorities do not always agree with the privately held beliefs of those who identify as members of a particular religion.[31] A broad classification of the kinds of religious belief is documented below


First self-applied as a term to the conservative doctrine outlined by anti-modernist Protestants in the United States of America,[32] fundamentalism as a religious belief is associated with a strict adherence to an interpretation of scriptures that are generally associated with theologically conservative positions or traditional understandings of the text and are distrustful of innovative readings, new revelation, or alternate interpretations. Religious fundamentalism has been identified in the media as being associated with fanatical or zealous political movements around the world that have used a strict adherence to a particular religious doctrine as a means to establish political identity and enforce societal norms.


First used in the context of Early Christianity, orthodoxy is a religious belief that closely follows the edicts, apologies, and hermeneutics of a prevailing religious authority. In the case of Early Christianity, this authority was the communion of bishops, and is often referred to by the term [Magisterium]. The term orthodox was applied almost as an epithet to a group of Jewish believers who held to pre-Enlightenment understanding of Judaism and now known as Orthodox Judaism. The Eastern Orthodox Church of Christianity, as well as the Catholic Church, consider themselves to be the true heir to the Early Christian belief and practice. The antonym of orthodox is heterodox and those adhering to orthodoxy often accuse the heterodox of apostasy, schism, or heresy.


The Renaissance and later the Enlightenment in Europe were associated with varying degrees of religious tolerance and intolerance towards new religious ideas. The Philosophes took particular exception to many of the more fantastical claims of religions and directly challenged religious authority and the prevailing beliefs associated with the established churches. In response to the liberalizing political and social movements, some religious groups attempted to integrate Enlightenment ideals of rationality, equality, and individual liberty into their belief systems, especially into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Reform Judaism and Liberal Christianity are two examples of such religious associations.


Main article: Superstition

A term signifying derogation that is used by the religious and non-religious alike, superstition is the deprecated belief in supernatural causation. Those who deny the existence of the supernatural generally attribute all beliefs associated with it to be superstitious while a typical religious critique of superstition holds that it either encompasses beliefs in non-existent supernatural activity or that the supernatural activity is inappropriately feared or held in improper regard (see idolatry). Occultism, animism, paganism, and other folk religions were strongly condemned by Christian Churches as mean forms of superstition, though such condemnation did not necessarily eliminate the beliefs among the common people and many such religious beliefs persist to today.


In Buddhism, practice and progress along the spiritual path happens when one follows the system of Buddhist practice. Any religion which follows (parts of) the fundamentals of this system has, according to the teachings of Buddha, good aspects to the extent it accords with this system. Any religion which goes against (parts of) the fundamentals of this system, includes bad aspects too. Any religion which does not teach certain parts of this system, is not because of this a 'bad' religion; it just lacks those teachings and is to that extent incomplete.

A question by the monk Subhadda to the Buddha:

"O Gotama, there are Samanas (wandering monks) and Brahmanas (religious leaders) who are leaders of their sects, who are well-esteemed by many people, such as Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sancaya Belatthaputta and Nigantha Nataputta. Do all of them have knowledge and understanding as they themselves have declared? Or do all of them have no knowledge and understanding?"

The reply by Buddha was:

"Subhadda, in whatever teaching is not found the Noble Eightfold Path, neither in it is there found a Samana of the first stage, nor a Samana of the second stage, nor a Samana of the third stage, nor a Samana of the fourth stage."

As a religious tradition, Hinduism has experienced many attempts at systemization. In medieval times, Shankara advocated for the Advaita system of philosophy. In recent times, Tamala Krishna Gosvami has researched the systemization of Krishna theology as expounded by Srila Prabhupada. (See Krishnology)


Some believe that religion cannot be separated from other aspects of life, or believe that certain cultures did not or do not separate their religious activities from other activities in the same way that some people in modern Western cultures do.

Some anthropologists[who?] report cultures in which gods are involved in every aspect of life - if a cow goes dry, a god has caused this, and must be propitiated, when the sun rises in the morning, a god has caused this, and must be thanked. Even in modern Western cultures, many people see supernatural forces behind every event, as described by Carl Sagan in his book The Demon-Haunted World.

People with this worldview often consider the influence of Western culture to be inimical. Others with this world view resist the influence of science, and believe that science, or "so-called science", should be guided by religion. Still others with this worldview believe that all political decisions and laws should be guided by religion. This last belief is written into the constitution of many Islamic nations, and is shared by some fundamentalist Christians.

In addition, beliefs about the supernatural or metaphysical may not presuppose a difference between any such thing as nature and non-nature, nor between science and what the most educated people believe. In the view of some historians[who?], the pre-Socratic Athenians saw science, political tradition, culture and religion as not easily distinguishable, but all part of the same body of knowledge and wisdom available to a community.

Approaches to the beliefs of others[edit]

Adherents of particular religions deal with the differing doctrines and practices espoused by other religions in a variety of ways. All strains of thought appear in different segments of all major world religions.


See also: Exclusivism

People with exclusivist beliefs typically explain other religions as either in error, or as corruptions or counterfeits of the true faith. This approach is a fairly consistent feature among smaller new religious movements that often rely on doctrine that claims a unique revelation by the founder or leaders, and consider it a matter of faith that the religion has a monopoly on truth. All three major Abrahamic monotheistic religions have passages in their holy scriptures that attest to the primacy of the scriptural testimony and indeed monotheism itself is often couched as an innovation characterized specifically by its explicit rejection of earlier polytheistic faiths.

Some exclusivist faiths incorporate a specific element of proselytization. This is a strongly held belief in the Christian tradition which follows the doctrine of the Great Commission, and is less emphasized by the Islamic faith where the Quranic edict "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256) is often quoted as a justification for toleration of alternative beliefs, while the Jewish tradition is one that does not actively seek out converts.

Exclusivism correlates with conservative, fundamentalist, and orthodox approaches of many religions while pluralistic and syncretist approaches either explicitly downplay or reject the exclusivist tendencies of the religion.


People with inclusivist beliefs recognize some truth in all faith systems, highlighting agreements and minimizing differences. The attitude is sometimes associated with Interfaith dialogue or the Christian Ecumenical movement, though in principle such attempts at pluralism are not necessarily inclusivist and many actors in such interactions (for example, the Roman Catholic Church) still hold to exclusivist dogma while participating in inter-religious organizations.

Explicitly inclusivist religions include many that are associated with the New Age movement as well as modern reinterpretations of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Bahá'í Faith considers it doctrine that there is truth in all faith systems.


Main article: Religious pluralism

People with pluralist beliefs make no distinction between faith systems, viewing each one as valid within a particular culture. Examples include:

  • Extracts from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Sikh Holy Scriptures), "There is only the One Supreme Lord God; there is no other at all" (Pannaa 45). "By His Power the Vedas and the Puranas exist, and the Holy Scriptures of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions. By His Power all deliberations exist." (Pannaa 464). "Some call Him, 'Ram, Ram', and some call Him, 'Khudaa-i'. Some serve Him as 'Gusain', others as 'Allaah'. ||1|| He is the Cause of causes, the Generous Lord. He showers His Grace and Mercy upon us amen." (Pannaa 885).


Main article: Syncretism

People with syncretistic views blend the views of a variety of different religions or traditional beliefs into a unique fusion which suits their particular experience and context (see eclecticism). Unitarian Universalism is an example of a syncretistic faith.


Typical reasons for adherence to religion include:

  • Belief in God is seen by some to be necessary for moral behavior.[33]
  • Many people consider religious practices to be serene, beautiful, and conducive to religious experiences, which in turn support religious beliefs.[34]
  • Organized religions promote a sense of community among their followers, and the moral and cultural common ground of these communities makes them attractive to people with the same values.[35] Indeed, while religious beliefs and practices are usually connected, some individuals with substantially secular beliefs still participate in religious practices for cultural reasons.
  • Each religion asserts that it is a means by which its adherents may come into closer contact with God, Truth, and Spiritual Power. They all promise to free adherents from spiritual bondage, and bring them into spiritual freedom. It naturally follows that a religion which frees its adherents from deception, sin, and spiritual death will have significant mental health benefits. Abraham Maslow's research after World War II showed that Holocaust survivors tended to be those who held strong religious beliefs (not necessarily temple attendance, etc.), suggesting it helped people cope in extreme circumstances. Humanistic psychology went on to investigate how religious or spiritual identity may have correlations with longer lifespan and better health. The study found that humans may particularly need religious ideas to serve various emotional needs such as the need to feel loved, the need to belong to homogeneous groups, the need for understandable explanations and the need for a guarantee of ultimate justice. Other factors may involve sense of purpose, sense of identity, sense of contact with the divine. See also Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, detailing his experience with the importance of religion in surviving the Holocaust. Critics assert that the very fact that religion was the primary selector for research subjects may have introduced a bias, and that the fact that all subjects were holocaust survivors may also have had an effect. According to Larson et al. (2000), "[m]ore longitudinal research with better multidimensional measures will help further clarify the roles of these [religious] factors and whether they are beneficial or harmful."[36]


Main article: Apostasy

Typical reasons for rejection of religion include:

  • The fundamental doctrines of some religions are considered by some to be illogical, contrary to experience, or unsupported by sufficient evidence, and are rejected for those reasons.[37] Even some believers may have difficulty accepting particular religious assertions or doctrines. Some people believe the body of evidence available to humans to be insufficient to justify certain religious beliefs. They may thus disagree with religious interpretations of ethics and human purpose, or various creation myths. This reason has perhaps been aggravated by the protestations of some fundamentalist Christians.
  • Some religions include beliefs that certain groups of people are inferior or sinful and deserve contempt, persecution, or even death, and that non-believers will be punished for their unbelief in an after-life.[38][39]
  • Some people may be unable to accept the values that a specific religion promotes (e.g., Islamic attitudes towards women) and will therefore not join that religion. They may also be unable to accept the proposition that those who do not believe will go to hell or be damned, especially if said nonbelievers are close to the person.
  • The maintenance of life and the achievement of self-esteem require of a person the fullest exercise of reason—but morality, people are taught, rests on and requires faith.[40]


A "belief system" is a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs of any such system can be classified as religious, philosophical, ideological, or a combination of these. Philosopher Jonathan Glover says that beliefs are always part of a belief system, and that tenanted belief systems are difficult for the tenants to completely revise or reject.[41][42]

Gilbert, Sociological perspectives[edit]

A collective belief is referred to when people speak of what 'we' believe when this is not simply elliptical for what 'we all' believe.

Sociologist Émile Durkheim wrote of collective beliefs and proposed that they, like all 'social facts', 'inhered in' social groups as opposed to individual persons. Durkheim's discussion of collective belief, though suggestive, is relatively obscure.

Philosopher Margaret Gilbert has offered a related account in terms of the joint commitment of a number of persons to accept a certain belief as a body. According to this account, individuals who together collectively believe something need not personally believe it themselves. Gilbert's work on the topic has stimulated a developing literature among philosophers. One question that has arisen is whether and how philosophical accounts of belief in general need to be sensitive to the possibility of collective belief.


Jonathan Glover believes that he and other philosophers ought to play some role in starting dialogues between people with deeply held, opposing beliefs, especially if there is risk of violence. Glover also believes that philosophy can offer insights about beliefs that would be relevant to such dialogue.

Philosopher Jonathan Glover warns that belief systems are like whole boats in the water; it is extremely difficult to alter them all at once (e.g., it may be too stressful, or people may maintain their biases without realizing it).[41]

Glover suggests that beliefs have to be considered holistically, and that no belief exists in isolation in the mind of the believer. It always implicates and relates to other beliefs.[41] Glover provides the example of a patient with an illness who returns to a doctor, but the doctor says that the prescribed medicine is not working. At that point, the patient has a great deal of flexibility in choosing what beliefs to keep or reject: the patient could believe that the doctor is incompetent, that the doctor's assistants made a mistake, that the patient's own body is unique in some unexpected way, that Western medicine is ineffective, or even that Western science is entirely unable to discover truths about ailments.[41]

Glover maintains that any person can continue to hold any belief if they would really like to[41] (e.g., with help from ad hoc hypotheses). One belief can be held fixed, and other beliefs will be altered around it. Glover warns that some beliefs may not be entirely explicitly believed (e.g., some people may not realize they have racist belief systems adopted from their environment as a child). Glover believes that people tend to first realize that beliefs can change, and may be contingent on our upbringing, around age 12 or 15.[41]

Glover emphasizes that beliefs are difficult to change. He says that we may try to rebuild our beliefs on more secure foundations (axioms), like building a new house, but warns that this may not be possible. Glover offers the example of René Descartes, saying about Descartes that "[h]e starts off with the characteristic beliefs of a 17th-century Frenchman; he then junks the lot, he rebuilds the system, and somehow it looks a lot like the beliefs of a 17th-century Frenchman." To Glover, belief systems are not like houses but are instead like boats. As Glover puts it: "Maybe the whole thing needs rebuilding, but inevitably at any point you have to keep enough of it intact to keep floating."[41]

Glover's final message is that if people talk about their beliefs, they may find more deep, relevant, philosophical ways in which they disagree (e.g., less obvious beliefs, or more deeply held beliefs). Glover thinks that people often manage to find agreements and consensus through philosophy. He says that at the very least, if people do not convert each other, they will hold their own beliefs more openmindedly and will be less likely to go to war over conflicting beliefs.[41][43]


The British philosopher Stephen Law has described some belief systems (including belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, and alien abduction) as "claptrap" and said that they "draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves to victory... if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again".[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionaries - definition published by OUP [Retrieved 2015-08-08]
  2. ^ Schwitzgebel, Eric (2006), "Belief", in Zalta, Edward, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford, CA: The Metaphysics Research Lab, retrieved 2008-09-19 
  3. ^ Oxford Dictionaries - definition published by OUP [Retrieved 2015-08-09]
  4. ^ - Copyright (c) 2007, 2008 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved
  5. ^ Gettier, E. L. (1963). "Is justified true belief knowledge?". Analysis 23 (6): 121–123. doi:10.1093/analys/23.6.121. JSTOR 3326922. 
  6. ^ Goldman, A. I. (1967). "A causal theory of knowing". The Journal of Philosophy 64 (12): 357–372. JSTOR 2024268. 
  7. ^ Bell, V.; Halligan, P. W.; Ellis, H. D. (2006). "A Cognitive Neuroscience of Belief". In Halligan, Peter W.; Aylward, Mansel. The Power of Belief: Psychological Influence on Illness, Disability, and Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-853010-2. 
  8. ^ Baker, Lynne Rudder (1989). Saving Belief: A Critique of Physicalism. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-07320-1. 
  9. ^ H. H. Price - Belief `In' and Belief `That' Religious Studies / Volume 1 / Issue 01 / October 1965, pp 5-27Copyright (c) Cambridge University Press 1965 DOI:, Published online: 24 October 2008[Retrieved 2015-08-09]
  10. ^ MacIntosh, J. J. (1994). "Belief-in Revisited: A Reply to Williams". Religious Studies 30 (4): 487–503. doi:10.1017/S0034412500023131. 
  11. ^ Macintosh, Jack. "Belief-in". The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-19-926479-7. 
  12. ^ Peter Taylor-Gooby - ECONOMIC BELIEFS AND SOCIAL POLICY BEHAVIOUR Economic and Social Research Council (Economic Beliefs and behaviour research programme) [Retrieved 2015-08-09]
  13. ^ R. Arena & A. Festré. Knowledge, Beliefs and Economics. Edward Elgar Publishing 1 Jan 2006, 288 pages, ISBN 1847201539. Retrieved 2015-08-09. 
  14. ^ L. Bortolotti. Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs. OUP Oxford 2010, 299 pages, ISBN 0199206163, International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry. 
  15. ^ Tarski's Truth Definitions, LOTH Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  16. ^ Introduction to Logic and to the Methodology of the Deductive Sciences" Alfred Tarski Dover 1995/41, Ch. I, § 2 Expressions containing variables--sentential and designatory functions and Ch. II On the Sentential Calculus in its entirety
  17. ^ Delusions in the DSM 5 A blog by Lisa Bortolotti & Ema Sullivan-Bissett
  18. ^ a b c Wyer, R. S., & Albarracin, D. (2005). Belief formation, organization, and change: Cognitive and motivational influences. In D. Albarracin, B. T. Johnson, & M. P. Zanna, The Handbook of Attitudes (273-322). New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  19. ^ Gelman, Andrew; Park, David; Shor, Boris; Bafumi, Joseph; Cortina, Jeronimo (2008). Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-13927-2. 
  20. ^ Argyle, Michael (1997). The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience. London: Routledge. p. 25. ISBN 0-415-12330-5. Religion, in most cultures, is ascribed, not chosen. 
  21. ^ Hoffer, Eric (2002). The True Believer. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. ISBN 0-06-050591-5. 
  22. ^ Kilbourne, Jane; Pipher, Mary (2000). Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. Free Press. ISBN 0-684-86600-5. 
  23. ^ see Kumkale & Albarracin, 2004
  24. ^ Rothschild, Babette (2000). The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-70327-4. 
  25. ^ Rowley, Anna (2007). Leadership Therapy: Inside the Mind of Microsoft. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 69. ISBN 1-4039-8403-4. 
  26. ^ Fine, G. (2003). "Introduction". Plato on Knowledge and Forms: Selected Essays. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-19-924558-4. 
  27. ^ Chisholm, Roderick (1982). "Knowledge as Justified True Belief". The Foundations of Knowing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-1103-3. 
  28. ^ a b Wyer, R. S. (1970). "Quantitative prediction of belief and opinion change: A further test of a subjective probability model". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16 (4): 559–570. doi:10.1037/h0030064. 
  29. ^ a b Wyer, R. S.; Goldberg, L. (1970). "A probabilistic analysis of the relationships among beliefs and attitudes". Psychological Review 77 (2): 100–120. doi:10.1037/h0028769. 
  30. ^ Wittgenstein, Ludwig (2007). Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief. University of California Press. p. 53. ISBN 0520251814. 
  31. ^ Braithwaite, R. B. (1975). An empiricist's view of the nature of religious belief. Norwood Editions (Norwood, Pa.). ISBN 088305955X. 
  32. ^ "'The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth'". 2012-11-27. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  33. ^ "Roy Moore: 'We Have No Morality Without an Acknowledgment of God'". Christianity Today. 2005-03-07. Retrieved 2006-05-19. 
  34. ^ Miller, David Ian (2005-02-15). "Finding My Religion: Steve Georgiou on his faith and mentor, minimalist poet Robert Lax". SFGate. Retrieved 2006-05-19. 
  35. ^ Repa, J. Theodore (1998-10-18). "Building Community: The Marriage of Religion and Education". Retrieved 2006-05-19. 
  36. ^ Larson, David B.; Susan S. Larson; Harold G. Koenig (October 2000). "Research Findings on Religious Commitment and Mental Health". Psychiatric Times 17 (10). Retrieved 2006-05-19. 
  37. ^ Russell, Bertrand (1927-03-06). "Why I am Not a Christian". Retrieved 2006-05-19. 
  38. ^ For example, some Muslims believe that women are inferior to men. Some Christians share this belief. At the time of the American Civil War, many Southerners used passages from the Bible to justify slavery. The Christian religion has been used as a reason to persecute and to deny the rights of homosexuals, on the basis that God disapproves of homosexuality, and by implication homosexuals [1]. Adherents to a religion may feel antipathy to unbelievers.There are countless examples of people of one religion or sect using religion as an excuse to murder people with different religious beliefs. To mention just a few, there was the slaughter of the Huguenots by French Catholics in the Sixteenth century; Hindus and Muslims killing each other when Pakistan separated from India in 1947; the persecution and killing of Shiite Muslims by Sunni Muslims in Iraq and the murder of Protestants by Catholics and vice versa in Ireland, (both of these examples in the late Twentieth century); and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that continues today. According to some critics of religion, these beliefs can encourage completely unnecessary conflicts and in some cases even wars. Many atheists believe that, because of this, religion is incompatible with world peace, freedom, civil rights, equality, and good government. On the other hand, most religions perceive atheism as a threat and will vigorously and violently defend themselves against religious sterilization, making the attempt to remove public religious practices a source of strife.
  39. ^ Beauchamp, Philip (pseudonym of Jeremy Bentham) "Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind", 1822, R. Carlile, London, at page 76: "Of all human antipathies, that which the believer in a God bears to the unbeliever is the fullest, the most unqualified, and the most universal"
  40. ^ Faith is the commitment of one’s consciousness to beliefs for which one has no sensory evidence or rational proof. When a person rejects reason as their standard of judgment, only one alternative standard remains to them: feelings. A mystic is a person who treats feelings as tools of cognition. Faith is the equation of feeling with knowledge. To practice the “virtue” of faith, one must be willing to suspend one’s sight and one’s judgment; one must be willing to live with the unintelligible, with that which cannot be conceptualized or integrated into the rest of one’s knowledge, and to induce a trance like illusion of understanding. One must be willing to repress one’s critical faculty and hold it as one’s guilt; one must be willing to drown any questions that rise in protest—to strangle any trust of reason convulsively seeking to assert its proper function as the protector of one’s life and cognitive integrity. The human need for self-esteem entails the need for a sense of control over reality—but no control is possible in a universe which, by one’s own concession, contains the supernatural, the miraculous and the causeless, a universe in which one is at the mercy of ghosts and demons, in which one must deal, not with the unknown, but with the unknowable; no control is possible if a person proposes, but a ghost disposes; no control is possible if the universe is a haunted house. A person's life and self-esteem require that the object and concern of his or her consciousness be reality and this earth—but morality, people are taught, consists of scorning this earth and the world available to sensory perception, and of contemplating, instead, a “different” and “higher” reality, a realm inaccessible to reason and incommunicable in language, but attainable by revelation, by special dialectical processes, by that superior state of intellectual lucidity known to Zen-Buddhists as “No-Mind,” or by death. A person's life and self-esteem require that this person take pride in their power to think, pride in their power to live—but morality, people are taught, holds pride, and specifically intellectual pride, as the gravest of sins. Virtue begins, people are taught, with humility: with the recognition of the helplessness, the smallness, the impotence of one’s mind. A person's life and self-esteem require the person to be loyal to their values, loyal to their mind and its judgments, loyal to their life—but the essence of morality, people are taught, consists of self-sacrifice: the sacrifice of one’s mind to some higher authority, and the sacrifice of one’s values to whoever may claim to require it. A sacrifice, it is necessary to remember, means the surrender of a higher value in favor of a lower value or of a nonvalue. If one gives up that which one does not value in order to obtain that which one does value—or if one gives up a lesser value in order to obtain a greater one—this is not a sacrifice, but a gain. Remember further that all of a person's values exist in a hierarchy; people value some things more than others; and, to the extent that a person is rational, the hierarchical order of the person's values is rational: that is, the person values things in proportion to their importance in serving this person's life and well-being. That which is inimical to their life and well-being, that which is inimical to their nature and needs as a living being, the person disvalues. Conversely, one of the characteristics of mental illness is a distorted value structure; the neurotic does not value things according to their objective merit, in relation to the person's nature and needs; they frequently value the very things that will lead them to self-destruction. Judged by objective standards, they are engaged in a chronic process of self-sacrifice. But if sacrifice is a virtue, it is not the neurotic but the rational person who must be “cured.” They must learn to do violence to their own rational judgment—to reverse the order of their value hierarchy—to surrender that which their mind has chosen as the good—to turn against and invalidate their own consciousness.Waldau, Paul (2001). The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals (American Academy of Religion Books). Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0195145717. 
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h "Jonathan Glover on systems of belief", Philosophy Bites Podcast, Oct 9 2011
  42. ^ Elizabeth A. Minton, Lynn R. Khale (2014). Belief Systems, Religion, and Behavioral Economics. New York: Business Expert Press LLC. ISBN 978-1-60649-704-3. 
  43. ^ 'Philosophy, Beliefs, and Conflict' ,
  44. ^ New Scientist (magazine), 11 June 2011 [2]

Further reading[edit]

Leavitt, Fred: "Dancing with Absurdity: Your Most Cherished Beliefs (and All Your Others) are Probably Wrong. (2015) Peter Lang Publishers.

External links[edit]