Ten Principles of Belief: Recognizing and Identifying a Belief

Following after my "Ten Things to Know about Belief" article, I have decided to write a more technical, perhaps analytical, minded piece on the nature of belief itself. The prior article was more about how we approach belief, i.e., our attitude with regard to belief, and how we react to the attitudes and beliefs of others. This article is a more thorough deconstruction of the nature of belief, i.e. what are beliefs, and how do we identify them? 

1) Beliefs never come isolated (apart from properly basic beliefs which are self-sustaining but require epistemic basing relations in order to have meaning).

2) We are not fully in control of our beliefs as we acquire them, but have the capacity to exercise a limited control over them, once acquired, with the application of belief revisions models  (e.g., see the AGM model of belief revision).

3) Beliefs occur because of our attitudes to the world around us based on individual perception and experience, making beliefs unique to every individual, even as an individual's experiences and attitudes may be shared or overlap  with others (i.e., for more on this see propositional attitudes).

4) Inevitably, we all hold contrary beliefs, since the acceptance of a belief is dependent on our acceptance of propositional beliefs, and not dependent on whether or not the belief itself is systematically true or epistemologically feasible.

5) Old and/or antiquated belief propositions rarely get subject to revision, and so belief revision is much rarer than one would expect it to be given the access to relevant information that we have today--i.e. the Internet and other forms of instantaneous information-sharing/communication.

6) All beliefs are accompanied by biases, as they are attitudes toward propositions. Biases will influence a belief one way or another.

7)  Actions are more significant than our beliefs. (Therefore, the Aristotelian view states that emphasis on the importance of proper conduct should be placed over the importance of beliefs. We must be mindful, however, not to ignore the direct relationship between belief and action, or how beliefs influence and guide our judgements and behavior.)

8) Beliefs cannot be inviolable, otherwise they would cease to be beliefs as they would cease to be relevant propositional attitudes (i.e., inviolability is a necessary condition in order to distinguish a belief from a dogma. If the attitude is inviolable, it is akin to a dogma. If the attitude can be challenged, hence "violated," it is akin to a belief).

9) Beliefs have to be defeasible in order to qualify as proper beliefs. (If any given propositional attitude was not defeasible, it could not be considered a proper belief since it would not be possible to revise, expand upon, discard, or improve, and therefore would become inviolable. See #8.  Defeasibility, therefore, is a necessary condition of belief. Note: properly basic beliefs are the exception to the rule as they are not defeasible because they are irreducible).

10) Logic dictates some beliefs will be true and some beliefs will be false, and that not all beliefs are valid when tested against propositional calculus.


If you want to learn more about belief, or look up some of the terms used in the above article, please head over to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for more details. Thank you!


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