There is a small nuance between ‘a belief’ and ‘I believe’. There’s also a misunderstanding around the logical entailments of beliefs. In this short piece, I hope to explain the difference.
Basic definitions of Belief
A belief is:
- Anything that is accepted as true.
- Something concluded as most probable.
- Something thought is likely the case.
- A positive attitude towards a proposition.
But “a belief” isn’t just that. It should be considered more in the noun sense. A belief is something that is, or could be, believed. Think of it in terms of something containing propositional content.
To believe is:
- Accepting something as true
- Concluding something most probable
- Thinking something is likely the case
- Holding a positive attitude towards a proposition.
In other words, believing is a verb—an action. We believe in the thing with propositional content. In other words, we believe a belief.
Exploring the difference between belief and believe
One of the easiest ways to consider this is the word “theism”.
The most common definition you will find is “The belief God exists” or “The belief at least one god/deity exists”. This isn’t an active mental state. It isn’t actively believing in and of itself. It is something others believe. Therefore, a belief is not necessarily an active mental state. It is the propositional content that could be believed by others.
To compare it to “I believe” it is the act of actively accepting the belief (as true or false). To say “I believe at least one god exists” is to say, “I think theism is true”. To say “I believe no gods exist” is to say, “I think theism is false”.
But there’s more.
A Belief, Arguments and Entailments.
On a minimalistic scale, a belief is simply as I described above, but in a more advanced epistemological framework, a belief can also be thought of in terms of the arguments for the belief as well as the logical entailments of that belief.
To lean on theism as an example again, some of the arguments might lean towards a specific God whilst others might be more generalistic.
The belief itself will have logical entailments, and the arguments will include more. If the form of theism is some creator-god type, then we have the entailments of the universe’s origins and the more specific you get you might get to what we ought to wear or do on a certain day.
The belief it is false as well also has entailments. There are many things that will be left more open for discovery, and others we think we can answer.
Believing and Entailments
The interesting point here is, that believing something is true or false, or even being uncertain either way, does not necessarily mean you have thought through, or agree with all the entailments.
Generally speaking, believing something is true or false, or suspending judgement in it, is only rational if you have undertaken your epistemic responsibility to explore the arguments and evidence to the best of your ability and remain consistent with the conclusion.
Part of that consistency is also considering the logical entailments of that conclusion. Consider physicalism, without breaking into the topic and the different forms of physicalism, there is nothing other than the physical. Therefore there are no gods. Let’s say you accept all this, but you think there are ghosts – another form of non-physical entity.
A physicalist doesn’t necessarily believe there are no ghosts, but to be logically consistent and therefore rational in their belief in physicalism, they ought to because that is what physicalism necessarily entails.
Presumption of Entailments
Interestingly, there is also a presumption of entailments. Many might conclude that a particular belief has entailments that it doesn’t. For example, I have often seen people claiming that if there is no god then morality is necessarily subjective. As I point out in ‘Where Do You Stand On Morality? What Are Your Justifications?‘ this isn’t necessarily the case.
However, people have beliefs about beliefs and are often conditioned to think a certain way about them. This causes a problem in conversation. Not only do we have the issues where someone hasn’t fully thought through their position or the logical entailments we also have the opposite where the logical entailments are assumed and potentially wrong.
Neither is helpful.
Summary of Belief vs Believe
Hopefully, this short article has provided some insight into the split between ‘a belief’ and ‘I believe’ as well as alerted one to the issues of both not considering the logical entailments of a belief, as well as assuming you know all the logical entailments.
If you are interested in more articles about beliefs, justifications, rationality etc then please check out the following recommendations:
I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
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