Belief, Rationality, Logic, Philosophy and Science.
By way of a brief introduction, I should say that the mere word “belief” has a number of uses. In this blog post I have no aim to affect normal usage and I have little interest in language, or in mere words, apart from using them to talk about things. The aim of philosophy is to stimulate thought rather than to change the normal use of English.
The term “belief” I use only to refer to what someone thinks is true, or to fit what is the external or the objective case. I hold belief to be in interactional flux with “doubt”, the opposite of belief, but our beliefs often reaffirm earlier content. Belief is a matter of current confidence of the truth rather than mere content. Doubt rarely changings the mere content.
Belief is an automatic assumption as to what there is. It is the same in all mammals, let alone all humans. It is usually tacit. Language tends to forget it, as Francis Bacon said. But we use belief in all we do, including our use of language. It is very practical and pragmatic. Indeed, belief is ad hoc. We usually make fresh assumptions independently of what we thought before just in case threare fresh dangers now that there were not earlier on. In civilization this might seem to be hardly needed but our belief evolved to fit life thousands of years ago when life was far less safe.
Belief is independent of what we want. It is like our own personal reality principle, but it is far from foolproof.
I therefore hold that there is no faith (our rapidly changing confidence of our belief system crowds out that supposed stable phenomenon); no irrationality (as all we do looks fine to us for a moment); no closed mind; no open mind. Any assumption in belief is bound to be biased and bias crowds out both the open and the closed mind. There are other ramifications from taking belief seriously too.
Knowledge is metaphysical, as is any truth. Both are also hypothetical. There is no alternative (TINA). We know only by assumption. To think at all gets us into metaphysics, the study of what there is. So science needs always to “beg the question” [i.e. to assume what many feel we ought to prove or back up], but that is not a real fallacy, as is so often supposed, but, rather, it is just the law of assumption in logic [i.e. that we can assume whatever we like], for some assumption will be needed to even begin to think.
The truth is when our current assumption is true, but it can be in old books that no one reads nowadays too or in new books that many read. Truth is an account in thought or writing that cites germane external facts. Facts are quasi-aspects of reality either past, present or future.
Not all that we assume is believed, of course, for there is no choice in what we believe, although we can say whatever we like. So we can assume things we can never see as true.
Our automatic belief ensures we all make tacit guesses at the truth but there is no need to ever speak about what we think is the case.
Microbes may ensure that none of us is the single animal that we appear to be, but that hardly affects the practical idea of the individual. The individual can usually be held responsible for all he says or does, though infants will say nothing, ipso facto, and some old people may have ebbed too much to be realistically held responsible.
Some philosophers, like the philosopher Daniel Dennent, deny that beliefs exist at all. He takes up an non-realist stance on belief but here a realist stance on belief is taken. Belief here is held to be an automatic assumption that the believer thinks is the case but made about as often as we inhale air and tacitly doubted about as often as we exhale air.
The public seem to guess rightly about philosophy, that it is mere thought with little practical import or at least no immediate practical import that is clear. It is just indulging in thinking about thinking or other things to do with mere thought.
Most sciences broke away from philosophy and many science students hold it in contempt. Indeed, many philosophy students hold metaphysics in contempt too but the traditional sense of the study of what there is cited above show us that to do that hardly makes sense. In a 2913 book, Daniel Dennett rightly said that there can be no science completely free of philosophy.
The public today seem to need to realise that science is way nearer to philosophy than it is to technology. Science is often falsely credited with material progress, but technology seems to put more into science than it takes from it. Technology tends to go way ahead of mere science.
We do find our beliefs, but they soon move on. Indeed, what we believe is as alien to our will as is the process inside the stars but we can choose to revise what we believe but never to accept fresh beliefs as a result, even though the result will often be predictable and far better known than the stars are. Our values move on too, but usually far more slowly. Finding the same belief is like finding the same river: we think the river looks the same as it did earlier but only because it appears such now, and that will be the case with whatever seems to be true—not only with a river but with anything. As our later actions will be fuelled by different energy usage, so it will be based on later beliefs also. We reconsider all the time. We form fresh beliefs as a result. We cannot suspend this belief process but we can certainly shut up about it.
Most people do not talk about most of what they believe. The main reason for that is because they usually feel that their beliefs are hardly worth talking about. And that judgment seems to be usually correct. Thankfully, none of us wish to bore others by saying what we all seem to know. And most of what we believe is mundane.
Many feel that choice is vital to rationality but that seems to be merely a silly dogma to me. What we say is rational but so is what we think also. We cannot wittingly choose to err. The mind errs only by mistake. But thinking is usually not acting and believing never is.
Maybe the second most vital law in logic second to the law of assumptions is the law of the excluded middle. This is vital to coherent thought for if we abandon it then anything follows. Thus all we say will be all at sea. But to apply it to belief needs to bear in mind that it only validly applies to a single belief. As beliefs are so ephemeral, this might be less practical than to apply it to an extended article in some magazine or to a lecture delivered at one time by a person. A later belief the person has might well have moved on.
To be influenced by others does not mean we have not made out own decisions, but note that we never decide on our own belief. For example, Business Studies, especially on advertising, is full of bosh about the power of adverts or ads. Ads ring a big bell to attract the attention of the public, but they can never sell inept wares, contrary to the teachings of the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who believed they could sell anything! It is entrepreneurship that sells wares rather than the relatively passive adverts. We only buy that which looks better to us than the money that we already have, that we give iun exchange for it. We often err there, but it looks fine at the time that we buy it. It is a win-win or positive sum game where both sides usually gain from trade.
Emotion is reason. David Hume’s folly that reason serves the emotion, or that it is the slave of the passions, is merely silly, as is the similar idea of Blaise Pascal. Reason shapes and creates our passions. Our emotions are reason in action. Emotions search and respond. The world always affects how we feel, but we can respond in behaviour by the use of choice, as the Stoics saw. No mere factual account can soundly imply how to act or what course of action we should pursue.
Philosophers today still tend to over rate language. It is not vital to thought but it is to communication. As Francis Bacon saw, language does tend to leave belief behind. Belief is usually tacit, as is thought but we need to be quite explicit to talk or write well. We were acting long before we developed language.
All human thinking looks rational as far as I can see. What is thought of as non-rational thought looks to be non-existent. There is nothing contrary to reason in any assumption, though it may well be false. All assumptions do risk error.
Considering things rationally is just thinking about them. We certainly form a first impression of someone by thinking. There is no alternative to reason in any of our thoughts, including when boy meets girl. Many long for unconditional love but that longing looks futile as love is usually a personal bias based on any number of preconditions. Mothers often feel they love their sons unconditionally, but they overlook that it is on the conditional that he is their son.
Yes, the reality principle, which we might call the belief process, was tested by natural selection, which, like philosophy, is no person, but like philosophy, it did include the actions many persons over the last few thousand years, in national selection for way longer.
Absurd ideas like self-delusion, denialism and the rest of the myths of the irrational way how others are often supposed to think, would have been weeded out by the range of life-forms in the jungle, if never by comparatively tame civilized historical society.
We can often overlook tacit contradictions but never when we wittingly realise them. Belief itself does what Popper wanted us to do with conjectures and refutations [C&R]; indeed, Popper ironically depended on belief when he made a fuss about honesty, despite declaring that he was not a belief philosopher. He was right that mere belief does not settle any truth. Truth depends on citing apt external facts.
We do examine all we have in mind, but no such test is foolproof: far from it. But, while we live, the revising belief process of Conjectures and Refutations [C&R], or of at least attempted refutations, continues its automatic unended quest in our belief system.
Debate is when two beliefs systems, in two distinct persons, clash. When two contradictory ideas wittingly clash within the one person, the belief system usually automatically sorts it out. But it may well err in doing so. Belief is rationality itself (as Popper unwittingly admitted when he insisted on honesty) and it is automatic. Indeed, being honest is just reporting whatever we do believe. Note that honesty carries all the virtues of humility free of the Heep-like vice.
“Pain” may put us off, say, pursuing mathematics, but we always know we have not followed up whatever we have neglected to follow up. Self-delusion and denial in the sense so commonly used by backward Greens, and other propagandists, has never existed. In that it is just like faith that Popper lacked the wit to realise was also a mere myth.