Acquisition of belief

Does it matter how a belief is acquired?

Take belief to be a proposition that is acquired or adopted though it cannot be proved. “Not being proven” then means that a truth value cannot be assigned to a belief. A belief proposition needs a mind to reside in. Merely stating a proposition that cannot be proved does not make it a belief. If the mind does not take further actions on the basis of that belief proposition being true, then that proposition cannot be said to have been “adopted” as a belief.

All knowledge is first belief. All knowledge is built on belief. The most fundamental belief adopted by every living thing is, I think, that “Time exists”. From that proposition we move on to “causality exists” and thence to every field of knowledge or endeavor.

In epistemology, knowledge is sometimes defined as being “true beliefs” or “justified true beliefs” though using “truth” to qualify “belief” makes me uncomfortable.

The Analysis of Knowledge.

There are three components to the traditional (“tripartite”) analysis of knowledge. According to this analysis, justified, true belief is necessary and sufficient for knowledge. 

The Tripartite Analysis of Knowledge:
S knows that p if

  1. p is true;
  2. S believes that p;
  3. S is justified in believing that p.

The tripartite analysis of knowledge is often abbreviated as the “JTB” analysis, for “justified true belief”.

Even if a belief-proposition cannot be proven, any proposition can be justified to a greater or lesser extent. Justification takes the form of collateral “evidence” which impacts the perceived probability of the proposition being true. This probability could be said to be the validity of the belief-proposition. (But it should be remembered that the very use of probability is an admission of ignorance. What then is the probability that an improbable proposition turns out to be true?)

Is a “brainwashed belief” less valid than a “freely adopted” belief? Is an imposed belief (whether by indoctrination or by peer pressure or by political correctness) less valid than a belief which has resulted from deep study and much thought? Is a “freely adopted belief” reached without thought and only because “my friend says so”, any less valid than one reached after years of study?

At first glance it might seem so. We could rank beliefs by the level of coercion involved in the acquisition of that belief. Generally the greater the level of coercion, the less critical thinking involved in adopting a belief.

  1. Brainwashing
  2. Indoctrination as an adult
  3. Indoctrination a a child
  4. Peer pressure
  5. Political correctness
  6. Conventional wisdom
  7. Freely adopted but without thought
  8. Freely adopted after much study

The same belief may be held both by a brainwashed person and also by someone after long years of study. The same belief may be held by the indoctrinator and the indoctrinated, by the mad mullah and the gullible youth, by the parent and the unknowing child. It would seem that the method by which a belief comes to be adopted is independent of the belief itself. But this is not entirely so. The less a belief can be justified the greater will be the resistance for another mind to adopt that belief. The greater will be the coercion necessary. There is a likelihood, therefore, that the greater the coercion necessary to inculcate a belief, the less likely it is that the belief in question is justified.

After all that, my fuzzy conclusion is that a belief is not dependent upon the method of its adoption. However, a belief adopted after coercion is likely to be less valid than a belief adopted without coercion – but not always. And validity of a belief is merely a probability.

Or it could be as Calvin believes that having a belief can increase the validity of that belief – or is it just that appearing to adopt some other person’s belief is more likely to extract benefits from the other.



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