The Trinity and the Light Switch: Two Faces of Belief

In Eric Schwitzgebel & Jonathan Jong (eds.), The Nature of Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Sometimes people posit "beliefs" to explain mundane instrumental actions (e.g., Neil believes the switch is connected to the light, so he flipped the switch to illuminate the room). Sometimes people posit "beliefs" to explain group affiliation or identity (e.g., in order to belong to the Christian Reformed Church Neil must believe that God is triune). If we set aside the commonality of the word "belief," we can pose a crucial question: Is the cognitive attitude typically involved in the first "light switch" sort of case the same as the cognitive attitude typically involved in the second "Trinity" sort of case? Or: Is mundanely believing the same cognitive relation as groupishly believing? In this essay, I argue that the answer is no. Mundane Beliefs play their instrumental roles well if they are true, and their manner of processing is accordingly sensitive to evidence. Groupish Beliefs play their identity-constituting roles well if they are distinctive, and their manners of processing accordingly allow for and often support distortions of evidence and truth. The manners of processing are thus so different that--despite the common word "belief"--philosophy of mind and epistemology would do well to recognize distinct cognitive attitudes.



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Neil Van Leeuwen
Georgia State University

Citations of this work

Belief.Eric Schwitzgebel - 2006 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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