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The term "belief" refers to a mental acceptance of the truth of some proposition, idea, statement, or fact. When a person believes X, this means that they accept the truth of X. It does not mean, however, that they are convinced of this truth with absolute certainty - belief might go only a little ways, or it might be absolute.

Belief is related to, but nevertheless distinct from, knowledge. A person can believe something without being able to claim to know it. Key to understanding the nature of "belief" is understanding that it involves a type of relationship to the relevant proposition and, hence, can be described as a mental attitude or disposition.

Thus is "belief" distinguished from "judgment" because the latter, rather than being an attitude, is a conscious mental act which involves arriving at a conclusion about a proposition (and thus usually creating a belief). Because it is a type of disposition, is isn't necessary for a belief to be constantly and consciously manifested - we may, in fact, have many beliefs which we are not consciously aware of. There may even be beliefs which some people never consciously some think about - but, to be a belief, there should at least be the possibility that it can manifest itself.

There are a number of problems involved with the nature of belief which have no settled answer among philosophers. For example, can a person believe contradictions - can a person believe that a proposition is both true and false at the same time and in the same way? That sounds logically impossible, but if one belief is conscious and the other is unconscious, perhaps it is possible.

Can a person believe the truth of a proposition which they know to be false? For example, can a person believe their brother to be innocent of a crime when they have the knowledge that the same person is in fact guilty? Again, this sounds incoherent but depending upon what is conscious and unconscious, perhaps not impossible.

Is it possible for a belief to be mistaken? A belief is not the assertion of the truth of a proposition, but rather the acceptance of the truth of a proposition. A proposition may be true or false, but perhaps not beliefs. Do beliefs need to be justified - and, if so, when and how?

Are beliefs voluntary or involuntary - can we, for example, adopt a new belief or reject an old one simply as an act of will? Is there an "ethics of belief," such that the acceptance of a belief may be judged as ethical or unethical? Might we have a duty to believe certain things but reject other things?

Also Known As: credence, trust, reliance, assurance, opinion

Alternate Spellings: none

Common Misspellings: none

Related Resources:

What is Philosophy?
What is philosophy? Is there any point in studying philosophy, or is it a useless subject? What are the different branches of philosophy - what's the difference between aestheitcs and ethics? What's the difference between metaphysics and epistemology?

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