Faith & Reason, Part 2: The Nature of Belief (cont.)



monkey-thinkingThis entry is a continuation of the last post Faith vs. Reason, Part 1.  These two entries come as a pair.

 

Dispositionalism

Again, dispositionalism is the view (Schwitzgebel’s proposal in any case) that a belief just is the right sort of cluster of stereotypical dispositions – behavioral, cognitive, and phenomenal (‘behavioral’ includes the disposition to verbally affirm the belief “that P”). However, on my interpretation of the dispositionalist theory, a mild incoherence is forced since our conception of the stereotypical dispositions is dependant on referencing the belief in standard linguistic form: the “belief that P”. 

 poohthinking

The grammar evidences this.  While the theory holds that the stereotypical dispositions just are the belief, the theorist is left asking if this or that disposition is stereotypical “of the belief” in question. But the cluster of stereotypical dispositions cannot be the belief and at the same time be of the belief, since ‘of’ locates behavior that we expect to follow from the belief “that P.” These expectations result from our innate sense of practical rationality, not from what we take a given belief to be. Otherwise, so I claim, we have no way of deciphering whether a disposition was a genuine deviation from the stereotypical dispositions of a given belief. And so it seems we are stuck pointing to the linguistic “belief that P” as a necessary reference point before we can begin any discussion of  the theoretical “belief” that just is the stereotypical dispositions.

 

This, I think, is the only way to understand Schwitzgebel’s statement:

 

Does Ellen believe that all Spanish nouns ending in ‘a’ are feminine? Some of her dispositions accord with that belief. (260)

 

Are some of Ellen’s dispositions just “that belief,” or are they the sort that “accord with that belief”? In Schwitzbegel’s story, Ellen thinks that the proposition “all Spanish nouns ending in ‘a’ are feminine” is true. But her behavior suggests that she does not take this as true, since she speaks Spanish well, which includes the use of non-feminine nouns ending in ‘a’. “that belief” is identified with Ellen’s taking the world made true by “all Spanish nouns ending in ‘a’ are feminine” as the actual world; the dispositions either accord or don’t accord with that belief

 

Here Schwitzgebel makes the linguistic statement, “the belief that P,” the standard, which only seems right to me. There has to be a linguist anchor. Otherwise we are just talking about behavior and not belief behavior. We are especially cut off from belief behavior when we reference merely the skill of a language user. If Ellen can speak her native language fluently while having very little ability to verbally express beliefs about that language – such as grammar rules – then we should think that Ellen’s knowing how to speak a language does not require, in principle, beliefs about that language to begin with.  I would want to argue, for instance, that Ellen does not give evidence to any belief whatsoever when she expresses her ability to speak Spanish well. The only relevant belief we know she does have is a false one. What we mean by ‘belief’ must therefore be something other or at least something more than dispositions.

 

My Proposal

On my view, believing in its most primitive form cannot be separated from believing that. (Hebraic belief/faith, which is not tied as directly to statements of fact, is what I take to be a higher level, less primitive form of commitment).   Belief ascription is short hand to describe our behavioral dispositions and to describe the behavioral dispositions of others; it is a simplifying reduction rooted in language. (more…)

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Faith vs. Reason, Part 1: The Nature of Belief



triumph-of-saint-thomas-fullI have wrestled with the relationship between Faith and Reason ever since my senior year in high school when I was reconverted to conservative, evangelical Christianity (it is possible that I was just extra-converted, a dilemma I am happy to now leave to the theologians). Over the last seventeen years, the battle to hold faith and reason together made for a painful journey over a number of terrains – geographical, institutional, psychological, political, and intellectual. The intellectual journey is for the most part complete, now that I have finally found some genuine cognitive rest. I am not the first to land on the resting place I have found, but I do believe my struggle has produced some ways of looking at the relationship between faith and reason that just may allow a small contribution to this subject’s evolution.

 

I wish to guide you, the reader, to this same resting place – once we are there, you can decide for yourself if it is a place you can inhabit for good. But there are some less than pleasant waters to tread on the way. In order to begin wading into this deep and murky swamp, I will turn first to what philosophy proper might be able to say about the relationship between faith and reason, or more precisely, about the alleged tension between them. In particular, I will address four philosophical topics: Metaphor, Narrative, Knowledge, and Belief.  I will argue that each reveals the unlikelihood of locating a distinction between faith and reason given a strictly philosophical armchair methodology. If an important distinction cannot be found, then neither can a philosophical tension.

 

The skeptic is usually a good place to begin a dialectic, and so we should tune our ears to the voice of the unbeliever:  Faith calls us to dispense with verifiable facts and empirical investigation so that we may cling to the mythological stories, fables, parables, and metaphors that boast to connect us with the otherwise mysterious, eternal unknown.  Faith thereby remains an epistemological stance that demands the flouting of our most basic intellectual duties. This is not a faith in harmony with reason. This is a faith at war with reason.

 

Fair enough. But is this worry at all grounded in sound philosophical enquiry? Can philosophical inquiry lead us to these conclusions?  Can philosophical enquiry at least help justify these conclusions?

 

The first part of this Faith vs. Reason series is my attempt to demonstrate my answers to these questions, and my answers are no and no and no. This worry is not at all grounded in sound philosophical enquiry; philosophical inquiry will not lead us to these conclusions; and philosophical enquiry does not offer justification to these conclusions. In sum, it is impossible to locate a tension between faith and reason with the tools of armchair philosophy.

 

In this entry I begin to address the subject of Belief.

 

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Knowledge of fact itself is a bit more complicated than traditional discussions in theology and Plantingian philosophy suggest. I doubt that propositional knowledge – if we must even reference such a technical concept – is a matter of just believing a proposition that ends up being true in the right sort of way – justification, warrant, or whatever. Eric Schwitzgebel, for instance, suggests that knowing that is a capacity whereas belief is a tendency (‘Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs’).  But for simplicity, I will here assume that there is a sufficiently tight relationship between propositional knowledge and believing propositions. Considering the current cultural landscape, this seems an innocent move to make: (more…)

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