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Believe What You Like? - A Blogersation (Part 2)

Thomas Whitley

By: Trevar Simmons. Original here. Part 1 here. My thoughts strayed to W. K. Clifford, Dr. T. Perry Hildreth, and epistemology in general when the right venerable Professor Thomas J. Whitley tweeted at me, "I'm just thinking aloud (silently?) in the twitterverse about how we come about believing what we do." He was explaining an earlier that I had first misunderstood: "I understand, on one hand, believing things you don't particularly like, but shouldn't we like/agree with most things we believe?"

We should agree with most things we believe. If someone disagrees with a belief, then I am unsure that person actually believes the belief. Of course, we might hold some beliefs unawares, especially deep-seated beliefs, latent beliefs, or beliefs leftover from a recent shift in thought. I might assume I do not "believe" monsters will come out of my closet in the dark, but I always shut the closet door before turning off the light at night due to a belief leftover from my childhood.

I might also be unable to stray from deep-seated beliefs, ones indoctrinated in me as a child. I recall Yossarian speaking with Lieutenant Scheisskopf's (unnamed) wife in Catch-22. The woman was upset at Yossarian's negative musings about God. Yossarian is surprised and says, "I thought you didn't believe in God?" She said, "'I don't,' she sobbed, bursting violently into tears. 'But the God I don't believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He's not the mean and stupid God you make him out to be.'" Sometimes we cannot stop believing in our beliefs, even if we want to.

I'm still unsure about whether we should like most things we believe. At first rub, there seems nothing particularly virtuous or laudable about liking a belief. I imagine it would be pleasant to like all of your beliefs. But I don't think we should hold them because they are likable. I don't want my beliefs to be based on desire. Hopefully, amiable feelings will accompany the belief, but I do not think it should be a criterion. Unless, of course we consider most Western persons' foundational belief in reason and the ability of reasoning to produce knowledge. In this sense, liking our beliefs is virtuous, because we are not holding beliefs willy-nilly, but rather due to examination.

In a different vein, I assume I hold a number of my beliefs about metaphysics due to pleasure. Why do I believe in one God instead of many gods or no gods? I find the differing beliefs equally plausible (I think), but I believe in one God and have developed that belief, describing God as love. Why? Perhaps it is because I can't escape the belief after indoctrination in a Western, Christian home. Maybe it is because I like the idea of a God who is Love being the only God. Of course, I also like to think I have a relationship with the God beyond, behind, and around my concept of God and Love. If you have a relationship with something, you need to believe it exists (I think).

Right now, Thomas and our other conversation partners, I am a bit ambivalent, mostly due to a lack of knowledge on the subject. I dusted off my epistemology text book today, though: The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Readings, edited by Louis P. Pojman. Hopefully I'll be ambitious enough to peruse the sections on beliefs and the ethics of belief. Until then, I hypothesize desire leads some of our most important beliefs, our beliefs about which I doubt we can have any sort of "knowledge"--metaphysical beliefs--whereas reason (which we believe in due to desire) determines most of our other beliefs that can be empirically verified to constitute what we might be able to call "knowledge."