"Do you believe in" X is a badly-formed question: belief comes and goes with emotions, state of health, sleeping and waking and under external influence.
Any external influence which generates images, or alters our body state, can shape or shake the steadiness of believing.
The proper question concerns whether X is real.
However, in modern secular mainstream culture the question "do you believe in..." is regarded as primary - and the matter of whether X is actually real is subordinated.
This happens because modern secular mainstream culture is nihilist: which is to say it does not believe in reality except as a product of belief: which is merely to say - in a different form of words, since belief is labile - that it does not believe in reality.
Belief is therefore vitally important to secular culture: indeed belief is all important.
From this comes the fixation upon sincerity (or authenticity) as a primary virtue and the primacy of hypocrisy as the ultimate sin: the idea that it is not important what you believe but that you believe (strongly, self-consistently, permanently).
Sincerity and consistency and strength of belief is, for moderns, the only reality.
And when reality is based on nothing firmer than the subjective state of believing, then the stability of the world itself is experienced as being only as great at the stability of that state of belief.
This fact is vital for us modern Western intellectuals, who have been - from an early age - emotionally corrupted such that the common sense of the ages sincerely strikes us as absurd.
Hence we cannot have a spontaneous primary belief in that which has - for all of historical humanity, and still for most of the modern world - been taken as obvious: the soul, Natural Law, the supernatural, and so on.
About such matters, we cannot (even when we want to) achieve that steady subjective state of believing which forms the (only) foundation of modern culture.
(Perhaps we could, surely we could, believe-in these basic human presuppositions if they were supported by culture; but when the mass of ideas and images from the mass media/ education/ officialdom propaganda apparatus subverts these basic human presuppositions, then such beliefs are experienced as too insecure to serve as foundational.)
Of course, the state of believing is very important indeed; but belief is not meant to serve as the foundations for life.
When conceived as a here-and-now emotional conviction - belief is properly a second-order phenomenon.
Life should be built on reality, not belief.
"Do you believe that X is real?" gets much closer to what should be being asked.
From this it follows that we ought not regard as true that which we believe; but should instead strive to believe that which we believe is real.
Bruce writes: Hence we cannot have a spontaneous primary belief in that which has - for all of historical humanity, and still for most of the modern world - been taken as obvious: the soul, Natural Law, the supernatural, and so on.
Assuming that 'we' means the 'intellectual elite'?
If they exist, spontaneous primary beliefs are at odds with the unfettered spirit of enquiry which is supposed to be the hallmark of intellectual endeavour. In other words, the acquisition of settled beliefs proceeds (as a rule) not from intuition or insight, but from a rational examination of the grounds for holding them.
The axioms of Natural Law, which are discoverable by reason, are the 'ultimate origin' of the common law, I think. And apart from its conceit of disclosure, I don't see any difference between God's Law and the Natural Law.
What exactly is the difference between "Do you believe in X?" and "Do you believe that X is real?" Granted, there are other meanings of "believe in" ("I don't believe in capital punishment," "Believe in yourself," etc.), but what does a statement like "I believe in ghosts" mean if not "I believe that ghosts are real"?
"Do you believe in God" is, in particular, a daft question.
"If they exist, spontaneous primary beliefs are at odds with the unfettered spirit of enquiry which is supposed to be the hallmark of intellectual endeavour."
Well, I don't agree - 'unfettered enquiry' is nonsensensical for reasons set out by Alasdair MacIntyre in Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry. What seemed like unfettered enquiry was - in retrospect - based on shared implicit assumptions (usually from childhood) - once these disappear we are left with Glass Bead Games (postmodernism), or worse: pseudo-rational anti-Good moralizing - PC.
"In other words, the acquisition of settled beliefs proceeds (as a rule) not from intuition or insight, but from a rational examination of the grounds for holding them."
As CS Lewis pointed-out - there are no rational grounds for believing in the validity of reason. One must start somewhere.
"The axioms of Natural Law, which are discoverable by reason, are the 'ultimate origin' of the common law, I think. And apart from its conceit of disclosure, I don't see any difference between God's Law and the Natural Law."
(Also from Lewis) Natural Law is what humans know (or knew) without divine revelation - they lead to varieties of paganism. e.g. Four of the Seven Catholic 'virtues' are pagan: 'God's Law' is mostly added-onto Natural Law (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Courage) and only three come from Christian Revelation (Faith, Hope and Charity/ Agape).
@WmJas - ""Do you believe in X?" and "Do you believe that X is real?" Granted, there are other meanings of "believe in" ("I don't believe in capital punishment," "Believe in yourself," etc.), but what does a statement like "I believe in ghosts" mean if not "I believe that ghosts are real"?" "
Do you believe in X usually means are you at this moment experiencing the bodily emotion of belief in the significance of X - which may be abstract, or a matter of opinion, or an ideology or many things that have no reality.People might believe - for example - that men and women have identical psychology, or make equally good soldiers, or almost anything - reality doesn't come into it except that reality must be claimed to back-up the belief: belief is primary, reality is secondary.
To believe that X is real is to believe that something is the case whatever I happen to think about it at the time.
So a Christian would believe that the reality of the situation is that Jesus was the Son of God, but may experience a crisis of faith such that this has no subjective meaning for him,or at this moment in time it seems absurd, or incomprehensible. To say that you believe X is real is to assume that when such a crisis happens this has nothing to do with reality, but is a change in one's own subjective state (which is changing all the time).
A person might believe in ghosts when alone in an old house at night, but not the next morning. This is less important than whether they think ghosts exist in reality, as a part of the world.
But the main point is that mainstream modern intellectuals do not believe in reality - they think (more of less) that reality is a product of human perception (or is 'relative' which actually means there is no reality) - so therefore when they say they 'believe' something they *cannot* be saying that it is real, but must (so far as they are concerned) be expressing a state of mind.
Forgive my apparent love of non-sequiturs, but here is a thought that I hereby donate to the cause:
Government today preoccupies itself with equality, when what is really needed is not equality, but equilibrium.
'I believe in X.': I act as if X is real, that is, as if my concept 'X' corresponds to a real, mind-external X "substance".
'I believe that X is real.': I compose my concept 'X' with my concept of being and integrate this mental composition into some sort of intentional doxastic framework, a mental system of abstract representational mapping (or something).
'I believe that p.': I mentally affirm whatever p asserts and/or immediately entails.
(1) is more akin to religious faith and includes definite external action and willing within concrete reality. (2) is almost entirely theoretical and marks merely the intention to have faith. It only seems to externalize to the extent one subsequently reorganizes his brain matter. (3) varies according to what it is that p asserts. The essence of belief is willful, external action amid intellectual, internal uncertainty.
Most folks today probably can't distinguish belief from some kind of feeling only because we're hedonists and we place hardly any trust in "cold" logic. To act without any trace or hope of pleasure or emotion would be considered an absurdity. The irony of our modern exaltation of "sincerity" is that -- at least it seems to me! -- one would be quite hard-pressed to present a false exterior to others if there is no external reality. Such denial seems inevitably to reduce to utter solipsism (thus rendering any "exterior" a mere part of one's sole interior world).
There's a regression implicit in what you say about the starting assumptions for rational enquiry. When any of our beliefs are challenged, we can (or maybe should) give reasons for holding them. If there's 'only' an assumption that the giving of reasons is inherent to the process of logical explanation, that hardly matters because it's impossible to state an intelligible proposition without it.
Whatever C S Lewis says, it's apparent that unless there are 'ultimate' guidelines for critical reasoning we shall not avoid incoherence. All starting assumptions are not equally cogent; we can discriminate between such assumptions.
@ Alex - probably we don't disagree, but the brevity of comments make it hard to avoid misunderstandings.
"All starting assumptions are not equally cogent; we can discriminate between such assumptions."
Yes - but the reasoning we use to discriminate between assumptions itself has assumptions.
This never used to be a problem for philosophers (in the ancient world and up to Aquinas), since they implicitly accepted that humans are 'born into the world' equipped with valid means of understanding the world.
But later philosophers (notably Descartes) created a pseudo- and insoluble problem by doubting 'everything' (as they imagined they were doing), by trying to work from abritrary and assumption-free axioms, or by using reason to evaluate reason.
But instead of retreating from their error (which led to reductio ad absurdum in every direction), they simply went further and further along the same path, seeking coherence at some more advanced and specialized level - and here we are...
The point is that philosophical enquiry as such has already left out a lot, even before it starts; and therefore all philosophy is distorted and wrong when pushed hard enough. At the bottom is 'common sense'/ Natural Law / the human condition - and then, for some, divine revelation.
The validity of divine revelation being itself established by common sense/ natural law kinds of reasoning and knowledge - and *not* by specialist sub-systems such as philosophy or science. This is where Pascal's Pensees are so impressive - not because of his 'wager' but because he establishes 1. the validity and 2. the superiority of Christianity using common sense reasoning - for example the miracles and prophecies.
All that is required for Pascal to be compelling is an acknowledgement of the *possibility* of divine revelation, soul, God etc. (i.e.the standard ingredients of religious thinking).
The root reason why modern atheists are incredulous about Christianity is that they (and my former self) deny the *possibility* of the soul, God, revelation, miracles, prophecies etc.
And to deny these is to deny both common sense and the wisdom of the ages - to set-up oneself and one's era and one's culture as qualitatively superior to all of human history and four fifths of the rest of the world.
This is the insane level of the worst sin - the sin of pride, of asserted self-sufficiency - which underpins modernity.
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