Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.
’I don’t need to believe. I know.’
I’ve realised though that despite waffling on about descriptive beliefs and prescriptive beliefs (see for example What is and what ought to be) I don’t think I’ve said anything yet about what beliefs are.
Bernard Williams says that beliefs ‘aim at truth’:
…when somebody believes something, then he believes something which can be assessed as true or false.1
Jonathan Adler says a belief is simply what we regard as true: ‘what I believe is just how things are’2 for me.
These definitions seem fairly aligned. They both take ‘I believe that p’ as a straightforward way of asserting p. Both also say something in relation to the truth of p.
Williams would say that in ‘I believe that p’ the believer is aiming at the truth about p. Adler would say the believer is saying p is true for her.
But neither ‘I believe that p’ nor ‘X believes that p’ implies that p is true. That is even if p is true.
Compare this with ‘I know that p’ or ‘X knows that p’. Both of these do imply that p is true. For this reason ’know’ is described as ‘factive’.
Factive verbs like ‘know’, ‘realise’, ‘regret’ and ’resent’ presuppose the truth of the clause which serves as their object. You cannot realise you made a mistake if you haven’t made a mistake. You cannot know that Paris is the capital of France if Paris is not the capital of France.
But you can believe that Berlin is the capital of France even though Berlin is not the capital of France. ‘Believe’ is not factive. Nor are ‘wish’ or ‘hope’.
We might say, for example, ‘I believe so’ to express a degree of uncertainty. But the crucial difference between ‘know’ and ‘believe’ is not a matter of degree. The crucial difference is that ‘know’ is factive but ‘believe’ is not.
Which Jung presumably realised at the time, despite his later regret.
1 Bernard Williams (1973), ‘Deciding to believe’. In Problems of the Self, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp136-7.
2 Jonathan Adler (2002), Belief’s Own Ethics, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p11.
© Chris Lawrence 2021