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Belief-In Revisited: A Reply To Williams

  • J. J. Macintosh (a1)

In ‘Belief-In and Belief in God’ (Religious Studies, 28, 1992), J. N. Williams suggests that belief in God cannot be rational unless one has rational beliefs that God exists. While agreeing with his conclusion (though not with his statement of it), I disagree at almost every step with his method of arriving at it. In particular I suggest that Williams goes astray concerning the dual aspect of belief in, the nature of performatives, the arousal of belief states, and the correct account of belief in God.

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1 Williams, J. N., ‘Belief-In and Belief in GodReligious Studies, xxviii (1992), 401–6. Hereafter otherwise unspecified references to Williams are to this paper.

2 ‘Belief “In” and Belief “That”’, Religious Studies, I, 19651966, 528, reprinted as series II, lecture IX of his Belief (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1969), pp. 426–54.

3 High, Dallas M., Language, Persons, and Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 146.

4 Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: University Press, 2nd ed., 1989), belief 1.

5 Religio Medici (London, 1643; reprinted Menston: Scholar Press, 1970), Pt. 1, §46, 107; Pt. 1, §9, 17–18.

6 Hick, John, ‘The Nature of Religious Faith, Actes du Xlème Congres International De Philosophie, vol. xi, Philosophic de la Religion (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1953, reprinted Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1970), pp. 5662, 57.

7 MacIntosh, J. J., ‘Belief-In’, Mind, LXXIX (1970), 395407 (hereafter MacIntosh).

8 ‘amicitia quaedam est hominis ad Deum’ (Summa Theologiae 2a2æ 23.1 resp.).

9 Compare Wittgenstein's remark that ‘If there were a verb meaning “ to believe falsely”, it would not have any significant first person present indicative’ (Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953), II.x, 190).

10 MacIntosh, 400. Price also made the point that, ‘when the “object” of evaluative belief-in is an entity of any kind’ the believer-in must at least believe that there is such an entity (Belief, p. 437, Price's emphasis.)

11 In ‘Belief-In’ I seem not to have remarked explicitly that I was talking about entities rather than ideals in this context. Presumably I thought, mistakenly as it now appears, that the context would make it clear to readers.

12 That A's believing that A believes p is compossible with A's not believing p is generally accepted, in part, at least, because belief is so heavily intertwined with behaviour. In order to set up a formal system in which (BaBap→Bap) philosophers invoke the notion of an ‘ideal’ or ‘rational’ believer. Specific cases in which the putative entailment breaks down (without recourse to psychological considerations) are considered in MacIntosh, J. J., ‘The Logic of Privileged Access’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, LXI (1983). 142–51.

13 Williams, John N., ‘Inconsistency and Contradiction’, Mind, xc (1981), 600–2. That is, belief often does not collect over conjunction; its not distributing over conjunction is also a possible, though less frequent, case.

14 Marquis, Don, ‘ghosts’, archy and mehitabel (London: Faber & Faber, 1960), p. 114.

15 Price, H. H., Belief (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969), p. 432.

16 Calvert, John M., ‘Indoctrination and belief’, Philosophical Studies in Education, lxix—lxxvi (1977), 70.

17 Stoppard, Tom, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (London: Faber, 1967), pp. 78.

18 I here follow Williams in using ‘disjunction’. But if something has more than one meaning, doesn't it in fact have a conjunction of meanings?

19 Luce, A. A. and Jessop, T. E. (eds), The Works of George Berkeley Bishop of Cloyne 9 vols. (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1950), vol. 3, Alciphron, Dialogue V, §2, p. 176.

20 van Cleve, James, ‘Reliability, Justification, and Induction‘, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, ix (1984), 555–67. 558.

21 In ‘Belief In’ I used the term performative, as was then common, to refer to what are now more usually called illocutionary acts. Though this is now a fairly standard reading of performative, for a suggestion that it is infelicitous see Urmson, J. O., ‘Performative Utterances’, in French, P. A., Uehling, T. E. Jr and Wettstein, H. K. (eds), Contemporary Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979), pp.260–7.

22 Austin, J. L., How to Do Things with Words (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), p. 65.

23 MacIntosh, p. 399.

24 This is a bit swift, for sentences beginning ‘I know…’ do have, as Austin pointed out, the function of ‘giving others my authority’ for the claim in question (Austin, J. L., ‘Other Minds’, in Philosophical Papers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), pp. 4484, 67), but it is clear that whatever the illocutionary force of to know is, it is not that of knowing, so the point remains. For further discussion see Vendler, Zeno, ‘Telling the Facts’, in Kiefer, F. and Searle, J. (eds), Speech Act Theory and Pragmatics (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1979), reprinted in French, P. A., Uehling, T. E. Jr and Wettstein, H. K. (eds), Contemporary Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979), pp. 220–32.

25 Searle, John R. and Vanderveken, Daniel, Foundations of Illocutionary Logic (Cambridge: University Press, 1985), p. 144.

26 Latham, Robert and Matthews, William (eds), The Dairy of Samuel Pepys (11 vols., Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), 4:120.

27 The Taming of the Shrew, II, i, 175–7.

28 Oxford English Dictionary, commend 2, 3.

29 Technically, in the taxonomy of a writer such as John Searle, to praise is an expressive Illocutionary act. Recommending for its part is akin to advising: an example of an English directive. For further details see, e.g. Searle and Vanderveken, Foundations of Illocutionary Logic, ch. 9, ‘Semantical Analysis of English Illocutionary Verbs’. For an interesting discussion of Searle's taxonomy see Alston, William P., ‘Searle on Illocutionary Acts’, in Lepore, E. and van Gulick, R. (eds), John Searle and his Critics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), pp. 5780.

30 Fodor, Jerry, Psychosemantics (Cambridge, M A: The MIT Press, 1987), p. 13, Fodor's emphasis.

31 Philosophical Studies, lxiii (1991), 130.

32 Fallaciously, but often very systematically. See, e.g. Nisbett, R. and Wilson, T., ‘Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes’, Psychological Reviews, xxxiv. (1977), andNisbett, R. and Ross, L., Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980).

33 The ‘reasonable man’ rule in the law of torts provides an example here. For a brief but interesting discussion of some of the main philosophical and legal points involved see White, Alan R., Grounds of Liability (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), chs. 6 and 7.

34 Kant, I., Critique of Pure Reason, A598 = B626. This type of first-order predicate Kant called ‘determining’ predicates. He held, correctly, that ‘exists’ was not such a predicate.

35 Chillingworth, William, The Religion of Protestants (Oxford, 1638; reprinted Menston: Scholar Press, 1972), p. 92.

36 Medawar, P. B., Memoir of a Thinking Radish (Oxford: University Press, 1988), p. 89.

37 Copleston, F. C., A History of Mediaeval Philosophy (London: Methuen, 1972), p. 37. Copleston continues in a footnote: ‘Given the authority enjoyed by Augustine in the Middle Ages, it required a bold man to say simply “he was wrong” or “he was talking nonsense”. Interpretation was a more prudent policy.’

38 Boyle Papers, vol. 2, f 64. Angle brackets enclose Boyle's inserted ‘existence’, replacing the manuscript's original ‘essence’.

39 I have been helped in writing this paper by suggestions from K. Walde, A. Kazmi, J. Baker, and M. Osier.

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