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On Believing

  • R. W. Sleeper (a1)

In an important article in the opening issue of Religious Studies, Professor H. H. Price states that: ‘Epistemologists have not usually had much to say about believing “in”, though ever since Plato's time they have been interested in believing “that”’ (loc. cit., vol. I, no. 1, p. 5). We are all considerably in debt to Professor Price for his extremely lucid analysis which will, I think, go a very long way towards filling the lacuna to which he points. As I find myself in agreement with almost every point which Price has made, my purpose here is not to make a ‘reply’ to his article in the usual sense but to suggest that his analysis of believing is curiously and disappointingly incomplete. I shall offer some reasons of my own in support of this suggestion, not so much in criticism of Price's thesis as in hopes of finding some way out of the difficulties which, I take it, forced Price to stop short just where he did. It will be the burden of my argument to show that a more complete and satisfactory account of believing must include a description of its ‘metaphysical element’ as well as of its epistemological and psychological conditions. For it is at the point of what I shall call the ‘metaphysics of believing’ that Price's analysis and description of belief ‘in’ and belief ‘that’ stops short.1

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page 75 note 1 Although I cannot presume that Professor Price would agree with the specific direction in which I should like to push the analysis of believing, there is much in his previously published work to suggest his general sympathy with ‘metaphysical’ philosophy. See in particular his contribution to Faith and the Philosophers, ed. John, Hick (Macmillan, 1964).

page 76 note 1 Both parts of this quotation are from page 25 of the article cited.

page 78 note 1 See John Wisdom's penetrating discussion of this point: ‘Mace, Moore and Wittgenstein’, Paradox and Discovery (Oxford. Blackwell, 1966) pp. 148166.

page 78 note 2 Compare Moore, G. E., Philosophical Papers (Macmillan, 1959), pp. 3259 with Dewey, , Experience and Nature (Open Court, 1925), pp. 5055 and 396413. Of particular interest is the forthright statement of Dewey on p. 413 of the essential role of metaphysics in ethics.

page 79 note 1 Faith and the Philosophers pp. 10–11.

page 79 note 2 Ibidp. 57. This challenge to ‘personalistic theism’ is also developed persuasively and at length by R. W. Hepburn in Christianity and Paradox.

page 79 note 3 Op. cit. p. 26.

page 81 note 1 Ramsey, I. T., ‘Contemporary Philosophy and Christian Faith,’ Religious Studies, vol. 1, no. 1.

page 81 note 2 I am in debt to John Wisdom's recently published Paradox and Discovery for the reminder of Wittgenstein's warning against the habit of ‘abstract’ thought which often, though not always, misleads us by inducing us to seek clarity through definitions instead of through concrete cases. Reiterating this warning, Wisdom himself states his own ‘belief-that’ in terms which are unmistakably clear and which must, I think, be heeded by anyone who intends, as I do, to make metaphysical ‘pronouncements’. He says: ‘I believe that if, faced with the extraordinary pronouncements of metaphysicians, we avoid asking them to define their terms, but instead press them to present us with instances of what they refer to contrasted with instances of what they do not refer to, then their pronouncements will no longer appear either as obvious falsehoods or mysterious truths or pretentious nonsense, but often as confusingly presented attempts to bring before our attention certain not fully recognised and yet familiar features of how in the end questions of different types are met. These are features without which the questions or statements of the type in question would not be themselves. And they are features which can seldom or never be safely or vividly brought to mind by the use of general terms.’ And he goes on to say that what Wittgenstein was claiming was that ‘too often when what we need is to come down towards the concrete, we don't, and that this especially hinders our philosophy, our metaphysics’. (‘A Feature of Wittgenstein's Technique’, Paradox and Discovery (Blackwell, 1966), pp. 101102.)

page 82 note 1 Individuals pp. 110–115.

page 83 note 1 See also D. D. Evans, The Logic of Self-Involvement, where many of Austin's ideas are developed and given application to religious language. Although I am sympathetic to Evans' point of view, my own inclination is to emphasise the importance of the metaphysics, as well as the logic, of ‘self-involvement’.

page 83 note 2 See Morgan's, D. N. study, Love: Plato, the Bible and Freud (Prentice-Hall, 1964).

page 84 note 1 Peirce, C. S., Collected Papers, vol. 6, paragraph 295. R. B. Braithwaite, An Empiricist's View of the Nature of Religious Belief, passim, but see esp. p. 19.

page 84 note 2 Phillips, J. B., transl., Letters to Young Churches pp. 8283.

page 85 note 1 See my quotation from Price on p. 79.

page 85 note 2 The phrase ‘natural facts’ is, of course, Strawson's phrase for the referents of ‘metaphysical descriptions’. See Individuals p. 111. One may suspect that ‘natural facts’ are what John Dewey called ‘generic traits of nature’ and made the subject-matter of his own empirical and descriptive metaphysics in Experience and Nature. Dewey went on to say that metaphysics could function as the ‘ground-map of the province of criticism’, a step which Strawson does not take but one which seems not inconsistent with the direction in which his philosophy seems to be developing.

page 85 note 3 Individuals p. 111.

page 85 note 4 Ibid. p. 111.

page 86 note 1 Individuals p. 112.

page 86 note 2 Ibid. p. 112.

page 86 note 3 Ibid. pp. 104–112.

page 86 note 4 Ibid. p. 104.

page 86 note 5 I shall sometimes take as ‘equivalent’ such predicates as ‘…believes that x is red’ and ‘…is believing that x is red’ for reasons that should be obvious. What I want to insist on is that the verb-form be used rather than the noun-form. It makes no sense to speak of ‘belief-in’, for example, as P-predicate material. It is not an action performed. ‘Believing-in’ is.

page 87 note 1 Individuals p. 108.

page 87 note 2 Ibid. p. 110.

page 87 note 3 See Lewis', H. D. incisive criticism of Strawson on this point in ‘Mind and Body’, reprinted in Clarity is Not Enough, ed. Lewis, H. D. (Allen and Unwin, 1963), pp. 381400.

page 89 note 1 See Isenberg's, A. discussion of this in ‘The Problem of Belief’, Collected Papers on Aesthetics, ed. Barrett, C., S., J. (Blackwell, 1966).

page 89 note 2 Compare D. D. Evans' notion of what he calls, after Austin, the ‘Behabitive-postural’ aspect of ‘on-looks’. (The Logic of Self-Involvement, p. 127.)

page 90 note 1 See above p. 12.

page 90 note 2 Buber, M., I and Thou (Scribner's, 1958), p. 11.

page 90 note 3 Ibid. p. 11.

page 91 note 1 I and Thou p. 75.

page 91 note 2 Cf. Buber's telling remark: ‘But it is the exalted melancholy of our fate that every Thou in our world must become an It.’ I and Thou p. 16.

page 91 note 3 ‘Contemporary Philosophy and the Christian Faith’ p. 47.

page 91 note 4 Tillich, Paul, The Courage to Be (Fontana, 1962), p. 183.

page 92 note 1 Hampshire, S., Thought and Action, p. 232. Cf. W. Cerf's review of Austin's book, How to do things with words, in Mind, vol. lxxv. no. 298 (04, 1966), pp. 262285. Cerf concludes that, ‘in wanting to elucidate the total speech act in the total speech situation, Austin happens to start on a road that turns out to be somewhat similar to the road leading from Husserl to Heidegger. From Austin's linguistic phenomenology the road leads Hampshire into surprising proximity with positions usually taken to be characteristic of existentialism’, (p. 285) Iris Murdoch has suggested that similar parallels between analytic and existentialist philosophical developments could be found as long ago as 1953. See the excellent introduction to her Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (Bowes & Bowes, 1953).

page 93 note 1 See also Heinrich Ott, ‘Sprache und Verstehen—ein Grundproblem gegenwartiger Theologie’, translated as ‘Language and Understanding’, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, vol. xxi, no. 3 (03, 1966) pp. 275293. Ott, following the lead of Lessing and Bultmann, places the problem of the role of factual claims at the forefront of ‘hermeneutics’. Although he prefers to speak of ‘judgments of historical probability’ rather than what Lessing called ‘accidental truths of history’, it is perfectly clear that Ott is inclined to give more weight to factual claims in hermeneutics than many other contemporary theologians. It is significant that he finds himself unable to do this without taking careful account of ‘the nature of language’ and by drawing attention to the fact that the language of faith bespeaks a decisive ‘ontic’ relation which ‘transcends the (usual) subject-object dichotomy’, (p. 289.) Ott's debt to Heidegger is both transparent and acknowledged, but he calls attention to other sources as well. Significantly, he says that contributions to the understanding of language come from many areas and that ‘We must listen attentively when something helpful or illuminating is offered to us from these areas’, (p. 293.)

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
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