How Belief Works


How Belief Works is an ongoing series of articles on the psychology of belief that's best read in order, starting with this article.

Belief involves a claim. For example, we may believe that killing is wrong or that David is vegetarian. And, as I'll explain in the third article in this series, belief can be defined as a psychological state in which the content of a claim exists in our mind, or at least our memory, as an aspect of reality.

However, the term belief can refer not just to the psychological state of belief – believing something – but also to the believed claim – something believed. For example, in the first sense, your belief that Earth is round is different from my belief that Earth is round, because they’re separate psychological states existing in different heads. But in the second sense they’re the same belief: Earth is round.

Also, the term belief is often used to specifically mean a believed claim that’s a core belief, a fundamental conviction, whether moral, political, scientific or religious – as when we refer to our or someone else’s ‘beliefs’. However, the subject of How Belief Works is belief in general, from core beliefs to mundane ones. Examples of the latter are my current beliefs that I’m in my flat, I'm sitting on a chair at my desk, I'm typing these words, it's a Tuesday morning, it’s sunny outside, and I went for a hike along a river yesterday.

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This article was first published 10 January 2023.