How Belief Works

A NOTE ON THE TERM BELIEF

How Belief Works is an ongoing series of articles on the psychology of belief that's best read in sequence.

Belief involves a claim. For example, we may believe that it's raining, or that David is vegetarian, or that there are six eggs in the fridge. And, as I'll explain in the third article in this series, belief can be defined as a psychological state in which a claim's content 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 my belief that Earth is round is distinct from your 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’. But the subject of How Belief Works is our belief of any kind of claim, however fundamental or mundane. Some of my current mundane beliefs are that I’m in my flat, that I'm sitting on a chair at my desk, that I'm typing these words, that it's Tuesday morning, that it’s sunny outside, and that I went for a hike along a river yesterday.

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Article history

This article was first published 10 January 2023. Past versions are available in the Internet Archive here.