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 democracy is the best form of government. And the term belief can be used to refer to either the psychological state of belief – believing something – or the believed claim – something believed. For example, in the first sense my belief that Earth is round is distinct from someone else's 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.

In the second sense, the term belief is often used to specifically mean a believed claim that’s a core belief, 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.