Belief serves as a crucial and influential factor in how individuals navigate life. It is a topic of great importance and interest across various disciplines. Questions surrounding the nature of belief, its categories and objectives, the possibility of establishing a theory on the ethics of belief, and the feasibility of achieving such a theory all delve into the essence, classifications, aims, supporting evidence, practical implications, and the interplay between beliefs and personal volition.
Research on the Ethics of Belief, by Wen Xueping, a professor from the School of Marxism at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, conducts a thorough discussion on the ethics of belief.
According to representational theory, belief is considered a genuine mental state that, along with other mental states, prompts various mental representations and behaviors. It is also an object that thinking processes engage with. This explanation aligns with the conventional understanding of mental states and has held a dominant position for quite some time. However, there exist several alternative theories, including dispositionalism, interpretivism, functionalism, instrumentalism, and eliminativism, all of which compete with representational theory. Wen conducts a comparative analysis of each of these theories.
Building upon this, the author proceeds to shed light on the fundamental classifications of beliefs. These encompass dispositional and occurrent beliefs, propositional and objectual beliefs, thick and thin beliefs, as well as basic and non-basic beliefs, among others. The aim is to present the most up-to-date and comprehensive categorizations available.
The objective of beliefs is closely intertwined with the ethics of belief. When individuals share a common goal, they generally adhere to the same ethical principles regarding belief. This statement involves three interrelated issues to be confirmed: whether belief has a goal; what goal it has; what advantages and disadvantages specific goal identification has. “The goal of belief explains the rules the state of belief should obey from teleology and normative theory.” Since the Enlightenment, evidentialism has always been the mainstream of Western epistemology. The normative requirements it holds for the ethics of belief is that the belief of a person should conform to evidence. In contrast, pragmatism has three major categories: William James’s pragmatism independent of truth; Blaise Pascal’s pragmatism dependent of truth; pragmatic encroachment in epistemology represented by Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath.
Various approaches, such as deriving the ethics of belief from goals, establishing criteria for evidence, and considering pragmatic consequences, all necessitate individuals to assume responsibility for their beliefs. This responsibility entails a level of control over one’s will. Consequently, any ethical framework concerning beliefs must address the intricate relationship between beliefs and personal volition. This aspect is crucial in determining the feasibility of establishing an ethics of belief.