Most people have very simple and wrong notions of beliefs. Indeed, much of religious thinking is based on these mistaken notions of belief. Sometimes, rather than arguing religious doctrines, I find it most productive to just illustrate this “common sense” mistaken notion of beliefs. Indeed, wrong views of belief can affect politics, sex and much more.
So, contrary to the common view of belief, I have come to see that:
- on any given issue, we can hold multiple contrary beliefs
- we use exchange our beliefs depending on which of our many-selves we are fluxing between
- beliefs and emotions are always bound together. no belief is free of emotions
- beliefs are not as simple as “yes” or “no”
So though I find the notion of “belief” problematic at a deep level, when I do think of beliefs or stances using my points above, I also like to think of them as having at least four possible levels of commitment. I visualize each belief as having 4-colored traffic light attached to it. The color lit on a light indicates our level of commitment to that belief.
- Green: Committed (little doubt)
- Red: Rejected (little doubt)
- Yellow: Doubted
- Grey: Suspended from consideration
Grey light beliefs are more common than we imagine. We put things in the grey light category because believing or disbelieving in them gives us so many perceived benefits that we have decided to protect them from scrutiny. With grey light objects we may have many doubts but we are not questioning the belief. I wrote a short post once on how my son did this with the Tooth Fairy call “Sacrificing Rationality“. I recently talked with a friend who did this with a relationship he was in. Grey lights permeate our mental geography.
And to make the model more cumbersome (but more accurate), I actually visualize 3 other variant lights in my traffice light model.
I find this lay (not professional) epistemology of mine to be helpful in thinking about both my own and others’ beliefs. How about you? What is your model of beliefs?