Guest post: Propositional belief and the other kind

Originally a comment by Bjarte Foshaug on The moment when we stop.

Daniel Dennett once made a useful distinction between two very different types of “belief”:

1. You can believe in the actual descriptive content of a proposition, e.g. I believe that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning (as seen from my frame of reference).

2. You can believe in whatever a proposition happens to mean, e.g. I believe that E = mc².

The first kind of belief requires you to actually understand the proposition in question (you cannot believe in the content without knowing what the content is), whereas the latter does not*. I have a vague, general notion what “E = mc²” means, but nothing that merits the label “understanding”. I simply trust that physicists know what they’re talking about. Dennett made the point that most religious “beliefs” seem to be of the latter kind, i.e. even the believers themselves don’t have any clear idea of what it actually is they believe in except that “whatever it happens to be” is called “God” etc. I think the same goes for the “beliefs” required by gender ideology which is why even asking TRAs to define what they mean by words like “woman”, “gender”, “trans”, “cis”, “(non-)binary” etc. is now considered a “transphobic dog-whistle” etc.

* In fact there doesn’t even have to be anything to understand. E.g. it’s perfectly possible to “believe” that “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe” even if there is no content to believe in.

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