Sec. 7-8: Belief

SEC. 7: THE NATURE OF IDEA OR BELIEF

  • The idea of an object is an essential part of the belief of it, but not the whole.
    • We conceive many things which we do not believe.
  • Let us consider the following to discover the nature of belief.
  • A matter of fact is the existence of objects or of their qualities.
  • All reasonings from causes or effects end in conclusions about a matter of fact.
    • The idea of existence is not different from the idea of any object.
    • After we have a simple conception of anything, we do not add nor change our first idea.
  • When we affirm that God exists, we simply form the idea of such a being as is represented to us.
    • The existence we give him is not conceived by an idea which we:
      • join to the idea of his other qualities, and
      • can again separate from them.
  • The conception of any object’s existence is not an addition to the simple conception of it.
    • The belief of the existence joins no new ideas to those which compose the idea of the object.
  • When I think of God as existing, my idea of him does not increase nor decrease.
    • There is certainly a great difference between:
      • the simple conception of an object’s existence, and
      • the belief of the object.
    • Since this difference does not lie in the parts of the idea which we conceive, it follows that it must lie in how we conceive it.
  • Suppose a person asserts to me that:
    • Caesar died in his bed
    • silver is more fusible, than lead
    • mercury is heavier than gold.
  • Despite my incredulity:
    • I understand his meaning.
    • I form all the ideas he forms.
      • My imagination is has the same powers as his.
    • It is impossible for him to:
      • conceive any idea which I cannot conceive, nor
      • conjoin any idea which I cannot conjoin.
  • What then is the difference between believing and disbelieving any proposition?
    • The answer is easy for propositions proven by intuition or demonstration.
      • In this case, the person who assents, conceives the ideas according to the proposition.
        • He is necessarily determined to conceive them in that way:
          • immediately, or
          • by the interposition of other ideas.
  • Whatever is absurd is unintelligible.
    • It is impossible for the imagination to conceive anything contrary to a demonstration.
  • But this absolute necessity cannot take place, as in:
    • reasonings from causation, and
    • matters of fact.
  • The imagination is free to conceive both sides of the question.
  • Where is the deference between incredulity and belief?
    • Since in both cases, the conception of the idea is equally possible and requisite.
  • We cannot answer that a person, who does not accept your proposition, immediately:
    • conceives it in a different way, or
    • has different ideas of it.
  • This answer is unsatisfactory because it does not discover the truth at all.
  • Whenever we dissent from any person, we conceive both sides of the question.
    • But as we can believe only one, it follows that the belief must make some difference between:
      • that conception to which we assent, and
      • that conception from which we dissent.
  • We may mingle, unite, separate, confound, and vary our ideas in 100 different ways.
    • But in reality, we have  no opinion until there is some principle which fixes one of these different situations.
    • This principle:
      • does not add to our precedent ideas, and
      • can only change the way we conceive them.
  • All the mind’s perceptions are of two kinds:
    1. Impressions
    2. Ideas
  • These differ from each other only in their force and vivacity.
    • Our ideas:
      • are copied from our impressions, and
      • represent our impressions in all their parts.
  • When you vary the idea of an object, you can only vary its force and vivacity.
    • If you change it, it represents a different object or impression.
  • The case is the same with colours.
    • A shade of any colour may acquire a new liveliness or brightness without any other variation.
    • But when you produce any other variation, it is no longer the same shade or colour.
  • Belief only varies the way we conceive any object.
    • Belief can only bestow an additional force and vivacity on our ideas.
  • Therefore, an opinion or belief may be most accurately defined as a lively idea associated with a present impression.
  • There is a very remarkable error frequently inculcated in the schools, that:
    • has become an established maxim, and
    • is universally received by all logicians.
  • This error consists in the vulgar division of the acts of the understanding, into CONCEPTION, JUDGMENT and REASONING, and in our definitions of them.
    • Conception is defined to be the simple survey of one or more ideas.
    • Judgment is the separating or uniting of different ideas.
    • Reasoning is the separating or uniting of different ideas by the interposition of others.
      • This interposition shows the relation of the ideas to each other.
  • But these distinctions and definitions are faulty.
    1. It is not true that we unite two different ideas in our every judgment.
      • God’s existence cannot be divided into the idea of God and the idea of existence, since the idea of existence is not a distinct idea.
        • The idea of existence cannot:
          • unite with the existence of the object
          • form a compound idea by the union.
    2. We can form a proposition which has only one idea.
      • We can reason on only one idea.
      • We do not need to:
        • employ more than two ideasm, and
        • have recourse to a third to serve as a medium between them.
  • We infer a cause immediately from its effect
    • This inference is:
      • a true species of reasoning
      • the strongest of all others
      • more convincing than when we interpose another idea to connect the two extremes.
  • These three acts of the understanding:
    • all resolve themselves into the first.
    • are just ways of conceiving our objects.
  • The act of the mind does not exceed a simple conception, whether we:
    • consider an object or several objects,
    • dwell on these objects, or
    • run from them to others in whatever form or order.
  • The only remarkable difference occurs when we:
    • join belief to the conception, and
    • are persuaded of the truth of what we conceive.
  • This act of the mind has never been explained by any philosopher, so I am free to propose my hypothesis on it:
    • Belief is only a strong and steady conception of any idea, approaching to an immediate impression. [Footnote 5.]

Footnote 5.

  • When we infer the existence of an object from the existence of other objects, some object must always be present to the memory or senses to be the foundation of our reasoning, since the mind cannot run up with its inferences to infinity.
    • Reason can never satisfy us that the existence of any one object implies the existence of another.
    • When we pass from the impression of one object to the idea or belief of another object, we are not determined by reason, but by custom or a principle of association.
  • But belief is somewhat more than a simple idea.
    • It is a way of forming an idea.
  • The same idea can only be varied by a variation of its force and vivacity.
    • It follows that belief is a lively idea produced by a relation to a present impression, according to the foregoing definition.
  • This operation of the mind which forms the belief of any matter of fact has been one of philosophy’s greatest mysteries.
    • No one has suspected that it would be difficult to explain.
    • I find it difficult to explain it.
      • Even when I think I understand the subject perfectly, I am at a loss for words to express my meaning.
  • I conclude that an opinion or belief is just an idea different from a fiction, not in the nature or the order of its parts, but in the way it is conceived.
    • But when I explain this manner, I cannot find any word to fully answer the case.
  • I am obliged to have recourse to every person’s feeling, to give him a perfect notion of this operation of the mind.
    • An idea assented to, feels different from a fictitious idea presented to us by the fancy alone.
    • I try to explain this different feeling by calling it a superior force, vivacity, solidity, firmness or steadiness.
      • This variety of terms seems so unphilosophical.
        • It is only intended to express that act of the mind, which:
          • renders realities more present to us than fictions,
          • causes realities to weigh more in the thought, and
          • gives realities a superior influence on the passions and imagination.
  • Provided we agree about the thing, it is needless to dispute about the terms.
  • The imagination has the command over all its ideas.
    • It can join, mix, and vary them in all the ways possible.
    • It may conceive objects with all the circumstances of place and time.
    • It may set objects in their true colours, just as they might have existed.
  • But it is impossible for the imagination to ever reach belief.
    • Thus, belief does not consist in the nature and order of our ideas.
    • It consists in how our mind conceives and feels them.
  • I confess that it is impossible to explain perfectly this feeling or manner of conception.
    • We can use words that express something near it.
    • But its true and proper name is ‘belief’.
      • It is a term that everyone understands in common life.
  • We can only assert that belief is something felt by the mind, which distinguishes the ideas of the judgment from the fictions of the imagination.
    • Belief:
      • gives them more force and influence
      • makes them more important
      • infixes them in the mind
      • renders them the governing principles of all our actions.
  • This definition will conform to everyone’s feeling and experience.
    • The ideas which we assent to are stronger, firmer and more vivid than the loose reveries of a castle-builder.
  • If one person reads a book as a romance while another reads it as a history, they receive the same ideas in the same order.
    • The incredulity of the one and the belief of the other does not hinder them from putting the very same sense on their author.
      • His words produce the same ideas in both.
      • Though his testimony does not have the same influence on them.
    • The person who reads it as a history, has a more lively conception of all the incidents.
      • He enters deeper into the concerns of the persons.
      • He represents to himself their actions, characters, friendships, and enmities.
      • He even goes so far as to form a notion of their features, and air, and person.
    • The person who reads it as a romance, gives no credit to the author’s testimony.
      • He has a more faint and languid conception of all these particulars.
      • He can receive little entertainment from it, except from its style and ingenuity.

SEC. 8: THE CAUSES OF BELIEF

  • Having explained that belief consists in a lively idea related to a present impression, let us examine:
    • its principles, and
    • what bestows the vivacity on the idea.
  • I establish it as a general maxim in the science of human nature, that when any impression becomes present to us, it not only transports the mind to such ideas as are related to it, but likewise communicates to them a share of its force and vivacity.
  • All the operations of the mind depend in greatly on its disposition when it performs them.
    • The action will always have vigour and vivacity depending on:
      • the elevation of the spirits, and
      • the level of attention.
  • Therefore, when any object which elevates and enlivens the thought is presented, every action to which the mind applies itself, will be more strong and vivid, as long as that disposition continues.
    • The continuance of the disposition depends entirely on the objects the mind is employed in.
    • Any new object naturally:
      • gives a new direction to the spirits, and
      • changes the disposition.
    • On the contrary, the disposition has a much longer duration when the mind:
      • fixes constantly on the same object, or
      • passes easily and insensibly along related objects.
  • Hence, when the mind is once enlivened by a present impression, it forms a more lively idea of the related objects by a natural transition of the disposition from the one to the other.
    • The change of the objects is so easy.
      • The mind is not sensible of it.
      • The mind applies itself to the conception of the related idea with all the force and vivacity it acquired from the present impression.
  • It is good if we can satisfy ourselves on the reality of this phenomenon, considering the nature of relation and that facility of transition, which is essential to it
    • But I must confess, I place my chief confidence in experience to prove so material a principle.
  • As the first experiment to our present purpose, upon seeing the picture of an absent friend, our idea of him is enlivened by the resemblance.
    • Every passion created by that idea, whether of joy or sorrow, acquires new force and vigour.
  • In producing this effect, there concurs a relation and a present impression.
    • If the picture does not resemble him or was not intended as him, it never conveys our thought to him.
  • If the picture and the person were absent, the mind feels its idea to be weakened than enlivened by that transition, though the mind may pass from the thought of the one to that of the other.
    • We take a pleasure in viewing the picture of a friend, when it is set before us.
    • But when it is removed, we choose to consider him directly instead of the image.
      • Both are equally distinct and obscure.
  • The Roman Catholic ceremonies are experiments of the same nature.
    • The devotees of that strange superstition usually plead in excuse of the rituals which they are scolded with.
    • They feel the good effect of those external motions, postures, and actions, in:
      • enlivening their devotion
      • quickening their fervour.
        • These would otherwise decay away, if directed entirely to distant and immaterial objects.
  • They say that they shadow out the objects of their faith in sensible types and images.
    • They render those objects more present to us by their immediate presence.
      • This would be less possible through an intellectual view and contemplation.
  • Sensible objects always have a greater influence on the fancy than any other.
    • They readily convey this influence to those related and resembling ideas.
  • I infer from these practices and this reasoning, that the effect of resemblance in enlivening the idea is very common.
    • In every case, a resemblance and present impression must concur.
    • We are abundantly supplied with experiments to prove the reality of the foregoing principle.
  • We may add force to these experiments by others of a different kind, in considering the effects of contiguity and resemblance.
    • It is certain, that distance reduces the force of every idea.
    • On our approach to any object; though it does not discover itself to our senses; it operates on the mind with an influence that imitates an immediate impression.
  • Thinking on any object readily transports the mind to what is contiguous.
    • But it is only the actual presence of an object, that transports it with a superior vivacity.
  • When I am a few miles from home, whatever relates to it touches me more nearly than when I am 200 leagues away.
    • Though even at that distance the reflecting on anything in the neighbourhood of my friends and family naturally produces an idea of them.
    • But in both cases, the objects of the mind are ideas and there there is an easy transition between them.
  • That transition alone is unable to give a superior vivacity to any of the ideas, for want of some immediate impression. (Footnote 6)

Footnote 6.

  • He said, “When we see those places where notable men spent their time, we are more powerfully affected than when we hear of their exploits.
    • Should I attribute this to instinct or to some illusion?
  • This is just what is happening to me now.
    • Plato was the first to hold discussions here.
      • His nearby gardens do not merely put me in mind of him.
      • They seem to set Plato himself before my eyes.
    • Speusippus was here, so was Xenocrates, his pupil, Polemo.
      • That very seat which we view was his.
  • Then again, when I looked at our Senate-house (the old building of Hostilius, not this new one; it diminished in my estimation when it was enlarged), I used to think of Scipio, Cato, Laelius and my own grandfather.
    • Such is the power of places to evoke associations.
    • So it is with good reason that they are used as a basis for memory training.”
    • Cicero de Finibus, lib. 5.
  • Causation has the same influence as the two other relations of resemblance and contiguity.
  • Superstitious people are fond of the relics of saints and holy men, for the same reason that they seek after types and images to:
    • enliven their devotion
    • give them a more intimate and strong conception of those exemplary lives, which they desire to imitate.
  • One of the best relics would be a saint’s handiwork
    • If his clothes and furniture are ever to be considered in this light, it is because they were:
      • once at his disposal
      • moved and affected by him.
        • In this respect, they are to be considered as:
          • imperfect effects
          • connected with him by a shorter chain of consequences than any of those, from which we learn the reality of his existence.
  • This phenomenon clearly proves that a present impression with a relation of causation may:
    • enliven any idea
    • consequently produce belief or assent, according to its definition.
  • Why do we need to seek other arguments to prove that a present impression with a relation or transition of the fancy may enliven any idea, when our reasonings from cause and effect are alone enough for that purpose?
    • We must have an idea of every matter of fact, which we believe.
      • This idea arises only from a relation to a present impression.
      • The belief super-adds nothing to the idea.
        • The belief only:
          • changes how we conceive the idea
          • renders the idea more strong and lively.
  • The present conclusion on the influence of relation is the immediate consequence of all these steps.
    • Every step appears to me sure and infallible.
  • Only a present impression or lively idea, and a relation in the fancy between the impression and idea, enters this operation of the mind, so that there can be no suspicion of mistake.
  • To put this whole affair in a fuller light, let us consider it as a question in natural philosophy which we must determine by experience and observation.
    • An object is presented from which I:
      • draw a certain conclusion
      • form to myself ideas, which I am said to believe or assent to.
  • However that object, present to my senses, and that other object, whose existence I infer by reasoning, may influence each other by their powers or qualities.
    • Yet as the phenomenon of belief is merely internal, these powers and qualities are entirely unknown, can have no hand in producing it.
  • It is the present impression, which is to be considered as the true and real cause of:
    • the idea
    • the belief which attends it.
  • We must therefore try to discover by experiments the particular qualities, by which it is enabled to produce so extraordinary an effect.
  • First I observe, that the present impression does not have this effect:
    • by its own proper power and efficacy
    • when considered alone, as a single perception, limited to the present moment.
  • I find that an impression, from which, I can draw no conclusion on its first appearance, may afterwards become the foundation of belief when I have had experience of its usual consequences.
    • We must have:
      • observed the same impression in past instances
      • found it to be constantly conjoined with some other impression.
  • This is confirmed by many experiments and cannot be doubted.
  • From a second observation, I conclude that the belief, which attends the present impression and is produced by past impressions and conjunctions, arises immediately without any new operation of the reason or imagination.
    • I can be certain of this because I:
      • never am conscious of any such operation
      • find nothing in the subject, on which it can be founded.
  • We call everything which proceeds from a past repetition as CUSTOM, without any new reasoning or conclusion.
    • We may establish it as a truth, that all the belief, which follows any present impression, is derived solely from that origin.
    • When we are accustomed to see two impressions conjoined together, the appearance or idea of the one immediately carries us to the idea of the other.
  • Being fully satisfied on this head, I make a third set of experiments to know, whether anything be needed besides the customary transition, towards the production of this phenomenon of belief.
  • I therefore change the first impression into an idea.
    • I observe, that though the customary transition to the correlative idea still remains, yet there is in reality no belief nor perswasion.
  • A present impression then, is absolutely requisite to this whole operation.
  • When I compare an impression with an idea and find that their only difference is in their different degrees of force and vivacity, I conclude that belief is a more vivid and intense conception of an idea, proceeding from its relation to a present impression.
  • Thus, all probable reasoning is nothing but a species of sensation.
  • We must follow our taste and sentiment not solely in poetry and music, but likewise in philosophy.
    • When I am convinced of any principle, it is only an idea, which strikes more strongly on me.
    • When I prefer one set of arguments over another, I only decide from my feeling about the superiority of their influence.
  • Objects have no discoverable connection together.
    • Only by custom, operating on the imagination, can we draw any inference from the appearance of one to the existence of another.
  • The past experience, on which all our judgments on cause and effect depend, may operate on our mind in such an insensible manner as to be never noticed.
    • It may even be unknown to us.
  • A person who stops his journey short upon meeting a river in his way, foresees the consequences of his proceeding forward.
    • His knowledge of these consequences is conveyed to him by past experience.
      • It informs him of the conjunctions of causes and effects.
  • But can we think that he reflects on any past experience and remembers instances he saw or heard of, to discover the water’s effects on animal bodies?
    • Surely no.
    • This is not how he proceeds in his reasoning.
  • The idea of sinking is so closely connected with the idea of water.
    • The idea of suffocating is closely connected with the idea of sinking.
      • The mind makes the transition without the assistance of the memory.
    • The custom operates before we have time for reflection.
  • The objects seem so inseparable.
    • We instantly pass from the one to the other.
  • This transition proceeds from experience and not from any primary connection between the ideas.
    • Experience may produce a belief and a judgment of causes and effects by a secret operation, without being thought of.
  • This removes all pretext for asserting that the mind is convinced by reasoning of the principle that instances we have no experience of, must necessarily resemble those which we have experience of.
    • Because the understanding or imagination can draw inferences from past experience without:
      • reflecting on it
      • much more forming any principle concerning it or reasoning on that principle.
  • In general, in all the most established and uniform conjunctions of causes and effects, such as those of gravity, impulse, solidity, etc., the mind never expressly considers any past experience.
    • Though in other associations of objects more rare and unusual, it may assist the custom and transition of ideas by this reflection.
  • We find in some cases, that the reflection produces the belief without the custom, or more properly speaking, that the reflection produces the custom in an oblique and artificial manner.
  • I explain myself.
    • It is certain in philosophy and common life, we may attain the knowledge of a particular cause merely by one experiment, provided it is:
      •  made with judgment
      • after a careful removal of all foreign and superfluous circumstances.
  • After an experiment of this kind, the mind, on the appearance of the cause or the effect, can draw an inference concerning the existence of its correlative
    • As a habit can never be acquired merely by one instance, belief cannot in this case be the effect of custom.
  • But this difficulty will vanish, if we consider that though we are here supposed to have had only one experiment of a particular effect, yet we have many millions to convince us of this principle;
    • that like objects placed in like circumstances, will always produce like effects; and as this principle has established itself by a sufficient custom, it bestows an evidence and firmness on any opinion, to which it can be applied.
  • The connection of the ideas is not habitual after one experiment.
    • But this connection is comprehended under another principle that is habitual.
      • This principle brings us back to our hypothesis.
      • In all cases we transfer our experience to instances, of which we have no experience expressly or tacitly, directly or indirectly.
  • It is very difficult to talk of the operations of the mind with perfect propriety and exactness.
    • Because common language has
      • seldom made any very nice distinctions among them
      • has called by the same term all such as nearly resemble each other.
  • This is a source almost inevitable of obscurity and confusion in the author.
    • It may frequently create doubts and objections in the reader, which he would never have dreamed of.
  • My general position, that an opinion or belief is nothing but a strong and lively idea derived from a present impression related to it, maybe liable to the following objection:
    • Because of a little ambiguity in those words ‘strong’ and ‘lively’.
  • An impression may give rise to reasoning.
    • But an idea may also have the same influence, especially upon my principle, that all our ideas are derived from correspondent impressions.
  • If I form an idea of which I have forgotten the correspondent impression, I am able to conclude from this idea, that such an impression did once exist.
    • Since this conclusion is attended with belief, it may be asked, from where are the qualities of force and vivacity derived, which constitute this belief?
      • To this I answer very readily, from the present idea.
      • This idea is considered here not as the representation of any absent object, but as a real perception in the mind, of which we are intimately conscious.
        • It must be able to bestow on whatever is related to it the same quality, call it firmness, or solidity, or force, or vivacity, with which the mind reflects on it, and is assured of its present existence.
  • The idea here supplies the place of an impression, and is entirely the same, so far as regards our present purpose.
  • On the same principles, we do not need to be surprised to hear of:
    • the remembrance of an idea, or of the idea of an idea
    • its force and vivacity superior to the imagination’s loose conceptions.
  • In thinking of our past thoughts, we:
    • delineate out the objects we were thinking of.
    • also conceive the mind’s action in meditating that certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ or indefinable quality that everyone sufficiently understands.
  • When the memory offers an idea of this and represents it as past, it is easily conceived how that idea may have more vigour and firmness, than when we think of a past thought of which we have no remembrance.
  • After this, anyone will understand how we may:
    • form the idea of an impression and of an idea
    • believe the existence of an impression and an idea.

Words: 4,621

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