Reflections on Biblical and
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What Is Faith? Testimonies of the Past and Present

Dear reader, you may have only associated "faith" with "saving faith."  But you will see, as you read below, that faith is virtually a part of every decision that we make several times every day and is the basis of all our knowledge.  Until this universal aspect of faith is grasped and a definition understood on that basis, I Christians will never be able to exercise the faith to which God calls us in His Word and will confuse the relationship of Christianity to other faiths (beliefs)—especially those that are secular, such as humanism, scientism, atheism, and the "-isms" of politics (communism, socialism, conservatism, liberalism, etc.).

Faith = belief.  Sometimes, some authors distinguish faith and belief.  This approach is a false dichotomy.  In English, they are virtual synonyms.  In Greek,  pistis may be translated belief or faith depending upon the context and the preference of the translator.  Peculiarly in English, faith has no verb form, so believe must be used when the verb is required.  This fact underscores their being synonyms. 

The mechanism or process of faith in the generic or everyday is not different from that of Biblical application, but what one trusts (God through His Word) is infinitely different!

I personally do not believe that a more comprehensive compilation of the description of faith (belief) exists in the world's literature than what follows here.

Augustine of Hippo (as presented by Ronald Nash)

"Faith is not peculiar to religion.  It is, in fact, indispensable in every area of life.  To take a simple example, one's knowledge of one's identity depends upon faith, for how else would one know that the people who claim to be his parents really are unless he either trusts their word or the word of someone else?  Moreover, all learning depends upon faith.  If we refused to believe things that we have not experienced personally, we could never know the facts of history, which are based upon the testimony or others whom we take to be authorities.  This, Augustine insists, is faith....  Augustine shows that a knowledge of other human beings is impossible apart from an exercise of faith.  'But, whosoever thou art who wilt not believe save what thou seest, lo, bodies that are present thou seest with the eyes of the body, wills and thoughts of thine own, thou seest by the mind itself; tell me, I pray thee, thy friend's will towards thee by what eyes seest thou?' 

"Thus, although we can see bodies with our physical eyes and see our own thoughts and will by the eyes of our mind, we cannot see the minds of other people.  Yet (none) seriously maintains that other people have no minds; he sees their physical actions and hears their words, but he takes it for granted that they have minds.  This, Augustine informs (us), is not sight but faith.  'Will you haply say that you see acts and hear words, but, concerning your friend's will, that which cannot be seen and heard you will believe.' 

"Finally, Augustine considers the Manichean criticism of the faith that Christians have in the Bible.  He argues, first, when one abandons the authority of the Scriptures, he does not abandon all authority.  (He) only substitutes one authority for another, and in this case he sets up his own mind as authority above the Scriptures.  'Instead of making the high authority of Scripture the reason of approval, every man makes his (own) approval the reason for thinking a passage (of Scripture) correct.  If, then, you discard authority, to what, poor feeble soul ... will you betake yourself?  Set aside authority, and let us hear the reason of your  beliefs."  (Ronald Nash, The Light of the Mind..., pages 25-26—emphasis Ed's)

Jacques Ellul

Belief is an everyday matter and sets the foundation for all that constitutes our existence.  Everything depends upon it; all human relations rest upon it.  Unless I have good reasons to the contrary, I believe spontaneously what people tell me; I have confidence in them a priori.  If this were not so, human relations would be impossible, as in the kind of speech that only causes confusion or derision.  I also believe scientific truths.  I believe that E=mc2 because I have been told it.  The whole educational system is based on belief.  Students believe what their teachers or their books say; they learn on a basis of belief.  We also believe spontaneously the witness of our sense, even when they are disturbed.  We believe similarly in certain words, such as the good, or freedom, or justice, which we do not define plainly or consistently but to which we cling firmly no matter what their content.  A society could not function if it did not rest on beliefs hidden in the deep recesses of each of its members and producing coherent sentiments and actions.  A society without collective beliefs (which are, of course, individual in the eyes of each member) would soon fall into lawlessness and enter a process of dissolution.  Beliefs are definitely the raison d’être of society.  (What I Believe, Eerdmans, 1989, page 3)

Anselm of Canterbury

Many philosophers have taken ("faith seeking understanding") to mean that Anselm hopes to replace faith with understanding. If one takes ‘faith’ to mean roughly ‘belief on the basis of testimony’ and ‘understanding’ to mean ‘belief on the basis of philosophical insight’, one is likely to regard faith as an epistemically substandard position; any self-respecting philosopher would surely want to leave faith behind as quickly as possible. The theistic proofs are then interpreted as the means by which we come to have philosophical insight into things we previously believed solely on testimony. But as argued in Williams 1996 (xiii-xiv), Anselm is not hoping to replace faith with understanding. Faith for Anselm is more a volitional state than an epistemic state: it is love for God and a drive to act as God wills. In fact, Anselm describes the sort of faith that “merely believes what it ought to believe” as “dead” (M 78). (For the abbreviations used in references, see the Bibliography below.) So “faith seeking understanding” means something like “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” (See here.)

Edward J. Carnell (1)

"There is nothing offensive about the Scriptural insistence that faith be based on a co-operative activity of spirit and mind, for it is the very arrangement we are obliged to respect in all conscious activity.  We commit ourselves in faith to--that is, we act with concern over--only what is reasonable.  The faculty of intelligence (knowledge) is the guide of our lives.  By its word we  conclude that since the alarm has rung, it is time to arise; that this hallway leads us to the bathroom; that this is our toothbrush in front of us; that these are our children with us at breakfast; that the driveway is clear as we back our automobile out; that the signals in traffic mean what they say; that the building ahead contains the office in which we must labor for the day; etc. 

"And in no case do we act passionately in defiance of the report of reason (knowledge).  The only way a person can maintain both social respect and personal sanity is to proportion his commitment to the veraciousness of the evidences (knowledge) which the understanding processes.  When reason assures us that our automobile is blue one parked just beyond yonder sign, we dare not passionately believe against the understanding that the brown car over to the left belongs to us.  Suppose that a person, having generated enough passion (feeling, emotion) to act in opposition to the understanding, concluded: "My understanding tell me that this is a porcupine, but I passionately (with great feeling and emotion) believe that it is my loving wife,"  If he existentially acts upon this urge, the results will be interesting.  The porcupine will be perplexed, the wife greatly resentful, and the individual filled with quills.  In any case the terminal value could hardly commend itself to a person who remembers that he is made in the image of God."

"If our conduct in life is able to suggest any axiom, it is the following: The native person--the one unaffected y corrupting philosophic presuppositions--is at his best, and is most ideally a man of faith, when he obeys, rather than defies, the report of a critically developed understanding.  If my understanding (knowledge) assures me that I cannot drive through the darkness ahead because a bridge has been washed out, I come to grief  when I permit my inward passion (feelings, emotion) for crossing to go in defiance of the evidences.  Faith may not remove mountains, but it cannot declare mountains to be non-mountains (that is, it cannot transcend truth, reality, or what is).  (Ed: The emphases in italics are Carnell's, the remainder and parentheses are mine.)  Carnell, The Case for Biblical Christianity, pages 49-50.

Edward J. Carnell (2)

"(There is) the unanimous opinion ... (that) philosophy is grounded in knowledge, while Biblical religion turns on faith.... In Jamesean terms, faith belongs to the tender-minded, knowledge to the tough-minded.  Before this issue is laid to rest, however, two observations must be made."

First, faith is not a stranger in the world.  Faith is simply commitment or trust.  It is just believing in what one is assured is veracious, valuable, or engaging.  Freedom wanders aimlessly if it has nothing to which it may become committed.  The philosopher does not pass beyond faith, therefore.  He has faith in himself, his method, rationality, the existence of other minds, and a host of other objects and relations.  Faith is the foundation of all social relations.  We trust the banker, the engineer, our wife.  Now suppose (for the sake of examining Christianity as a problem of thought) that a personal God is the ultimate being, and that one has truncated truth while he remains unfamiliar with god; would anything other than trust in this God be a conceivably satisfying binder between time and eternity?  In unloading faith, hence, one had best proceed with care.  He may covertly be depriving himself of an indispensable condition for good philosophy itself."

"Second, and perhaps more to the point, a straw-man opponent is attacked when faith and knowledge are antipathetically related.  The Bible is a system of propositions which address the reason as decisively as any other faculty in man.  Knowledge is the light which clarifies the nature of things to which man ought to be committed.  Reason tests, segregates, orders, and classifies.  Proper commitment does not follow through until the whole man is convinced of the reasonableness and coherence of a value proposition.  Knowledge describes and orders the alternatives, separating the worthy from the unworthy, the good from the bad, the true from the false, so that the heart may have an unambiguous place to rest."

Philosophy presupposes that reason guides the wise man into life, and Christianity does not gainsay this.  Reason stands guard over the heart, warning if of the consequences which follow if this of that commitment is decided upon.  Men are under obligation to sharpen their reason in order that they might reduce the plus-minus threshold of possible error which attend all decision.  But man is not fully man until he commits himself to what the understanding finds is worthy of commitment.  Without faith in what reason gains, the gain is fruitless."  (A Philosophy of the Christian Religion, pages 28-30)

John Warwick Montgomery

"All matters of fact are limited to probabilistic confirmations, but this does not immobilize us in daily life.  We still put our very lives in jeopardy every day on the basis of probability judgments (crossing the street, consuming packaged foods, and drugs, flying in airplanes, etc.).  And the law in every land redistributes property and takes away liberty (if not life) by verdicts and judgments rooted in the examination of evidence and probabilistic standards of proof."  (Human Rights and Human Dignity, page 153)

Gordon H. Clark on Saint Augustine

"With respect to everyday living, is it probable or doubtful that eating lunch today is wise?  Again the skeptic could not know.  A theory of probability must itself be based on truth, for if the method of determining the probable wisdom of eating lunch is false, the conclusion that it is safe to eat lunch could not be known to be probable.  Without the possession of the truth therefore it is impossible to act rationally even in the most ordinary situations."  (Thales to Dewey, page 220)

Faith in General – Abraham Kuyper

“When Columbus is incited, by internal compulsion, to direct his restless eye across the western ocean to the world which he there expects with almost absolute certainty, we call this faith….” (page 380)

“Sometimes we have among our children one whose mind is constantly occupied by an unconscious aim or idea that leaves him no rest.  In after years it may appear to be his life’s aim and purpose.  This is the compulsion of an inward law belonging to his nature; the mysterious, constraining activity of a ruling idea governing his life and person.  People thus constrained conquer every obstacle; however, opposed, they come ever nearer to that unconscious purpose, and at last, owing to this irresistible impulse, they attain at what they have been aiming at.”  (380-381)

Faith and Knowledge – Abraham Kuyper

“It may be said, ‘I believe that the clock struck three, but I am not certain’; or, “I believe that his initials are H.T., but I am not certain’; or, “I believe that you can take a ticket directly for St. Petersburg, but it would be well first to inquire.’  In every one of these sentences, which can be translated literally into every cultivated language, ‘to believe’ signifies … something less than actual knowledge, a confession of uncertainty.”  (page 384)

“We should maintain that all certainty even regarding things visible, rests always and only upon faith; and we should lay down the following propositions; When we say that you saw a man in the water and heard him cry for help, your knowledge rests, first, upon your belief that you did not dream but was wide awake, and that you did not imagine but actually saw it; second, upon your firm belief that since you saw and heard something there must be a corresponding reality which occasions that seeing and hearing; third, upon your conviction that in seeing something, e.g., the form of a man, your senses enable you to obtain a correct impression of that form.

“And, proceeding in this way, we could demonstrate that in the end, all certainty rests in regard to things visible, as well as to things invisible, rests ultimately not upon perception, but upon faith.  It is impossible for my ego (self) to obtain any knowledge of things outside of myself without a certain bond of faith, which unites me to these things.  I must always believe either in my own identity, that is, I am myself; or in the actuality of the things outside of myself; on in the axiomata from which I proceed.

Hence it can be stated, without the slightest exaggeration, that no man can ever say, “I know this or that,” without its being possible to prove to him that his knowledge, in a deeper sense and upon closer analysis, depends, so far as its certainty is concerned, upon faith alone.”  (385-386)  The Work of the Holy Spirit.

Alvin Plantinga referencing a  "distinguished contemporary American philosopher"

"Human beings, he (the philosopher) said, hold beliefs; and these beliefs can cause them to act in certain ways.  Put in more sophisticated if no more insightful terms, a person's beliefs can be part of a causal explanation of her actions.  Now how can this be?  How does it happen that, how can it be that human beings are such that they can be caused to do certain things by what they believe?  How does my believing there is a doughnut in the refrigerator cause or partly cause this largish, lumpy physical object which is my body to heave itself out of a comfortable armchair, move over to the refrigerator, and open its door?

The answer: think of a thermostat; it too has beliefs--simple-minded beliefs, no doubt, but still beliefs.  What it believes are such things as it's too hot in here, or it's too cold in here, or it's just right in here; and it is easy to see how its having those beliefs brings it about that the furnace or the air conditioning goes on.  And now the basic idea: we should see human thinking as a rather more complicated case of what goes on in the thermostat.  The thought was that if we think about how it goes with the thermostat, we will have the key to understanding how it goes with human beings."  ("The Twin Pillars of Scholarship," Seeking Understanding, pages 126-127)

Vincent Cheung

"Christians so rarely witness any faith in their leaders that when one comes out and shows it, everybody thinks that he is just being arrogant. But they have been brainwashed by a non-Christian standard. If the Christians cannot claim invincibility and irrefutability because of the Scripture's infallibility, then the non-Christians will always have a place to stand in the intellectual realm. But on the authority of Scripture and in the name of Christ, I allow the unbelievers no such place to stand." http://www.vincentcheung.com/books/captivereason.pdf

Merold Westphal

I think (that the relationship of philosophy and Scripture are) an aspect of the problem of faith and reason. I sometimes use the term ‘faith’ in any even broader sense ... and say that all philosophy is faith seeking understanding (Ed: Augustine and Anselm). On the one hand that involves my rejection of classical foundationalism, and the idea that you can always give a kind of, certain, final grounding for the criteria or principles on which you are working. I think we’re always caught up in a hermeneutical circle. I think of the people who are trying to work out the theory of eliminative materialism, for example, as in the mode of faith seeking understanding—it’s obviously not a religious faith, but faith in the sense that it doesn’t have the kind of validation from some sort of neutral reason, some view from nowhere that philosophers have often hoped for.

The more usual conversation about faith and reason has to do with that sort of hermeneutical circle when it’s specifically religious, when it belongs to some particular religious tradition or is grounded in some particular religious scripture. One of the reasons why that is an appropriate way to speak is that when one appeals to scripture in any normative sense, one is automatically talking about what is understood as not available to the unaided powers of human thought, human reason. The term ‘reason’ has been sort of co-opted by this notion of unaided human power. So yes, I think that the question of scripture and philosophy is an aspect of a larger question of faith and reason. (Journal of Philosophy and Scripture, Volume 4, Issue 1, page 26-27)

Catherine Wallace discussing Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

Ultimately, all knowledge, beyond the immediate notices of the senses, is also dependent upon faith. Empiricism, as a method, presumes that there is a world correspondent to sense data; that presumption has the same basis as the presumption that God exists: "the constitution of the mind itself, by the absence of all motive to doubt it." Coleridge's Biographia Literaria and the Evidence for Christianity

Dorothy Sayers:

 "A faith is not primarily a comfort, but a truth  about ourselves.  What we in fact believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire.  It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act upon.  Thus, it is useless to say that we believe in the friendly treatment of minorities if, in practice, we habitually bully the office clerk; our actions clearly show that we believe in nothing of the sort.  Only when we know what we truly believe can we decide whether it is comforting.  If we are comforted by something that we really do not believe, then we had better think again.  ("What Do We Believe," in The Whimsical Christian, New York, NY: Collier Books, 1987.  Italics are Ed's.)

C. S. Lewis: 

"For the Christian ... believe denotes a conviction so strong that in terms of subjective certitude, it is 'hardly distinguishable' from the certitude of knowledge.  Although the believer does not have a demonstrative proof of God's existence, the 'mere formal possibility of error' does not lead to doubt.  Accordingly, Lewis defines belief as 'assent to a proposition which we think so overwhelmingly probable that there is a psychological exclusion of doubt, though not a logical exclusion of dispute.'" (Lewis is paraphrased and quoted in C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, 96, 1st Edition)

Merold Westphal:

"I think it’s an aspect of the problem of faith and reason. I sometimes use the term ‘faith’ in any even broader sense …, and say that all philosophy is faith seeking understanding. On the one hand that involves my rejection of classical foundationalism, and the idea that you can always give a kind of, certain, final grounding for the criteria or principles on which you are working. I think we’re always caught up in a hermeneutical circle. I think of the people who are trying to work out the theory of eliminative materialism, for example, as in the mode of faith seeking understanding—it’s obviously not a religious faith, but faith in the sense that it doesn’t have the kind of validation from some sort of neutral reason, some view from nowhere that philosophers have often hoped for."

"The more usual conversation about faith and reason has to do with that sort of hermeneutical circle when it’s specifically religious, when it belongs to some particular religious tradition or is grounded in some particular religious scripture. One of the reasons why that is an appropriate way to speak is that when one appeals to scripture in any normative sense, one is automatically talking about what is understood as not available to the unaided powers of human thought, human reason. The term ‘reason’ has been sort of co-opted by this notion of unaided human power. So yes, I think that the question of scripture and philosophy is an aspect of a larger question of faith and reason. See reference here.

Christian Smith. 

In a section entitled, "Homo Credens," Smith writes.  "What we have come to see is that, at bottom, we are all really believers (his emphasis). The life that we live and the knowledge we possess are based critically on sets of basic assumptions and beliefs, about which three characteristics deserve note.  First, our elemental assumptions and beliefs themselves cannot be empirically verified or established with certainty.  They are starting points, trusted premises, postulated axioms, presuppositions—"below" which there is no deeper or more final justification, proof, or verification establishing them.  In philosophical terms, these beliefs are not "justifiable."  Rather, they themselves provide the suppositional grounds on which any sense of justification, proof, or verification for a given knowledge system is built."

"At a very basic level, for instance, it is safe to guess that most probably readers ... believe in causation (that forces and agents can cause effects in or on others), in natural regularity (that the natural world as we observe it works the same way in places where we do not observe it), and in the temporal continuity of experience (that life when we wake up tomorrow will function very similarly to the way it functions today).  These we believe so "deeply" that we do not even think about them.  We simply assume them and build up the living of our lives on them.  None of these beliefs, however, can be verified as definitely true in fact.  There is simply nothing that could do so.*  All we can do is assume them in faith, and the presumably find them to be sufficiently trustworthy and functional assumptions to live by...."

Differences of belief.  "Some people do or have believed that humans are born to be free, while others believed that some humans are born to be slaves.  Some believe that men and women are equal, while others believe that women are essentially the lesser of the two.  Some people believe that a Great Spirit created the world long ago, while others believe the universe is the result of a naturalistic Big Bang long ago.  Some believe that a natural law infuses life and the the world, while others believe that morality and regularity are social constructions of relative human invention.  Who is right and who is wrong?  Disagreement does not mean that all are wrong or that all is relative.  Some of these beliefs might be right.  Indeed, we ourselves believe that some are right.  But our convictions and disagreements about these are based precisely on larger systems of beliefs grounded in deeper suppositional beliefs, and we cannot get around the fact that these starting-point assumptions cannot be empirically verified or established with certainty.  We simply cannot set aside our basic belief commitments and find independent evidence definitively to demonstrate that one or another of these beliefs is true.  At bottom, we simply believe them or we don't, for what we take to be arguably more or less good reasons."  (Moral Believing Animals, 46-48)

*Ed disagrees.  The Bible is a product of a universal Mind, and thus beliefs that are stated in His Word, are absolutely verified.  There is no other "proof" available to mankind.

Martin Heidegger

Heidegger quotes Luther’s definition of faith, as ‘letting ourselves be seized by the things that we do not see’, and adds his own negative and positive account: ‘faith is not something which merely reveals that the occurring of revelation is something happening; it is not some more or less modified type of knowing.  Rather, faith is an appropriation of revelation… Faith is the believing-understanding mode of existing in the history revealed, i.e., occurring with the Crucified’ (PT, p. 10)….

 

“This does not mean that faith and theology should be given the noncognitivist interpretations familiar from positivist or Wittgensteinian contexts.  Faith is a ‘believing-understanding mode of existing,’ and it stands in relation to something actual…. But with Luther, Heidegger refuses to allow faith to be understood as the pistis that Plato puts on the lower half of the divided line.  We misunderstand faith terribly if we assume that the (Christian or religious) believer really wants (to have a ground in his own personal metaphysics)..., but failing to be part of the intellectual elite, settles for a second class, ‘more or less modified type, of knowing.”

 

“Every positive science concerns a domain that is ‘already disclosed,’ prior to any ‘theoretical consideration,’ in a ‘prescientific manner of approaching and proceeding with that which is.’  Science presupposes this ‘prescientific behavior’ in which the (subjective knowing) that concerns it is ‘already disclosed’ …. Heidegger identifies with Luther’s understanding of faith as opposed to the Platonic reading whose Wirkungsgeschichte (effect in history) has distorted so many discussion of faith and reason.

 

“…. Hegel thinks that the task of (theology) belongs ultimately to philosophy and that it consists in transforming faith into absolute knowledge by translating Vorstellungen (ideas, beliefs, perceptions) into Begriffe (Reason).  But this is just Plato’s divided line in German.  Heidegger is too Lutheran to buy into this project (from one who professed to be a Lutheran)….”  (Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Tehology [pages 14-15] is discussing quotes from Heidegger’s “Phenomenology and Theology.”  Bolding is Ed’s.; italics are Westphal’s.)

 

Francis Beckwith

"Belief is the act of human consciousness that makes a personal commitment to a proposition. To believe in something is to have faith in something that is consistent with what you believe is good evidence, but the act of belief itself goes beyond the evidence. For example, marriage is an act of belief. Prior to getting married, you believe you have sufficient evidence to justify a commitment that goes beyond the evidence. In another context, you may act on faith by putting 100% of yourself in a departing airplane, though you are aware that the evidence for a safe journey is less that 100% certain. When a theistic philosopher says he believes in God, he does not mean that he has indisputable evidence to support his commitment. Rather, he means that he is within his intellectual rights in holding this belief."  (Masters Theological Journal, 2:1 (Spring), 62)

Charles S. Peirce. "The(se) principles … lead, at once, to a method of reaching a clearness of thought of higher grade than the "distinctness" of the logicians…. The action of thought is excited by the irritation of doubt, and ceases when belief is attained; so that the production of belief is the sole function of thought…. Doubt and Belief, as the words are commonly employed, relate to religious or other grave discussions. But here I use them to designate the starting of any question, no matter how small or how great, and the resolution of it. If, for instance, in a horse-car (1878—America), I pull out my purse and find a five-cent nickel and five coppers, I decide, while my hand is going to the purse, in which way I will pay my fare. To call such a question Doubt, and my decision Belief, is certainly to use words very disproportionate to the occasion. To speak of such a doubt as causing an irritation which needs to be appeased, suggests a temper which is uncomfortable to the verge of insanity. Yet, looking at the matter minutely, it must be admitted that, if there is the least hesitation as to whether I shall pay the five coppers or the nickel (as there will be sure to be, unless I act from some previously contracted habit in the matter), though irritation is too strong a word, yet I am excited to such small mental activity as may be necessary to deciding how I shall act….

 

"However the doubt may originate, it stimulates the mind to an activity which may be slight or energetic, calm or turbulent. Images pass rapidly through consciousness, one incessantly melting into another, until at last, when all is over—it may be in a fraction of a second, in an hour, or after long years—we find ourselves decided as to how we should act under such circumstances as those which occasioned our hesitation. In other words, we have attained belief….

 

"Different systems are distinguished by having different motives, ideas, or functions. Thought is only one such system, for its sole motive, idea, and function is to produce belief, and whatever does not concern that purpose belongs to some other system of relations. The action of thinking may incidentally have other results; it may serve to amuse us, for example, and among dilettanti it is not rare to find those who have so perverted thought to the purposes of pleasure that it seems to vex them to think that the questions upon which they delight to exercise it may ever get finally settled; and a positive discovery which takes a favorite subject out of the arena of literary debate is met with ill-concealed dislike…. Thought in action has for its only possible motive the attainment of thought at rest; and whatever does not refer to belief is no part of the thought itself.

 

"And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life. We have seen that it has just three properties: First, it is something that we are aware of; second, it appeases the irritation of doubt; and, third, it involves the establishment in our nature of a rule of action, or, say for short, a habit. As it appeases the irritation of doubt, which is the motive for thinking, thought relaxes, and comes to rest for a moment when belief is reached. But, since belief is a rule for action, the application of which involves further doubt and further thought, at the same time that it is a stopping-place, it is also a new starting-place for thought. That is why I have permitted myself to call it thought at rest, although thought is essentially an action. The final upshot of thinking is the exercise of volition, and of this thought no longer forms a part; but belief is only a stadium of mental action, an effect upon our nature due to thought, which will influence future thinking.

 

"The essence of belief is the establishment of a habit; and different beliefs are distinguished by the different modes of action to which they give rise. If beliefs do not differ in this respect, if they appease the same doubt by producing the same rule of action, then no mere differences in the manner of consciousness of them can make them different beliefs, any more than playing a tune in different keys is playing different tunes. Imaginary distinctions are often drawn between beliefs which differ only in their mode of expression; -- the wrangling which ensues is real enough, however…." (From “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Popular Science Monthly, January 1978, 386-302--emphases are Ed’s)

 

Isaiah Berlin on Hume and Hamann.  "(David) Hume declared that the foundation of our knowledge of ourselves and the external world was beliefsomething for which there could be no a priori reasons; something to which all principles, theories, the most coherent and elaborate constructions of our minds, practical or theoretical, could in the end be reduced.  We believed that there were no material objects around us that behaved in this or that way; we believed that we were identical with ourselves through time.  In (Georg) Hamann's words, 'Our own existence and the existence of all things outside us must be believed and be determined in any other way.'  And again, 'Belief is not the product of our intellect, and can therefore also suffer no casualty by it: since belief has as little grounds as taste or sight.'  Belief gives us all our values, heaven and earth, morals and the real world.. 

 

"'Know ye, philosophers, that between cause and effect, means and ends, the connection is not physical, but spiritual, ideal; that is the nexus of blind faith.'  We do not perceive causes or necessity in nature; we believe them, we act as if they existed; we think and formulate our ideas in terms of such beliefs, but they are themselves mental habits, de facto forms of human behavior, and the attempt to deduce the structure of the universe from them is a monstrous attempt to convert our subjective habitswhich differ in different times and places and between different individualsinto unalterable, objective 'necessities of nature."  (Isaiah Berlin, The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism, 1993, 31-32)

 

The Philosophers Toolkit

Reductionism has been extremely successful in science.  But what is its role in philosophy?  There are several major philosophical questions for which reductionist solutions have been offered.  One example is the question of what knowledge is.  Knowledge seems to be different from mere belief, but the concept of knowledge itself does not seem precise enough to indicate what this difference is.  One reductionist account of knowledge is that it is justified true belief.  Here, the single amorphous concept of knowledge is explained in terms of three, simpler constitutive features: knowledge comprises a belief that is both justified and true.  The reductionist can take these further by giving reductive accounts of what justification, belief, and truth each in turn comprise.  Moreover, where we began with two distinct types of thought (knowing and believing), reductionism shows how we may be dealing with various types of belief only.  (Emphasis partly in the original and partly by Ed.  The Philosophers Tookkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods, by Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl, p. 63.