Friday, November 19, 2010

Belief vs. Knowledge

Original Posting

In the course of certain debates, someone will probably bring up that once one has evidence, a belief becomes "knowledge." This often occurs (at least in my experience) when one debater tries to show how all or nearly all beliefs contain faith; by claiming that evidence changes the nature of a belief, you argue that you can attack faith-based claims without also undermining your own beliefs.

Fair enough, clearly a belief held with evidence is not the same as a belief held without evidence.

I do take one issue with this, though, which is that evidence is not just a matter of true and false or on and off. It simply isn't the way evidence works; you can't look at a premise, ask if it has evidence in its favor, and then receive a yes or no answer. Evidence comes in shades. Beliefs are not a matter of evidence vs. non-evidence, they are a matter of more evidence vs. less evidence.

Hell, nearly every belief must be accounted at least a modicum of doubt for the simple fact that what we perceive to be reality may, in fact, be an illusion.

So, I propose that beliefs should not be held to be either knowledge or faith, but rather every belief should be held as some ratio between the two. A belief supported by a great deal of empirical evidence should be held as consisting of mostly knowledge with a minimum of faith (the faith mostly consisting of having faith that you are not, in fact, insane, that reality is not an illusion, and that whatever logical presuppositions you had to assume in the course of forming a believe were correct). A belief that has very little empirical evidence should be held as consisting mostly of faith with a minimum of knowledge, or perhaps even no knowledge at all (it seems impossible for a belief to consist of complete knowledge, but it seems quite possible for a belief to consist of complete faith).

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