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BELIEF


409


BELIEF


a cause of the belief. John Stuart Mill in his note to his father's Analysis, makes belief a primitive fact. It is impossible to analyze it. Locke, though he deals at some length with belief, does not try to analyze it or do more than assign objects to it "and investigate the grounds of credibility. Alexander Bain originally held belief to be a function of the will [rather than a state of the intellect. In his opinion it was the development of the will under the pursuit of immediate ends. Later, he modified this opinion, and, while retaining the essentially volitional and emotional character, or tendency, as causes, relegated the act of belief itself to the intellectual part of man's nature. Father Maher, S.J., whose admirable treat- ment of the whole subject ought to be consulted, advances an acute criticism of Dr. Bain's position. He points out (1) that readiness to act is a test of belief, not the belief itself; (2) that belief is generally not active but characteristically passive; (3) that primitive credulity, which Bain makes a chief factor in belief, involves a vicious circle, explaining, as it ■does, belief by credulity or believing.

A not inconsiderable part of the "Grammar of Assent" is concerned with this subject, though hardly dealing with the problem on the foregoing lines. In his treatment of "Simple Assent", and •especially in sections 4 and 5 of Chapter iv. Par. 1, ■Cardinal Newman's view can be found. He calls the notional assent that we give to first principles presumption. We cannot be said to trust our powers ■of reasoning or memory as faculties, though we may be supposed to have a trust in any one of their par- ticular acts. That external nature exists is a first principle and is founded upon an instinct. The use of the term is justified by the consideration that the brute creation also possesses it. Further, "the belief in causation" is one of these presumptions, and the assent to it notional. But, on the other hand, "we believe without any doubt that we exist; that we have an individuality and identity all our own; . . . that we have a present sense of good and evil, ■of a right and a wrong. ..." Again: " 4ssent on reasonings not demonstrative is too widely recog- nized an act to be irrational, unless man's nature is irrational, too familiar to the prudent and dear- minded to be an infirmity or an extravagance." It will be noted that Newman (1) justifies belief as an assent because based on a common use of the rational faculty. Demonstrative grounds may be lacking, but the conviction is none the less neither an in- firmity nor an extravagance, but rational. (2) He groups belief and knowledge together under the heading of presumption without drawing any hard and fast line between them. And indeed, from the point of view of mere assent, there is nothing psycho- logical by which they are to be distinguished: since assent itself, as has been noted, is a .simple and ulti- mate fact. The difference lies elsewhere. In this broader sense of belief, it is to be found in the ante- cedent cause of the assent. For knowledge there will be explicit, for belief implicit, intuition or evi- dence.

Of German philosophers who have treated this topic, Germar, Fechner, and Ulrici may be consulted. The first limits belief to a conscious assent arising from fact; that is, an assent given without conscious- ness of its causes or grounds. In the case where the causes or grounds become actual factors in the con- sciousness, the belief rises to the dignity of knowl- edge. Kant's view naturally has belief as the neces- sitated result of the practical reason. It is to be considered epistemologically rather than psychologic- ally. We believe in such truths as are necessitated by the exigencies of our moral nature. And these truths have necessary validity on account of the requirements of that moral nature. We need motives upon which to act. Such beliefs are practical and


lead to action. All natural truths that we accept on belief might conceivably be accepted as truths of knowledge. The implicit may unfold and become explicit. This frequently happens in ordinary ex- perience. Evidence may be adduced to prove asser- tions. Similarly, any truth of knowledge may be accepted as belief. What is said to be known to one individual may be, and often is, accepted upon his testimony by another.

A great variety of factors may play their part in the genesis of belief. We are accustomed to assent to propositions that we cannot be said to know, on account of many different, causes. Some of them are often inadequate and even frivolous. We frequently discover that our beliefs rest o.i no stable foundation, that they must be reconstructed or done away with altogether. The ordinary reasons upon which belief may be based can be reduced to two: testimony and the partial evidence of reason. A third class of causes of belief is sometimes added. Feeling, desire, and the msh to believe have been noted as antecedent causes of the act of assent. But that feeling, desire, or the wish to believe is a direct antecedent is open to discussion. It cannot be denied that many so- called beliefs, more properly described, perhaps, as trust or hope, have their immediate origin in feelings or wishes; but, as a rule, they seem not to be capable of bearing any real strain; whereas we are accustomed to consider that belief is one of the most unchange- able of mental states. Where these antecedents work indirectly through the election of the will, to which reference is made below, belief may issue as a firm and certain assent. (1) Testimony is a valid and satisfactory cause of assent provided it possess the necessary note of authority, which is the sole direct antecedent of the ensuing belief. Our ultimate wit- ness must know his facts or truths and be veracious in his presentation of them. Intermediate witnesses must have accurately preserved the form of the original testimony. In the case of human testimony the ordinary rules of prudence will naturally be ap- plied before giving credence to its statements. Once, however, the question of knowledge and veracity is settled, belief may validly issue and an assent be given as to a certainty. Of course there is room also for doubt or for opinion, as the credentials of the authority itself may vary almost indefinitely. But there is a further class of truths believed upon testi- mony that does not fall within the scope of natural investigation and inquirj'. The supersensible, supra- intellectual truths of revelation, at any rate in the present state of man's existence, cannot be said to be assented to either on account of an intuition of their nature or because of any strict process of demon- stration of their validity. They are neither evident in themselves nor in their principles. The assent to such truths is of the same nature as that given to truths believed naturally. Only here the authority motiving it is not human but Divine. Acts of assent on such authority are known as acts of faith and, theologically speaking, connote the assistance of grace. They are, none the less, intellectual acts, in the eliciting of which the will has its part to play, just as are those in which assent is given to the au- thoritative utterances of credible human witnesses. With regard to the nature of this authority upon which such supernatural truths are assented to in faith, it is sufficient to indicate that God's knowledge is infinite and His veracity absolute. (2) The partial evidence of rea.son has already been touched upon. It may be noted, however, that the evidence may be relative either relatively or absolutely. In the first case we may have recourse to the authority of tliose who know for our belief, or base it for ourselves upon such evidence as is forthcoming. In the second, as is the case with much of the teaching of science and philosophy, the whole human race can liave no more