This project asks the question “What is belief?” and has as its main goal the construction of empirically-tractable theories of belief.
Beliefs are important across philosophy, theology, and the human sciences. Beliefs make up a considerable part of what psychologists study, including beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world. To the extent that theologians are concerned with doctrinal content, they too are students of belief. Epistemological questions are featured in every branch of philosophy. Despite its importance, there has been scant theoretical work about the nature of belief. Philosophers broadly agree that it is a propositional attitude, such that to believe a proposition is to take it to be true: but this minimal definition has rarely been developed further. Psychologists have avoided theorizing about belief altogether, though many research programs (e.g., re: memory, attitudes, schemas, intuitive expectations) involve belief-like concepts. This project aims to fill this lacuna, bringing together philosophers and psychologists to set out theories of belief and ways to test them.
The project comprises four main activities:
1. The publication of a collection of essays outlining theories of belief, which will provide definitions of belief and apply them to “edge cases” and adjacent cognitive attitudes, including religious credences, implicit or tacit knowledge, and imaginings.
2. A series of online interdisciplinary seminars, focussed on how existing psychological theories and findings can contribute to answering our central question, including research on dual-process theories of cognition, play, delusions, expressive responding, and religion.
3. The drafting of a proposal to JTF for a three-year empirical research project on the nature of belief and belief-like states.
4. The publication of a free online bibliography on the nature of belief and belief-like states.