views updated May 08 2018


The Bible

In the Bible there are no articles of faith or dogmas in the Christian or Islamic sense of the terms. Although trust in God is regarded as a paramount religious virtue (Gen. 15:6; Isa. 7:9; cf. Job 2:9), there is nowhere in Scripture an injunction to believe. Even a verse like ii Chronicles 20:20 "believe (haʾaminu) in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe His prophets, and you will succeed" expresses only King Jehoshaphat's advice to the people; it is not a religious commandment. Furthermore, the verb heʾemin (האמין "to believe"), the noun ʾemunah ("belief "), and other forms derived from the stem ʾmn (אמן) mean to trust, have confidence; and faithfulness; and in this sense are used both of God and of man (Gen. 15:6; Deut. 32:4; Prov. 20:6; Job 4:18). This usage is in striking contrast to the concept of "belief " in the New Testament (e.g., John 3:18). It is only in the Middle Ages, when Jewish theologians began to formulate articles of faith, that derivations of the root ʾmn came to be used in a dogmatic sense.

The reason for the absence of a catechism in both the Bible and the rabbinic tradition is probably twofold: in Judaism the primary emphasis is not on profession of faith but on conduct (Avot 1:17); and speculative and systematic thinking is not characteristic of the biblical or the rabbinic genius. Dogmatics entered Judaism as a result of external pressure; contact with alien religious systems, which had formulated theological doctrines, compelled Jewish thinkers to state the basic creeds of their own faith. In a sense, Jewish dogmatics forms part of the larger category of Jewish apologetics.

No religion, however, is conceivable without fundamental doctrines or axiomatic principles, and Judaism, in its scriptural as well as rabbinic aspects, is no exception. Indeed, the Bible contains certain summary statements that might be considered incipient dogmas. The *Shemaʿ (Deut. 6:4), underscoring the unity of God; the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1 ff.; Deut. 5:6 ff.), providing an epitome of Jewish precepts; the formulation of the divine attributes in Exodus 34:6–7; Micah's sublime summary of human duty (6:18); and the majestic simplicity of the Lord's assurance to Habakkuk "but the righteous shall live by his faith" (2:4) are a few examples culled from many. But valuable as these formulations are, they do not embrace the complete range of fundamental biblical teachings. Only an analysis of scriptural doctrines against the background of the entire complex of biblical thought can yield the essential religious beliefs, moral ideals, and spiritual truths that underlie the faith expounded by the Scriptures.

That "God is" is axiomatic. He is One (Deut. 6:4) and incomparable (Isa. 40:18); there are no other gods (Deut. 4:39). He is omnipotent (Job 42:2), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–12), omniscient (Job 28:23 ff.), and eternal (Isa. 40:6–8; 44:6). Even more important is the doctrine that He is the God of justice and love (Ex. 34:6–7); it is His moral nature that makes Him holy (Isa. 5:16). In His might He willed the creation of the universe (Gen. 1), and in His love He continues to sustain it (Ps. 104; 145:14 ff.). He made the laws of nature; the miracles are exceptions to these cosmic rules, but both the normal and the abnormal conform to the Divine Will. Mythology, except for idiomatic phrases, is excluded from biblical teaching. Magical practices are forbidden (Deut. 18:10); unlike miracles, they do not issue from the will of God, but seek to overrule divinely established laws of nature.

The apex of creation is man, created in the divine image. This "image" is reflected in the moral and spiritual qualities of human nature. In man creation achieves a new dimension – a moral personality endowed with freedom of will. The relationship between God and man has a voluntaristic ethical character. It is an encounter between the Divine Person and His human counterpart, between Father and child. Ideally it is an "I–Thou" relation. But man may disobey; sin is spiritual treason, which transforms the "nearness" of God into "estrangement." The divine "Thou" then becomes "It."

Human freedom of choice (Deut. 30:15, 19) is the source of man's responsibility, upon which are predicated rewards and penalties, both collective and individual. Divine retribution is a corollary of God's righteousness; but its purpose is primarily not punitive but educative and reformative; it aims to restore the "I–Thou" nexus. Thus God does not desire the destruction of the wicked, but their return to the path of goodness (Ezek. 18:23, 32), and heaven's grace far exceeds the measure of divine punishment (Ex. 20:5–6; Deut. 5:9–10). Hence all the predictions of the prophets are conditional (cf. Jonah). The Heavenly Father hopes for His punitive decrees to be nullified. Conceptually there appears to be a contradiction between God's omniscience and omnipotence on the one hand, and man's freedom of action on the other. But the Bible harmonizes them in a supreme historic event. Human rebellions will ultimately end in a great reconciliation. In the messianic era Zion's teaching will become a universal heritage (Isa. 2:2 ff.; Mic. 4:1 ff.). "In the end of days" the divine design of history will be realized as perfectly as His cosmic plan.

Human waywardness was manifest from the beginning of history. Man has constantly been tempted to do wrong: "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). To aid humanity to persevere along the path of righteousness, divine revelation was necessary. Its purpose was to direct and supplement the basic sense of right and wrong innate in every human being (cf. Gen. 39:9). Certain spiritual geniuses – the patriarchs, the prophets – learned to know the will of God in given situations. But the complete revelation was vouchsafed to the Children of Israel at Sinai. It comprised many elements – legal and ritual, moral and spiritual, national and universal – each component being necessary to its educative and purifying intent. The precepts were neither to be augmented nor diminished (Deut. 4:2); the law was immutable. Intrinsically the prophets did not add to the Torah. The glory of Hebrew prophecy consists not in preaching new ideas, but in elucidating the historic covenant and applying its teachings to the circumstances of their time. In particular they stressed the moral and spiritual values of religion, and the universal conception of the consummation of history in the kingdom of God.

By accepting the Torah, Israel became the "treasured people" of the Lord, a holy nation in the service of the Holy God (Ex. 19:5; Lev. 19:2). They entered into a covenant with Him (Ex. 24:7; Deut. 29:11, 12), calling for unswerving obedience on their part and protective providence on the part of God. The election of Israel was not an act of favoritism. On the contrary, it represented a mission involving special responsibility and corresponding retribution. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). Nor was God's providential care limited to Israel; there was a Philistine and Aramean exodus comparable to that of Israel (ibid. 9:7). The covenant with Israel was an integral part of God's universal historic plan of salvation (Isa. 49:6). Hence the Israelites were as indestructible as the cosmos (Jer. 33:25–26). Their sins would be punished, but redemption would succeed every disaster. The national hope of restoration and return to the Land of Israel is thus indivisibly linked with the redemption of all mankind. Jewish nationalism and universalism are not opposed but complementary biblical ideals.

Since ethics occupies a central position in scriptural theology, theodicy greatly exercised the minds of the prophets and sages of Israel. The thought "shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" (Gen. 18:25) is echoed in various forms throughout the Scriptures. It is an essential aspect of the dialogue between man and God. To criticize and challenge God in sincerity is not viewed by Scripture as a sin (witness Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Job); only hypocrisy and smugness are iniquitous (Job 42:7). The biblical answers to the problem of suffering are varied: it is accounted for by sin, by the concept of "the suffering servant," by the limitations of human knowledge. Man's view is too short; however long the process, righteousness triumphs in the end (Ps. 92:8). In the final analysis God's purpose is beyond man's understanding (Isa. 55:8; Job 42:3). Until the ultimate reconciliation at "the end of days," the Incomprehensible God can be apprehended only in faith (Hab. 2:4).

Hellenistic Literature

The encounter with Greek culture in the Hellenistic period brought the challenge of new concepts and philosophic methodology to Judaism. But the impact was transitory, and *Philo, "the first theologian," was the only one among the Greco-Jewish writers to formulate Jewish dogmas. He enumerates five tenets: (1) God exists and rules the universe; (2) He is one; (3) the world was created; (4) creation is one; (5) Divine Providence cares for the world (Op. 61). Josephus asserts that the antagonism between the Sadducees and Pharisees was based on doctrinal differences, such as the question of providence, the immortality of the soul, and the belief in resurrection with the concomitant idea of the final judgment (Wars, 2:162–5). Modern scholarship, however, is inclined to give a political and national interpretation to these disputes.

Rabbinic Literature

Rabbinic theology is marked by an overwhelming diversity of opinion. Since the sages' method of study was essentially based on argumentation and controversy, it is by no means easy to determine at all times its fundamental ideas. Furthermore, while the rabbis sought to give clear definition to the halakhah, the aggadah remained vague, unsystematized, and contradictory. Nevertheless in Talmud and Midrash, as in Scripture, it is possible to discern ground patterns of thought and basic concepts that constitute the foundations of the tannaitic and amoraic ideology. It is axiomatic that rabbinic teaching rests firmly on biblical doctrine and precept. Here, as in the Bible, God is the transcendent Creator; the Torah is the unalterable embodiment of His will; providence is motivated by moral principles; there is an "I–Thou" relationship between man and God; the election of Israel, linked to the immutable covenant of the Torah, is a paramount idea; and the prophetic promise of Israel's ultimate redemption and the establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth is the national-universal denouement of the drama of history. But rabbinic theology is a superstructure founded on scriptural faith, not a copy of it; there are evolutionary differences in talmudic Judaism that distinguish it from biblical norms and give it its distinctive qualities.

Rabbinic Judaism produced no catechism; but external cultural pressures and internal heresies gave rise to certain formulations of a dogmatic character. Sanhedrin 10:1, for example, in defining those who have no share in the world to come, gives to the belief in resurrection and in the divine origin of the Torah credal status. Similarly Hillel's dictum "That which is hateful to thee do not do unto others" (Shab. 31a) constitutes in its context the principal Jewish dogma. In discussing the precepts of the Torah the rabbis spoke of various figures who reduced the number of precepts (from the traditional 613), ending with Habakkuk who subsumed them all under one fundamental principle, "but the righteous shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4; cf. Mak. 24a). But in rabbinic, as in scriptural, literature, the root-ideas can be reached only by a careful examination of the complete compass of the tradition and a comparative study of its beliefs.

A new mysticism, emanating from the doctrines of maʿaseh bereshit ("work of creation") and maʿaseh merkavah ("work of the chariot"), now attaches to the concept of God. Gnostic influence, despite the general opposition of the sages to Gnostic ideas, is discernible. But these esoteric notions were reserved for the few only (Ḥag. 2:1). On the other hand, the broad-based popular approach, found in numerous aggadot, inclines toward an anthropopathic presentation of the Deity. The Holy One of Israel suffers all Israel's tribulations; He too is exiled (Sif. Num. 84; Ber. 9b). Man is conceived as a dualism: his soul, which is immortal, gives him a place among the angels; his body makes him akin to the beasts (Sif. Deut. 309). But the body is not condemned as a source of evil, nor may the material things of this world be left un-enjoyed (tj, Kid. 4:12, 66d). They are the work of God and inherently good. Indeed, God is to be served with both lower and higher impulses (Sif. Deut. 32; Ber. 54a). Man's freedom of choice, however, is fully recognized: "All is in the power of heaven except the reverence of heaven" (Ber. 33b), though the omniscient God foresees all (Avot 3:15). But this freedom is the basis of responsibility and the justification of retribution. To err is human, but penitence is the great shield that protects man (ibid. 4:13). Hence it was created even before the world (Pes. 54a).

The Torah, as the will of God, is immutable, and the sages regarded it as their supreme task to expound and determine its provisions, giving precedence, where needed, to moral principles over strict legalism (e.g., tj, bm 2:5, 8c). To be holy and to walk in the Lord's ways implied in particular the practice of lovingkindness (Sifra 19:1; Sif. Deut. 49), which was equal to all the precepts put together (tj, Pe'ah 1:1, 15b). The purpose of the commandments is to purify man (Gen. R. 44:1), and the true spirit of observance seeks no reward beyond the service of God (Avot 1:3). But there are two Torahs: the Oral Law, which was also revealed at Sinai, supplements and elucidates the Written Law. On the basis of Deuteronomy 17:11 (Ber. 19b), the sages claimed the right to enact laws of their own (mi-de-rabbanan), chiefly with a view to their serving as a "fence" (protection) to the biblical ordinances (mi-de-orayta). The most daring principle of all originated by the rabbis was their right to interpret the Torah in conformity with their understanding and to decide (by majority vote) accordingly. It was they, not the heavenly court (familia), that fixed the calendar (tj, rh 1:3, 57b). Even if a halakhic ruling ran counter, so to speak, to the view of heaven, the rabbis still maintained that theirs was the right to decide, for the Torah, having been vouchsafed to man, was now subject to human judgment. Nor did this principle displease the Holy One, Blessed Be He, for He smiled indulgently when His children outvoted Him (bm 59b). The sages went so far as to declare "the suppression of the Torah may be the foundation thereof " (Men. 99). Thus the rabbis evolved theological machinery for adapting the halakhah to historical changes and needs without discarding an iota of the scriptural tradition. Theologically they justified this procedure by the theory that all that the rabbis taught was already inherent in the Sinaitic revelation (Lev. R. 22:1; tj, Pe'ah 2:6, 17a), that the sages did not innovate but discovered already existing truths.

The rabbinic exaltation of Torah study was a natural corollary of their attitude to the Scriptures. The Mishnah lists the things whose fruits a man enjoys in this world, while the capital is laid up for him in the world to come, and declares "the study of the Law is equal to them all" (Pe'ah 1:1). The rabbis (bb 12a) elevate the sage (with his restrained, reflective approach) above the prophet (with his incandescent, intuitive consciousness). Nevertheless the truth that Judaism is life and that learning must lead to deeds was not lost sight of: "Great is the study of the Torah, because it leads to [right] action" (Kid. 40b).

Israel's election is a leading theme in rabbinic thought. It brought comfort and renewed courage to a suffering people. God's ultimate salvation was never doubted. The messianic era, despite the preceding tribulation, would bring redemption to Israel and the land. This belief suffuses the entire aggadic literature and inspires every facet of the liturgy. Great emphasis is placed on the importance of Ereẓ Israel in Talmud and Midrash and the prayer book. The rabbis exhaust the language of praise and indulge in unrestrained fantasy in depicting the future glories of the land. One dictum even avers that "he who dwells outside the Land of Israel is as one who serves idols" (Ket. 110b). This hyperbole was intended not only to encourage Jewish settlement in Ereẓ Israel, but also to strengthen the hope of national restoration. Jewish nationalism did not, however, exclude universalist ideals. "The pious of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Tosef., Sanh. 13:10). "Who-ever repudiates idolatry is called a Jew" (Meg. 13a); and the greatest Torah principle is enshrined in the verse "This is the book of the generations of Adam" – the brotherhood of man (tj, Ned. 9:4, 41c).

In the Talmud, as in the Bible, the problem of theodicy is a major theme. The sages range the entire gamut of possible explanations for human suffering. In the ultimate analysis they propound the profoundest conception of all: suffering deriving from divine love (Ber 5a). Human suffering is an essential element in human spiritual advancement. It is an aspect of God's grace. Another cardinal rabbinic belief offered a collective historical solution to the question of divine justice. The concept of resurrection (Sanh. 10:1) was closely linked with the advent of the Messiah and the last judgment (Shab. 152b; Ḥag. 12b; Sanh. 91a–b). Bygone generations would, if worthy, share in the sublime joy of the kingdom of God upon earth. Maimonides, however, interprets the resurrection in a purely spiritual sense (Maʾamar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim). Going beyond biblical theology, the rabbis envisaged yet another world, where the imbalance of earthly justice is rectified. The immortal soul is judged after the death of the body in the hereafter ("world to come") and is requited according to the individual's deeds upon earth (Sif. Deut. 307; Ber. 28b; Shab. 153a; Ber. 17a). In this solution time is transcended. God's ultimate justification is a function of eternity.

These norms of rabbinic faith provided the basis of medieval Jewish theology and philosophy. Their lack of definition gave later Jewish thinking flexibility and their emphasis a firm framework.

[Israel Abrahams]

Medieval Jewish Philosophy

In medieval philosophy belief is a general philosophical category belonging to the theory of knowledge, of which religious belief is one specific kind. The medieval philosophers distinguished between two activities of the mind: the formulation of propositions, and the affirmation that propositions in the mind correspond to a reality outside the mind, and identified belief with the latter activity. In line with this account *Maimonides defines belief as "… the notion that is represented in the soul when it has been averred of it that it is in fact just as it has been represented" (Guide of the Perplexed, 1:50). In somewhat less technical language *Saadiah defines belief as "… a notion that arises in the soul in regard to the actual character of anything that is apprehended. When the cream of investigation emerges, and is embraced and enfolded by the minds and, through them acquired and digested by the souls, then the person becomes convinced of the truth of the notion he has acquired" (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, introd.). Belief defined in this manner may still be true or false, and hence it is necessary to add criteria by means of which true beliefs may be distinguished from false ones. Saadiah, discussing this issue, lists four criteria which enable one to establish that a belief is true: sense perception, self-evident propositions, inference, and reliable tradition (ibid., introd.; cf. Maimonides, "Letter On Astrology," in: R. Lerner and M. Mahdi (eds.), Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook (1963), 228). This conception of belief as the affirmation or conviction that propositions within the mind correspond to reality outside the mind can be traced to Greek philosophy, particularly to the Stoics.

Belief for medieval Christian, Muslim, and Jewish thinkers meant, in the first instance, religious belief, that is, the conviction that the teachings of Scriptures are true and that their truth is guaranteed by the authority of their respective traditions. At the same time they noted that philosophers also investigated some of the same issues that interested them, e.g., the existence of God, the creation of the world, principles of human morality, and they further noted that there was a similarity between the teachings of religion and human reason. Hence the question arose how the teachings of religion, that is, religious beliefs, are related to the teachings of philosophy, that is, philosophical beliefs. There were essentially three views concerning this interrelation. There were those who, denying that the term belief applies to philosophic teachings, affirmed that this term in its strict sense refers only to propositions accepted on the basis of religious authority; there were those who permitted the application of the term only to propositions known by way of demonstration; and there were still others, who were prepared to use the term belief for describing both. In line with these distinctions H.A. *Wolfson classifies the attitudes toward religious belief in a threefold fashion: the double faith theory, according to which the acceptance of propositions based both on religious authority and rational demonstration constitutes belief; the single faith theory of the authoritarian type, according to which the acceptance of propositions based on authority alone constitutes belief; and the single faith theory of the rational type, according to which the acceptance of propositions based on demonstration alone constitutes belief (jqr, 33 (1942), 213–64).

Saadiah, a proponent of the double faith theory, accepts the notion of belief as applying to things known both by way of authority and by way of demonstration. He maintains that the doctrines of Scripture coincide with those of philosophy, and that an affirmation of these doctrines, whether based on revelation or on rational demonstration, constitutes belief. While Saadiah advocates speculation about the truths of religion, he, nevertheless, maintains that it is forbidden to ignore Scripture entirely and to rely solely on one's reason, for the reason is not infallible, and may lead to erroneous conclusions.

*Judah Halevi, a representative of the single faith theory of the authoritarian type, maintains that belief applies only to things known by means of authority. According to him, belief is an acceptance of the doctrines of Scripture based on authority, i.e., on the fact that these doctrines of Scripture were divinely revealed. For example, in connection with sacrifices Halevi states categorically that "… he who accepts [sacrifices], without examination or reasoning is better off than he who resorts to research and analysis" (Kuzari, 2:26; see also 1:64–65, and 3:7).

Maimonides, on the other hand, is a representative of the single faith theory of the rationalist type. He maintains that belief applies only to things known by way of demonstration. While he does not state categorically that an acceptance of the doctrines of Scripture based on authority is not belief, he definitely considers an acceptance based on demonstration to be a more perfect form of belief. Belief is more than verbal acceptance; it requires understanding and a rational basis. Providing an example, Maimonides writes that someone who utters with his lips that he believes in the unity and incorporeality of God, while at the same time maintaining that God has positive attributes, cannot be said to believe truly in God's unity. That he can maintain that God has attributes indicates that he does not understand the principle of God's unity, and there is no belief without understanding (Guide, 1:50). According to Maimonides the precept "You shall love the Lord, your God," cannot properly be fulfilled without an understanding of metaphysics. Love of God, according to Maimonides, is "proportionate to apprehension" (Guide, 3:51; cf. Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 4:12).

*Levi b. Gershom shares the view of the Maimonidean school that there is no opposition between reason and belief. He holds that priority should be given to reason where its demands are unambiguous, for the meaning of Scripture is not always clear and is subject to interpretation (Milḥamot Adonai, introd.).

See also *Allegory, *Revelation, *Philosophy.

[Jacob Haberman]

Maimonides' aforementioned definition of belief (Arab.: i'tiqâd; Hebrew: emunah) may be called the "cognitive" sense of emunah, i.e., opinion or position held. The positive evaluation of emunah in its cognitive sense dominates Jewish philosophy until the late 14th century, when the influence of scholastic philosophy is felt, especially in Spain. There one can distinguish three new approaches: emunah as non-volitional and of little religious significance; as non-volitional yet superior to rational knowledge; as volitional and hence of supreme religious significance. The view of emunah as non-volitional is adopted by Hasdai *Crescas, who still adheres to the cognitive sense. Because emunah is non-volitional, its religious significance is of little value according to Crescas; God does not reward and punish humans solely on the basis of their belief-states. Crescas responds here to the Jewish Aristotelians who considered the possession of rationally justified emunot to be a necessary (and perhaps sufficient) condition for the immortality of the soul. Crescas' student Joseph *Albo defines emunah as "a firm conception of the thing in the mind, so that the latter cannot in any way imagine its opposite, even though it may not be able to prove it" (Ikkarim 1.19, trans. Husik). According to Simeon *Duran, emunot are proved by miracles or by a reliable tradition concerning them, whereas according to Isaac *Abrabanel, emunot are distinct from both knowledge and opinion. Isaac *Arama views emunot not only as superior but as often contrary to reason. True wisdom is attained only when one assents to the Torah's commands that are opposed to speculation. The language of emunah that dominates these discussions is most probably influenced by Christian treatments of fides, "faith."

The most telling example of this influence is found in Abraham *Bibago's Derekh Emunah, which should be translated, The Way of Faith. Bibago distinguishes between attaining knowledge via rational inquiry and via faith. In the case of Judaism the latter method is superior to the former because it is guaranteed by a reliable tradition that stretches back to Moses, whereas many philosophical doctrines are debatable. The point is as old as Halevi, but the language is that of emunah. Since rational knowledge is not as certain as knowledge acquired through faith, the mind of the faithful is superior to that of the philosopher. Moreover, Bibago implies that emunah is fundamentally different from rational knowledge, for emunah is the "assent to unseen things" (a similar definition is found in *Aquinas) whereas rational knowledge is of revealed things. Divine science, i.e., theology and metaphysics, can be attained only through emunah (Derekh Emunah 2:7).

[Charles Manekin (2nd ed.)]

Modern Jewish Philosophy

While in medieval philosophy the description of faith formed an integral part of the theory of knowledge, the rise of modern science and the concomitant decline of the belief in the divine revelation of Scriptures have made faith a matter of trusting in God rather than of the affirmation of certain propositions. Characteristic of this attitude in recent Jewish thought are the views of Franz *Rosenzweig, according to whom religious belief arises from the experience of personal revelation, for which man must always strive and be prepared. This view was anticipated by Hermann *Cohen in his theory of correlation. Similarly, Martin *Buber and Abraham *Heschel see faith as a relationship of trust between man and God, which arises from, and manifests itself in, personal encounters between man and God, and man and man, which Buber calls I–Thou relationships.

Another tendency among modern thinkers, which reflects the influence of psychology, is to view belief as a psychological state which is valuable insofar as it motivates man to act in an ethical manner. Mordecai *Kaplan, a representative of this naturalistic view, implies that faith is a kind of "self-fulfilling prophecy" insofar as it leads to the redemption of human society. According to the others embracing a naturalistic view, faith is good in that it infuses meaning and purpose into an otherwise meaningless and cruel existence. This point is taken up strongly by Richard *Rubenstein, who has been concerned with the challenge to Jewish faith posed by the Holocaust.


S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, 1 (1911), 147–81; I. Efros, in: jqr, 33 (1942/43), 133–70; A. Heschel, ibid., 265–313; G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 (1946), 237–8; H.A. Wolfson, Philo, 1 (1948), 155–6; M. Buber, Two Types of Faith (1951); W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2 (1967), 277–90; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal (1969), 15–28; S.H. Bergman, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times (1968), 177–9. add. bibliography: S. Rosenberg, "The Concept of Emunah in Post-Maimonidean Jewish Philosophy," in: I. Twersky (ed.), Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature (1984); M. Kellner, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought (1986); idem, Must a Jew Believe Anything? (1999); C.H. Manekin, "Jewish Philosophy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries," in: D. Frank and O. Leaman (eds.), Routledge History of Jewish Philosophy (1997), 350–59; M. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised (2004).


views updated May 14 2018


Beliefs are a species of propositional attitude distinguished by their having the mind-to-world direction of fit.

Propositional attitudes are psychological states characterized by a psychological mode, Ψ, and a propositional content, P, schematically: Ψ(P ). My belief that the earth moves has belief as its psychological mode, and that the earth moves as its propositional content. A desire that the earth move has the same propositional content, but a different psychological mode, desire. Within a psychological mode, propositional attitudes are distinguished by their contents. I could not have two beliefs with the content that the earth moves. Many, though not all, propositional attitudes admit of a bivalent evaluation. Beliefs are true or false. Desires are satisfied or unsatisfied. Intentions are carried out or not carried out. Propositional attitudes with a bivalent evaluation have either the mind-to-world direction of fit or the world-to-mind direction of fit (Searle 1983, chapter 1). Its direction of fit expresses the basic function of a propositional attitude in our mental economy. Beliefs aim to represent how the world is independently. They aim at truth. The belief that Solomon was wise is true if and only if (iff) its content matches the world, that is, iff Solomon was wise. Belief's aim to represent how the world is independently is reflected in its being irrational to retain a belief when one sees that it does not match the world. Thus, beliefs have the mind-to-world direction of fit. A desire, in contrast, seeks not to match how the world is independently, but for the world to come to match its content. Desires seek satisfaction. The desire that a toothache go away is satisfied iff the world comes to match its content, that is, iff the toothache goes away. It is not irrational to retain desires known to be unsatisfied, for seeking satisfaction gives them their point. Desires thus have the world-to-mind direction of fit. Beliefs and desires, in virtue of their opposite directions of fit, have an interlocking role in the production and explanation of action.

Belief, Sensation, Experience, and Concept

Beliefs (and other propositional attitudes) must be distinguished from sensations, sensory images, and experience, on the one hand, and concepts, on the other. The classical British empiricists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuriesJohn Locke (16321704), George Berkeley (16851753), and David Hume (17111776)were unable to provide an adequate account of belief because they assimilated all of these to sensations or sensory images, like the taste of apple or a toothache. But sensations are not an adequate model for belief, or for other propositional attitudes. Sensations are not true or false, or satisfied or unsatisfied. They do not admit of a bivalent evaluation, as propositional attitudes do. They do not have propositional contents. Their differences are differences of qualitative feel. These differences are not variations in psychological function, as are the psychological modes of belief and desire. In particular, propositional contents are required to make sense of the logical relations that obtain between beliefs, and which are crucial to understanding the role of beliefs in reasoning and action. For example, understanding the validity of the inference from the belief that gold is a metal, and the belief that this ring is gold, to the belief that this ring is metal, requires seeing the logical connections between the propositional contents of the first two beliefs and the last, and their shared elements. Similarly, as explained below, the logical relations between the contents of belief and desire are crucial to understanding rational action (see the discussion of the practical syllogism below). Since sensations lack propositional contents, treating beliefs as a subclass of sensations obliterates distinctions needed to understand the role of beliefs in thought and action.

Perceptual experiences, unlike sensations, can be veridical or nonveridical. A hallucination of a rhinoceros on the sofa is a nonveridical perceptual experience. It represents what is not so. Perceptual experiences are like beliefs in admitting of bivalent evaluation and having the mind-to-world direction of fit. But though many beliefs are based on perceptual experience, they are a different coin. Perceptual experience is a fieldlike representational medium and makes use of the qualitative features of modes of consciousness associated with different sensory modalities (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) to represent how things are around us. Beliefs, in contrast, do not in the same way make use of qualitative features of modes of consciousness to represent. Their mode of representation is purely propositional. Beliefs are to perceptual experiences as statements are to maps. Perceptual beliefs, those based directly on perceptual experience, in effect abstract from the richer representational content of perceptual experience.

Just as beliefs, sensations, and experiences must be distinguished from each other, they must also be distinguished from the shared elements, concepts, in different attitude contents. The concept of gold, for example, is shared between the belief that gold is a metal and the belief that this ring is gold. It is a constituent of both contents. Concepts are neither true nor false, though they apply or fail to apply to things. Sensations neither have such constituents nor are identical with them, for belief contents do not have sensations or images as constituents. Experiences involve concepts, much as beliefs do. A visual experience as of a baseball represents a spherical object as a baseball. The experience is distinct from the concept of a baseball, but represents something visually presented as falling under the concept. Without the concept, there could be no such visual experience.

Someone who believes that gold is a metal possesses the concept of gold and the concept of metal. Possessing a concept requires having beliefs expressing the simplest conceptual connections that the concept enters into. For example, someone who possesses the concept of a gun must believe that guns are weapons, that they are physical objects, that they can be aimed, and the like. Perhaps no precise set of beliefs is required, but if a person lacks a network of beliefs articulating the connections of a concept with other concepts, he does not possess the concept. This shows that we can make sense of attributing a belief to someone only by locating it in a pattern of beliefs, and that the other propositional attitudes and perceptual experience presuppose belief.

Beliefs and the Explanation of Actions

Beliefs, because they aim at truth, play a central role in theoretical reasoning (reasoning about what is so), and hence in practical reasoning (reasoning about what to do).

Theoretical reasoning is central to practical reasoning because we get what we want by doing something that promotes it. We therefore need to know what we can do, and how what we can do is related to what we want. When seeking knowledge of these things, we seek true beliefs about them. Thus, what we do is conditioned by what we believe, whether our aim at truth hits the mark or not. Accordingly, when one explains an action, it is not enough to cite a desire that the action satisfies. One must also cite a belief that the action increased the likelihood of satisfying the desire. If I want my rival to come to grief and an idle comment of mine leads to his downfall, my desire that he come to grief does not help explain my bringing about his downfall if I did not think that my idle comment would have that as a consequence.

An action explanation provides the materials for a practical syllogism that justifies the action from the point of view of the agent. Suppose that I lifted my finger because I wanted to signal you and believed that my lifting my finger, F, would constitute signaling you. One can construct the following argument in favor of this action, drawing the evaluative premise from the desire and the factual premise from the belief:
My signaling you is desirable (has a desirable aspect).
F, being lifting of my finger, is a signaling of you.
F is desirable (has a desirable aspect).

This does not show that the action is desirable all things considered, but only that it has a desirable aspect. Actions have many consequences and properties, some of which one may want and others of which one may not. In deciding all things considered what to do, the agent must rank his desires and take into account his degrees of confidence in desired outcomes attending certain actions, or, in a common phrase, his degrees of belief in outcomes, given the actions. Candidate actions are evaluated on the basis of the value of their results and one's degree of confidence in their having those results. If the chance is low but the value great, the undertaking may still be judged best overall. The notion of degree of belief in a proposition is often treated as a generalization of the ordinary notion of belief. Typically, on buying a ticket, one does not believe that one will win the lottery, though one does have a nonzero degree of belief that one will. However, it may be that degrees of belief in a proposition can be assimilated to beliefs about its probability.

Behaviorist Theories of Belief

Logical behaviorism, a form of materialism, holds that ascribing beliefs and desires and other mental states to an agent is just a compendious way of describing a complex pattern of his actual and potential behavior. On this view, there are no inner mental states or eventsno "ghost in the machine," in Gilbert Ryle's memorable phrase. If logical behaviorism is true, action explanation is not causal explanation, but rather functions by locating some particular behavior in a broader pattern of behavior. Logical behaviorism was championed by the logical positivists of the 1930s (see Ayer), and in more subtle forms by Ryle and Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1940s and 1950s. A central motivation for the logical positivists was their verificationist criterion of meaning, according to which the meaning of a statement should be sought in the conditions that verify or falsify it.

Logical behaviorism fell from fashion after the Second World War (Block). One reason was disenchantment with the verificationist criterion of meaning. A second was the failure to provide necessary or sufficient conditions for attributing psychological states in purely behavioral terms. This failure is connected with the interlocking roles of belief and desire in explaining behavior, and carries an important lesson about the relation of belief (and other propositional attitudes) to behavior.

Let us try to say what behavior is characteristic of the belief that there is an apple pie in the pantry. It is clear that what behavior we expect will depend on what the agent wants and what else she believes. If she is not hungry, we expect no tendency to investigate the pantry. If she likes apple pie but wants to save it for the guests more than to indulge herself, we expect a delayed advance on the pantry. If she believes it is poisoned, we expect her to dispose of it. And so on. The important point is that the behavior we expect from someone who has a particular attitude is conditioned by the other psychological states that we think he has. This makes it impossible to state, in purely behavioral terms, what it is to believe, for example, that there is a pie in the pantry.

Once one understands the role of desire, in particular, in action, one can see that it will play the spoiler for any behaviorist program. For desires can be about behavior usually taken to be a sign of a given sort of psychological state. In particular, one may want to exhibit misleading behavior. One can pretend to believe or want things one does not, and one can suppress behavior that expresses what one wants. It seems plausible, as Hilary Putnam argued in "Brains and Behavior," that the limited deceptions with which we are familiar could take forms that would preclude any behavioral expression of some of an agent's psychological states throughout his life.

Beliefs as Causes of Behavior

The moral is that beliefs issue in behavior only in conjunction with appropriate other propositional attitudes. Desires motivate behavior, but beliefs guide it. Each is impotent without the other. To vary a phrase of Kant's, desire without belief is blind; belief without desire is empty. We cannot read back from behavior to the motivating belief and desire, because any given behavior may issue from different sets of beliefs and desires. Behavior is related to belief and desire as symptoms to a disease. The symptoms may be expressed in the absence of the disease, and the disease may be present without being expressed by any symptoms, or by the usual symptoms. The reason is that the disease is a cause of the symptoms. Its giving rise to the usual symptoms depends on the usual background conditions being present. This analogy suggests that, as with disease and background conditions, beliefs and desires are interlocking causes of behavior. This would explain the failure of the behaviorist programs, since, as Putnam put it, "causes are not logical constructions out of their effects " (p. 27).

This conclusion is bolstered by an argument by Donald Davidson in his seminal paper "Actions, Reasons, and Causes." We sometimes have multiple reasons (belief and desire pairs that potentially explain an action) for doing something, but we act on only one of them. I may believe that if I do not obey the speed limit when driving, I will likely receive a ticket, and I may wish to avoid receiving a ticket. I may believe also that obeying the speed limit is the right thing to do, and wish to do the right thing. I may obey the speed limit for the first reason rather than the second, or for the second rather than the first. In either case, each reason would justify what I do, but only one would explain it. We can make sense of this being so if we hold that the reasons for which I act are those that cause my action.

Voluntarism about Belief

Beliefs play a role in guiding and explaining action, but can they be the products of actions? Can one come to believe something by choosing or deciding to believe it? According to voluntarism about belief, the answer is yes. René Descartes (15961650), "the father of modern philosophy," apparently endorsed belief voluntarism. In his explanation in the Meditations (pp. 3743) of how we fall into error despite God's supreme benevolence, he assumed that when one lacks adequate evidence one can choose to believe something and hence fall into error through the exercise of free will, and thereby absolve God of responsibility for the error. With his famous wager in Pensées (pp. 151153), Blaise Pascal (16231662) argued that the infinite utility that attaches to believing truly that God exists means that no matter how small the probability, one is rationally compelled to belief. This argument likewise seems to assume belief voluntarism. In "The Will to Believe," William James (18421910), like Pascal, argued that it is not only possible but sometimes rationally required that we make decisions about belief when evidence underdetermines choice.

One may, of course, bring oneself to believe something indirectly. I may pay another to brainwash me. I may adopt the outer forms of religious faith in the hope that inner conviction will follow. But the issue is not whether I can bring myself to believe something by doing something else that brings it about, but whether I can do this without doing anything else to bring it about.

This seems not to be something that is typically within our power. I cannot just decide now to believe that I do not have hands or a head, or that I am flying, or fabulously wealthy. Religious belief, which is less engaged with the practical, is a more difficult case and has historically been the focus of the debate about belief voluntarism. One can try to inculcate religious belief indirectly, but can one simply decide to believe that God exists, while also believing one lacks adequate evidence? One might answer yes because it can be reasonable to continue to believe that God exists in the face of doubts. But this falls short of what is required. For this is not deciding to believe, but rather deciding not to give up a belief one already has.

Still, we are sometimes faced with an unavoidable practical choice where evidence bearing on a crucial fact leaves the fact, and hence the choice, undetermined. Must we not then make a choice about what to believe despite not having reasons to believe one way or the other? No. We must make the practical choice about what to do. But this does not imply belief. When some action is better than none, we take a chance and hope for the best, without belief.

Is the situation arguably different when a belief itself has a practical value? It is dubious that a belief itself having a practical value makes it easier to conceive of choosing to believe. If someone were to offer me a million dollars to believe that there is life on the Sun, I might wish to do so, but I would be baffled about how to comply.

The purpose of belief is to represent the world accurately. Therefore, belief serves its role only if the formation, retention, and revision of belief are sensitive to what one takes to be one's evidence. This does not mean that we always believe in proportion to our evidence. We make mistakes of assessment and reasoning; we are lazy; we fail to attend to evidence we have. Nor does it mean that what we take to be evidence is evidence, or that all our opinions were entrenched with the spade of reason. Further, it does not mean that belief is never influenced by desire. Otherwise, wishful thinkingbelieving what one wants to be truewould not be possible. Rather, it means that belief, by its nature, aims at truth, that its function is undermined if one lets belief formation be sensitive to anything other than what one takes to be evidence. Where there is uncertainty, one may be conservative and persist in a belief. But not to give up a belief in the face of strong contrary evidence is irrational. Worse still is to believe where no evidence bears, as in the case of wishful thinking. Even when belief has a practical benefitas when believing one will win a race increases one's chances, but not enough to warrant the beliefrationality is at best at war with itself. Belief voluntarism thus seems to be something that can occur, at best, only on the fringes of rationalityin the shadow regions of self-deception.

See also Action; Ayer, Alfred Jules; Behaviorism; Berkeley, George; Davidson, Donald; Descartes, René; Hume, David; James, William; Locke, John; Materialism; Pascal, Blaise; Propositional Attitudes: Issues in Philosophy of Mind and Psychology; Ryle, Gilbert; Sensa; Voluntarism; Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann.


Ayer, Alfred Jules, ed. Logical Positivism. New York: Free Press, 1959.

Block, Ned. "Psychologism and Behaviorism." Philosophical Review 90 (1) (1981): 543.

Davidson, Donald. "Actions, Reasons, and Causes" (1963). In his Essays on Actions and Events. New York: Clarendon Press, 2001.

Descartes, René. "Meditations on First Philosophy" (1641). In The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

James, William. "The Will to Believe" (1897). In his The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées (1670). Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.

Price, H. H. Belief: The Gifford Lectures Delivered at the University of Aberdeen in 1960. London: Allen and Unwin, 1969.

Putnam, Hilary. "Brains and Behavior." In Readings in Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. 1, edited by N. Block. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Ryle, Gilbert. The Concept of Mind. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1969.

Searle, John. Intentionality: An Essay. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

James, William. "The Will to Believe" (1896). In his The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Kirk Ludwig (2005)


views updated Jun 11 2018


Belief is the condition of holding a thing to be true or probable, giving credit to a person or an idea, giving credence to or having faith in a story. In this last sense belief is related to theology and economy. The believer is situated in a religious system in which he adopts a certain number of convictions, accepts a series of dogmas and makes this credo a guideline for living. Belief may have to do with clinging to a truth or belonging to a church or a party. The believer is also indebted to the person or persons, parents or teachers or others, who provide the material for belief, and possess a capital of confidence and a stock of responses, encouraging or obliging the believer to borrow from them models of reasoning and types of solutions.

The theme of belief is directly addressed by Sigmund Freud in a note accompanying a letter to Wilhelm Fliess dated May 31, 1897. There, belief is described as a phenomenon belonging entirely to the ego system (consciousness), without any unconscious equivalent. The topic had already been addressed indirectly in chapter 12 of the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), belief there being associated with superstition (p. 250).

It may seem paradoxical to speak of belief in the context of psychoanalysis. Freud described himself as nonbeliever and made no secret of his atheism. But precisely this external position with respect to unproven truth made him see belief as an anomaly that needed to be explained. Influenced by the positivism and scientism of his time, he considered belief to be a relic of childhood. He thus placed himself within the tradition of Auguste Comte, who believed that the individual and humanity as a whole both went through a childish stage with theological and military characteristics. He considered that the church and the army were the two social institutions responsible for perpetuating this stage. The reference to childhood here is bound up with the role of the father: God is the father of believers, who are all brothers; likewise the commander-in-chief is the father of soldiers, who are all comrades. The belief in salvation or victory is thus vital for maintaining the sense of family.

For Freud the concept of belief is inseparable from childhood theories of sexuality that continue to be held by the individual or by society. The little boy believes that women (and therefore his mother) have a penis. Society believes that the child has no sexuality. Belief is always associated with a disavowal of reality. The renunciation of belief is then an educational task and a psychological struggle, both liable to encounter much resistance. Psychoanalytic treatment cannot itself dispense with belief, for the transference, which reactivates infantile processes, demands that the patient lend credence to the analyst's words even though these do not belong to the realm of demonstrable truth. The better to remove the need for belief, therefore, psychoanalysis is obliged temporarily to replace one belief by another.

Differing attitudes regarding belief broadly coincide with the major splits in psychoanalysis and the schisms that have marked its history. In the early days, there was a "left" psychoanalysis, centered around Alfred Adler and the Social Democrats, which believed in popular revolution and the possibility, within a new political system, of eliminating alienation in both the social and the psychiatric senses of the word. A "right" tendency, meanwhile, epitomized by Carl Gustav Jung, believed in a metamorphosis of the soul and an internal unification of man that could heal all dislocations of being and all fissures in the ego. Freud was suspicious of all such beliefs, and his clinical experience tended to make him pessimistic about the possibility of separating belief from illusion. He saw the need to believe as a powerful means of mobilizing the instincts and manipulating the unconscious: so loath were man and society to consent to what Max Weber called the disenchantment of the world that they continually felt the need to believe in the unbelievable, to hope against all hope in some distant paradise or in glorious tomorrows.

Skepticism did not in Freud's view mean a refusal of values. Values were indeed necessary for the progress of culture and its corollary, the renunciation of the immediate satisfaction of instinctual impulses. The values of civilization called nonetheless for a truly critical scrutiny that held fast to one most important principle: to fear no truth no matter how painful it might be.

Odon Vallet

See also: Future of an Illusion, The ; Illusion; Occultism; Omnipotence of thought; Paranoia; Psychoses, chronic and delusional; Science and psychoanalysis; Superego.


Dolto, Françoise. (1996). Les évangiles et la foi au risque de la psychanalyse. Paris: Gallimard.

Freud, Sigmund. (1927c). The future of an illusion. SE, 21: 5-56.

(1930a [1929]). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 64-145.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE,2.


views updated Jun 11 2018

be·lief / biˈlēf/ • n. 1. an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists: his belief in God a belief that solitude nourishes creativity. ∎  something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction: we're prepared to fight for our beliefs. ∎  a religious conviction: Christian beliefs.2. (belief in) trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something: a belief in democratic politics. PHRASES: be of the belief that hold the opinion that; think: I am firmly of the belief that we need to improve our product.beyond belief astonishingly good or bad; incredible: riches beyond the belief that thinking or believing that: he took the property in the belief that he had the best of my belief in my genuine opinion; as far as I know: to the best of my belief, Francis never made a will.


views updated May 21 2018


Mental reliance on or acceptance of a particular concept, which is arrived at by weighing external evidence, facts, and personal observation and experience.

Belief is essentially a subjective feeling about the validity of an idea or set of facts. It is more than a mere suspicion and less than concrete knowledge. Unlike suspicion, which is based primarily on inner personal conviction, belief is founded upon assurance gained by empirical evidence and from other people. Positive knowledge, as contrasted with belief, is the clear perception of existing facts.

Belief has been defined as having faith in an idea or formulating a conclusion as the result of considering information. Information and belief is a legal term that is used to describe an allegation based upon good faith rather than firsthand knowledge.