124: Belief Cannot Be in Error30 July, 2009
Belief cannot be in error.
When you say “I believe p” (where p is some proposition, as in “I believe Earth’s climate is warming”) you could be lying, but you cannot be in error, as you are reporting on the contents of your mind. You are definitively in charge of deciding what’s in your own mind. “I believe…” is therefore the strongest statement you can make.
Even at the extreme, as in “I believe that people with ray-guns are chasing me”, you, again, could be lying about your beliefs, but if you are not, then you must be making a factually correct statement about what’s in your head.
There are two complications:
1) Performative statements, such as “I believe in God the father almighty” said as a formal part of a church ceremony, are irrelevant to actual mental conviction, and so constitute an exception.
2) More tellingly, is saying “I believe p” any different from merely uttering the proposition itself? Saying “p” implies that one believes p unless, again, one is lying. Therefore, the “I believe…” part of the statement is otiose. It would be odd and perhaps contradictory, for example, to say something like “Earth’s climate is warming, but I don’t believe it.”