Objections to credulism

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This article is part of the 'core reading' series of articles:

The certainty of belief > Why belief can't be the product of an assessment of truth > The theoretical argument for credulism > Objections to credulism > The evidence for credulism


Summary: This article addresses the contrast between credulism and the common understanding of how beliefs form. It first shows that credulism is not, contrary to the likely first impression, incompatible with our experience of how beliefs form, and then counters several other possible objections.

1 Introduction


Credulism can seem obviously false - indeed, such disbelief may itself seem to disprove it. However, it's possible to counter the below objections to it.

2 Credulism versus experience


Credulism can seem obviously contrary to our experience of how beliefs form. That is, it can seem obviously untrue that the mere entrance of a claim into our thought processes, whether via our comprehension, reasoning, imagination, or memory, necessarily involves believing it.

However, credulism doesn't state that our belief of a claim, upon it entering our thought processes, is indefinite. As explained in The theoretical argument for credulism - in the section To think X is to believe X - although our belief of X, upon thinking X, doesn't merely last the duration of that thought, it can, given the speed of the brain, cease within a further fraction of a second, and we'll then likely have no recollection of it. In the example of thinking, mantra-like, and contrary to our immediately preceding belief, 'There are eggs in the fridge', this new belief only lasts the further fraction of a second that it takes us to recall that we were thinking this claim solely because we decided to do so, mantra-like, and contrary to our belief, and therefore not because we've any reason to change our belief, and we will therefore then again think/believe 'There aren't eggs in the fridge'. And because our belief in the existence of eggs in the fridge was so brief, we'll likely have no recollection of it.

Of course, when a claim enters our thought processes via our comprehension, reasoning, imagination, or memory, and we thereby think/believe it, this thought was not the product of such a decision. Nevertheless, this belief may still be replaced by another - and possibly by an immediately preceding contrary belief - within a further fraction of a second. For example, we don't seem to believe the obviously false claim 'Paris is the capital of Germany' upon it entering our thought processes, whether via our comprehension, imagination, or memory, or as an apparent logical implication of premises that we don't believe. However, we actually do, but our belief only lasts the further fraction of second that it takes our reasoning to generate the contrary claim 'Paris isn't the capital of Germany', which we thereby believe, leaving us without any recollection of our previous, very brief, belief. Our reasoning may be based on our recollection that Paris isn't located in Germany, or that it's the capital of France, or that Berlin is the capital of Germany. In the case of the false claim entering our thought processes as an apparent logical implication of premises that we don't believe, our belief of it also may cease, within a further fraction of second, when we recall that it was based on premises that we don't believe.

Also, even when we're not immediately aware, upon the formation of a belief, of any apparent facts that could lead to the formation of a contrary belief, and the belief then endures for much longer than a fraction of a second, we normally don't notice that our belief originated in the claim's mere entrance into our thought processes, by whichever means. There are four reasons for this:

  1. Given the certainty of belief, we tend to not be motivated to analyse, and therefore question, the formation of our beliefs. And such an analysis also doesn't, of course, occur involuntarily upon the formation of our beliefs - indeed, that would lead to infinite layers of analysis, given that the conclusion of such an analysis would itself be a belief.

    This explains why it's normally easier for us to notice other people’s credulity with respect to claims that have entered their thought processes, by whichever means, than it is for them, or than it is for us to notice our own such credulity: observing someone else’s belief-formation involves, by definition, thinking about that process.

    Therefore, although we can analyse the formation of one of our enduring beliefs whenever we want to, we tend not to. And we're less likely to do so the more time that has passed since the belief was formed, or mundane its subject, or time-pressured we are. And however obviously credulous we've been, we'll not notice that credulity unless we analyse the formation of the belief in question.

  2. Even if we eventually change one of our enduring beliefs, we still won't automatically analyse the formation of our previous belief. And, again, we're less likely to do so the more time that has passed since that previous belief was formed, or mundane its subject, or time-pressured we are.
  3. Even when we do analyse the formation of one of our enduring beliefs, past or present, if the claim in question was the product of our reasoning, then we assume that our belief of it also was. And if the claim didn't enter our thought processes as the product of our reasoning, then we assume that our belief of it must have involved some subsequent reasoning - and we'll possibly even retrospectively construct such reasoning.
  4. Even when we do realise our credulity regarding the formation of one of our beliefs, past or present, we don't realise, given the previous three points and the point preceding them, that the mere entrance of any claim into our thought processes, by whichever means, always involves believing it.


3 Other objections

3.1 Objection 1

It might also be objected that the implication, of credulism, that our belief of both the validity and premises of our logic is irrelevant to the formation of new beliefs via our reasoning is contrary to the concept of reasoning. However, this actually isn't an implication of credulism. Without our belief of the validity of our logic we wouldn't be motivated to apply it to our premises. And without our belief of our premises we wouldn't be motivated to use their content as the basis of our logic. Therefore, without either we wouldn't be able to reason at all. And the nature of our logic, and its premises, obviously determines the nature of our conclusions. The implication of credulism is instead that our belief of the content of the conclusion of our reasoning is due not to our belief of the validity and premises of our logic, but simply the entrance of the claim into our thought processes.

3.2 Objection 2

It might also be objected that even if credulism is true, it actually doesn't imply our belief of X upon it entering our thought processes. That is, when X first enters our thought processes, via our comprehension, reasoning, imagination, or memory, what actually enters our thought processes isn't simply X, but a claim about X. In the case of comprehending X, what actually enters our thought processes is merely a claim such as 'They [the writer or speaker] are claiming X'. In the case of determining X as a logical implication, what actually enters our thought processes is merely a claim such as 'A logical implication of these premises is X'. In the case of generating X via our imagination, what actually enters our thought processes is merely a claim such as 'A possible claim is X'. In the case of recalling X, what actually enters our thought processes is merely a claim such as 'I used to believe X'. Therefore, what we believe when X first enters our thought processes isn't X, but merely such claims about X. Therefore, believing X is still dependent on us concluding simply X after it has entered our thought processes.

The problem with this objection is that the creation of any specific claim about X involves, by definition, thinking about X. And, as established in the last chain of reasoning in The theoretical argument for credulism - in the section Our complete credulity - we can't think about X without first thinking, and therefore believing, X. Also, if, when X enters our thought processes as an apparent logical implication, it did so as merely the subject of a claim such as 'A logical implication of these premises is X', then, contrary to the above, it would never be possible to conclude simply 'X', given that any conclusion is, by definition, an apparent logical implication. In sum, claims can't first enter our thought processes as merely the subject of another claim. However, given the speed of the brain, X may enter our thought processes as the subject of another claim - such as the examples above - within a fraction of a second of it entering those processes as a standalone claim - and it may then seem that X first entered our thought processes as the subject of that other claim.

3.3 Objection 3

It might then be objected that there's one type of occasion when a claim can enter our thought processes as merely the subject of another claim. Comprehending a claim, Y, about another claim, X, involves merely believing this claim about X, and therefore doesn't necessarily involve believing X, even briefly. That is, although the person who created Y must have believed X, however briefly, upon X entering their thought processes prior to creating Y, what enters our thought processes is merely this claim about X. Indeed, if X and Y are contradictory - such as 'It isn’t true that there are eggs in the fridge', with X being 'There are eggs in the fridge' - then we can't simultaneously believe X and Y upon comprehending Y.

However, given that X is the subject of Y, we must first comprehend X in order to comprehend Y. That is, in order to comprehend the claim 'It isn’t true that there are eggs in the fridge' we must first comprehend, and thereby believe, the claim 'There are eggs in the fridge'. However, we'll then unbelieve the latter, within a fraction of a second, upon comprehending, and thereby believing, the claim about this claim - and we'll therefore likely have no recollection of our brief contrary belief. Therefore, even when we comprehend a claim about another claim, the latter doesn't first enter our thought processes as merely the subject of the former.

Credulism, and the counters to objections 2 and 3, mean that, contrary to the common understanding, any claim, X, can't first enter our thought processes, by any means, as merely a possibility, given that that would require it to first enter our thought processes as the subject of the claim 'X is a possibility'.

3.4 Objection 4

It might also be objected that the second point in the last chain of reasoning in The theoretical argument for credulism - in the section Our complete credulity - is false. That point states:

And any claim, X, enters our thought processes as the output of one of four possible mental processes: it can be comprehended via our senses - whether X was spoken or written - or created via our reasoning or imagination, or recalled via our memory.

However, given that each of these four processes involve dedicated areas of the brain, X must, upon being outputted by one of them, then be transmitted to another area of the brain in order to enter our thought processes. Therefore, the outputting of X from one of the four processes isn't the entrance of X into our thought processes, with the latter occurring a fraction of a second later. And that fraction-of-a-second gap is crucial, because if the outputting of X from one of the four processes isn't part of our thought processes, then not only is it not the process of thinking about X, it also can't be the thought/belief 'X'. Therefore, X can then enter our thought processes as the input to the process of thinking about X, without us first thinking/believing 'X'.

However, the above second point in the chain of reasoning is actually true by definition. That is, the end point, and therefore output, of each of the four processes is, by definition, part of our thought processes: a comprehended claim, a reasoned claim, an imagined claim, or a recalled claim. Therefore, for each process, it is the entrance of X into our thought processes that is, by definition, the end point, and therefore output, of the process. And as that chain of reasoning shows, that output must be the thought 'X', rather than the process of thinking of X.


4 Sources


This article is part of the 'core reading' series of articles:

The certainty of belief > Why belief can't be the product of an assessment of truth > The theoretical argument for credulism > Objections to credulism > The evidence for credulism