The Nature of Belief

The Nature of Belief

You should quote or paraphrase from specific pages in the course text to support your claims about philosophical ideas and concepts, using correct APA citation required – 100% original (paper will be submitted to to check for originality. References must be provided.
Identify a belief that you (or someone in your community) think is true. You can choose the topic.
1. Present an account of at least one metaphysical account of reality from the assigned readings with support from the course texts and online lectures. For example, you might discuss Plato, Aristotle, or the Cartesian method. Make sure that you include an account of reality and truth and discuss how (and/or whether) human beings are capable of knowing reality with any certainty. For instance, is there a difference between a well-founded opinion and a false one? How are opinions/beliefs related to the truth as such?
2. Explain how the account of truth set forth by the chosen theory of reality might apply to their belief.
3. Identify and explain an additional metaphysical theory that would take a different approach.
Course Text – Chaffee, J. (2010). Philosopher’s Way, The: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas (3rd ed). Pearson Learning Solutions.Chapter 5 and Chapter 7 and the following lectures
Reality is Eternal Realm
You probably think you have a good grasp of what is and is not real. The problem for philosophers has always been coming to some agreement as to what it means to say something is real. In other words, metaphysics is the study of what “real” really means.
By now, you won’t be surprised to learn that philosophers have a number of competing theories that seek to explain what reality is. In fact, we’ve already dealt with a couple of metaphysical positions in this class so far, though we haven’t identified them as such. Thales’s claim that the archeis water is a metaphysical claim, and many of the theories of who we are and how we are able to accumulate knowledge about the world touch upon metaphysical notions of reality as well.
We were already introduced to Rene Descartes last week, and we learned that for Descartes, philosophy begins in radical doubt. In his book Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes engaged in an interesting thought experiment in his quest to know what is real and what is true. You’ll recall that he began by doubting everything he believed in, including his own existence. As we will see in our study of the Meditations, determining that God exists is a key part of establishing the possibility for human beings to know the real and the true. This modern approach is very different than that of the Greeks, who were less focused on questioning reality and more focused on the question of how we should live.
Socrates was perfectly content with the idea that human knowledge is limited, and both Plato and Aristotle agreed that philosophy should begin with an examination of the world around us, not in doubt. However, Descartes thought that philosophy should be more like math, and it should begin by establishing what we know before worrying about how we should live our lives.
While Plato and Aristotle agreed that philosophy should begin with an examination of the world around us, this is not to say that Plato and Aristotle did not consider the nature of reality to be a philosophical concern. In fact, Plato was very concerned with how to reconcile the belief that some aspects of reality are eternal and unchanging, while reality appears to us as changing.
Parmenides was a pre-Socratic thinker who believed there is an eternal realm of permanence that unifies the world of change and flux, whereas Heraclitus believed that the world was ever changing. Parmenides did distinguish between what always is and what changes, but he ultimately believed that the realm of being holds permanence and change together. He expressed this belief in a famous poem that has come down to us in fragments.
Similarly, as we saw in Week 1, Heraclitus’s work also survives in fragments, but it is clear that he rejected the idea of the unity of being and becoming, and he believed the world of appearance—the world that is constantly in flux—to be reality. Plato attempted to reconcile these two positions. As we saw in Plato’s Republic, the very fact that we believe in eternal ideas, such as justice and the good, means that these ideas exist.
Yet, when we look around us, we see particular good things, or we are reminded that justice exists because we encounter an action that we find to be unjust. Therefore, we are in the somewhat confusing position of both asserting that ideas exist in a permanent and unchanging way and being unable to completely know the nature of these ideas. Plato’s solution to this confusion was to assert that there are two realms of existence. The world of “being” is the eternal realm occupied by the ideas of justice, the good, beauty, and so forth, and the world of “becoming” is the place in which particular good, just, beautiful things exist. The world of becoming is the world of change, and the world of being is that of eternal reality. As such, we are unable to completely know the world of being. For instance, Plato never gives us a final definition of the good, but we catch glimpses of it when we engage in dialogues about the good and distinguish particular good things and people from those that are not good. In short, Plato’s dialogues teach us that human beings are capable of talking about ideas and yet incapable of completely knowing these ideas. Plato called these ideas “forms.” The Forms are not completely knowable to human beings because of the limits our own changeable, perishable nature imposes on our ability to commune with the unchangeable realm of being.
Sounds confusing, right? As with all things Platonic, an example might help. Suppose someone says the word “dog” to you. A particular dog probably pops into your head. You might imagine your own dog or a dog from your favorite pet food commercial. You might even imagine Toto from The Wizard of Oz. We agree that all of these images are dogs, yet no single image of a dog, in fact no particular dog at all, captures the essence of what it means to be a dog.
Plato thought that the essential nature of being a dog (and the essential nature of everything else, for that matter) existed in the unchanging, eternal nature of reality. We can talk about it, know it when we see it, and know when it isn’t there, but we can’t know it completely. This allows Plato to do something very important: He is able to distinguish true knowledge (that can only be of the forms and is, therefore, out of human reach) from opinion (that we can achieve). It also allows him to distinguish a true opinion from an ill-conceived one. A good opinion can stand up to the rigors of philosophical inquiry via the Socratic method; a wrong opinion cannot.
However, because human knowledge is imperfect, our ideas of what is true must constantly be re-evaluated. Plato illustrates these ideas via the “divided line.” Plato’s belief that knowledge only comes to us via the Socratic method of dialogue rather than through experience alone makes his approach more similar to that of the rationalists we’ve been discussing (e.g., Descartes) than the empiricists. Plato’s most famous illustration of the realms of being and becoming is the cave.
In the cave, people are chained so that they can only look forward; therefore, they see nothing but shadows of shapes being reflected on a wall via the light of a fire burning behind them. Thus, they believe these shapes to be all that there is. The shapes are their reality. However, one of them breaks free. First, he sees the fire and the shapes that make the shadows, and realizes that what he thought was reality was in fact only images of reality. However, his enlightenment doesn’t stop there. He climbs out of the cave and is blinded by the light of the sun. He eventually adjusts to this new bright light, and suddenly he sees an entirely new world of shapes, even more real than the ones in the cave.
However, the one thing he can never see is the sun, which is Plato’s way of saying that while we can distinguish between bad opinions (e.g., the belief that the shadows are the things themselves) and good opinions (e.g., the belief that the things outside the cave are the things themselves), the true form of being is forever unknowable to us. Therefore, the philosopher’s job is to break our chains in order to get us out of the cave and into the light, not to give us perfect truth. As we have seen, this is a very different take on the
task of philosophy from Plato’s fellow rationalist, Descartes, who believed that human beings are capable of
knowing the complete truth.
Reality is the Natural World
As you may know, Aristotle was Plato’s student, and like many students, he was influenced by his teacher’s philosophical approach. For instance, both Plato and Aristotle were concerned with the nature of reality. However, Aristotle disagreed with Plato’s division between the world of being (the intelligible world) and the world of becoming (the sensible world).
Instead, Aristotle set forth an account of reality as the physical world. However, there is an important difference between Aristotle’s account of physical reality and the empiricist belief that all knowledge comes from experience. You see, like Plato, Aristotle believed in the forms. Unlike Plato, he believed that these forms were embodied in physical objects, and therefore, they were present in the sensible world.
Let’s return to the dog example. All things, including dogs, have both a material element (fur, drool, etc.) and a formal element (the essential aspect of “dogness” that allows us to distinguish them from other furry animals). He called the material part matter (or “hyle”) and the formal element the form. While we can distinguish form from matter on an intellectual level, we cannot do so in reality. The same is true for all forms, including the ones that Plato was so concerned with. For example, in Aristotelian reality, there is no such thing as the good itself, but there are good people, good carrot cakes, and so on.
Therefore, matter is very important, because matter is what allows form to realize itself. Matter and form always come together in nature. For example, we can’t intellectually distinguish the form of a tree from its woody matter. Other things (e.g., manufactured things) are intellectually distinguishable. For instance, a tree might have the potential to become a table or a desk. This potential is called its “telos,” and it is what leads Aristotle to the concept of “entelechy”—the idea that everything in the world is driven to achieve its natural purpose. Everything in the world has a purpose. For example, an acorn’s purpose might be to become a tree. However, the purpose of some things (e.g., human beings) is more difficult to discern, because while the matter of a person is her body, the form of that person is the soul.
All of these ideas taken together led Aristotle to an overarching idea of reality called “The Four Causes.” A “cause” is the answer to the question of “why” something happens. Why does this acorn become a tree, and that one squirrel food? A squirrel might be drawn to an acorn because it is made of something tasty and nutritious. This might be the “material cause” of an acorn becoming squirrel food. On the other hand, perhaps the acorn is easy to carry back to his little squirrel nest. This would be due to its small size and rounded shape (its “formal cause”). Maybe the squirrel missed lunch that day because he was writing a philosophy paper, and the acorn fell off of the tree just moments before the squirrel happened by. This would be the “efficient cause” of the acorn becoming squirrel food. All of these causes taken together might prevent the acorn from achieving its “final cause” of becoming a tree. That’s because of the role of chance (or “tyche”). However, if the squirrel had just eaten half of a muffin that a distracted college student left on a park bench, the squirrel might ignore the acorn, and its rounded small shape would eventually allow it to roll off into a nice moist patch of ground, where it would eventually grow into a big oak tree, therefore achieving its full potential (its “telos”). Of course, there is one small problem with this theory. We have no way of knowing for certain whether the ultimate purpose of the little acorn is to grow into the big oak tree rather than to be squirrel food, and the material, formal, and efficient causes can point either way. Therefore, there must be a God or some other “prime mover” that sets all of these things in motion and knows the acorn’s true purpose. Right?
Wrong. Instead, Aristotle responds to this concern by agreeing that if we examine the Four Causes, we can see that each one presupposes a cause that came before it—a cause that set all the other causes in motion. The acorn grew on the tree, which grew from another acorn, and so on back into infinity. However, Aristotle stops us before we get all dizzy from our glimpse into this “infinite regress.” There is a first cause, but it is not God, or at least not the personified God the ancient Greeks (and some of us today) imagine. Instead, the first cause is simply nature itself. Like Plato and Socrates before him, Aristotle never claims to have perfect knowledge of this first cause, but luckily we can explore philosophy without that knowledge. We can talk about ethics, art, physics, and so on. There’s good old tyche again, giving us a chance to reach our full potential!

When we left Descartes in Week 2, he had just established that he exists (or at least that his mind exists). Descartes thought that he found something in the cogito that he knew beyond a doubt. As we know, Descartes was not nearly as comfortable as his Greek predecessors with the idea that human knowledge is limited. Unfortunately for him, the idea of reality embodied in his proclamation that “I think, therefore I am” doesn’t really allow him to have much certainty about the nature of reality. To get that kind of certainty, he needs a god. In fact, he needs a certain kind of god, one who would never trick him into believing that he exists and has a body. This god must be something we can know from our ability to reason, rather than a god we simply believe in. Descartes establishes the existence of this god in a rather clever way.
For starters, he cannot just assert that such a god exists. Remember, the Cartesian method involves doubting everything one believes until it can be logically demonstrated to exist. Thus, he begins by doubting that his idea of a kind, gentle god is true, and he instead imagines an evil genius God, like the evil forces in the film The Matrix that convinced Neo that he was living in an apartment with a job when, in fact, he was plugged into a machine that harnessed his energy as alien fuel. Descartes’ evil genius god tricks us into believing that we have limbs and papers to write, when in fact we may not have a body at all!
Therefore, Descartes asserts that he must examine the existence of God. To do this, he must group his thoughts into certain classes and figure out which class of things can be true or false and which are simply ideas without any truth content whatsoever. We can have ideas about all kinds of things: humans, the sky, angels, unicorns, squirrels, and even God). Ideas cannot be false, even if they do not correspond to real things. Then there are volitions, affects, and judgments. There is the mythical, the imaginary, and the real (though the former may reflect the latter). We learn to make these judgments from nature.
For instance, if you see a horse, and your friend sees a rhinoceros, you know these things exist (assuming true judgments are possible). In addition, these things may give you the idea of a horse with a rhino horn. However, if you tell the person in front of you at the supermarket that you believe that unicorns exist, she will undoubtedly believe that you have taken leave of your senses or are joking. Nevertheless, how do we know your judgment that unicorns do not exist is a sound one? Descartes says we don’t know this at all, because there is no logical basis for either the idea of a unicorn or the idea of a horse.
However, we do have a logical basis for the idea of cause, because we know that we did not cause ourselves to exist. Thus, Descartes concludes that something cannot come out of nothing and, furthermore, something perfect cannot come from something less perfect. This leads him to distinguish two kinds of reality: objective and formal. The reality of ideas is objective reality—that is, something exists objectively in the intellect through an idea. Things in the world, on the other hand, are formal reality. Formal reality gives rise to objective reality. For example, the horse and rhinoceros gives you the idea of a horse and the idea of a rhino, and they may even give you the idea of a unicorn. Your judgment tells you that while all of these ideas are objectively true, they don’t all exist in formal reality. However, what if your judgment is wrong, just as Neo was wrong in The Matrix or Plato’s cave dwellers were wrong in The Republic?
This is where God comes in. Eventually, there must be an idea whose archetypical formal cause contains all the reality that is in the idea merely objectively. In other words, there must be one thing in which formal reality and objective reality are the same. However, ideas of all corporeal things contain nothing so great that they could not have come from the imagination. All things, that is, except for God. Therefore, Descartes concludes that all his ideas could have come from him except for the idea of God. Because he has the idea of God as greater than him, as the cause of everything in the world including him, then God must exist. God is the infinite ground of all that is finite, because God is the only thing in the world that can be self-causing.
Furthermore, God’s infinite perfection is logically inconsistent with the need to deceive; therefore, God must not have created the world in such a way as to deceive people into believing that the world is other than it appears. In other words, a perfect God would never lie.
Some later philosophers criticized Descartes for this claim and argued that he is imposing human moral values (such as the prohibition against lying to someone for no good reason) onto God. However, for our purposes, it is enough to know that the Cartesian proof of God is not an account that requires us to believe in a version of God set forth by any particular religion. Descartes is saying that God is the infinite cause of the finite world, that infinite and perfection are logical equals, and that the idea of perfection is logically inconsistent with the idea of deceiving one’s creations.
Of course, empiricists like John Locke and David Hume took very different approaches to the nature of reality, as we touched upon last week. Locke thought that common sense requires that we stop questioning reality. For Locke, philosophy should be more concerned with how we know and encounter the world (i.e., with epistemology and the question of the self) than with metaphysics. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz fervently disagreed with Locke’s idea that knowledge comes purely from experience and argued instead that we know many things that are not purely from experience. The epic battle between Locke and Leibniz is beyond the scope of this class, but what is significant is that both Locke and Leibniz agreed that epistemology, not metaphysics, should be the focus of philosophical inquiry.
What is the Nature of Spiritual Reality?

As we have seen, the Cartesian account of God serves more of a metaphysical function than a spiritual one, therefore leaving the question of a spiritual reality somewhat open. In general, this is a question more suited to the study of religion than philosophy. Still, because philosophy and religion do sometimes overlap, it might be helpful to look briefly at some key ideas in the philosophy of religion.
We undoubtedly know what religion itself is. Whether we are Christian, agnostic, Buddhist, atheist, and so forth, we have some idea about what people generally label “God,” and we have some idea (however vague) of what we think about that. For some people, religion signifies a very definite concept that is a structural and motivating social force in their lives. We normally think of these people as practitioners of a religion. For others, religion may be a much more loose set of general beliefs about the divine. Note that either of these extremes could potentially apply to both those who believe in the divine as well as those who don’t! That is, there are many very serious, practicing atheists, and there are people who have general ideas about God, but who are not too certain about any of them. For an overview of major world religions, click here.
A religion is, among other things, a collection of doctrines and beliefs about God. We know that these systems of belief take a number of different forms that are both remarkably similar and have key differences. What you may be starting to see is that one of the central tasks in philosophic investigation is to hold up, examine, and attempt to understand various systems of thought. Philosophers like to take a set of beliefs and ideas and see how they relate to one another and what sort of outcome they produce in action. While religions are systems of belief that rely on religious doctrine and faith, they also have an internal structure and logic that is often extremely complex and interesting—certainly something worth both our study and our respect.
The study of the philosophy of various religions is different from the practice of those religions, of course. We can explore the world’s religions and seek to understand them without actually becoming believing members of them. In fact, in the past, many religions suggested their practitioners avoid other religions out of fear or lack of understanding. This sort of attitude has been responsible for many world atrocities with which you are likely familiar. One of the byproducts of a more general study of the world’s religions may be a lessening of this fear and emphasis on the common ground that most religions share. This idea is consistent with the idea of religious pluralism, or the belief that the true nature of God does not rest within any one religion in particular.



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It is commonly believed that in the African communities some people are born with some abilities that cannot be acquired through the experience of life.  Diviners, witches and traditional healers are believed to possess extrasensory (ESP) perception which they perceive and communicate with the supernatural entities. ……………………..

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