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Is there really a freedom to believe whatever you want?

PyramidHead

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It is often said that people are free to believe whatever they wish. The implication behind this statement is that people should not face serious repercussions merely for holding a belief. I agree with this implication! It would be a tough world if we could be punished for our thoughts. But there are other senses of "freedom of belief" that I want to examine.

The first is the sense that freedom implies choice. I don't think it's actually possible to CHOOSE what to believe. I cannot make myself believe that my name is Rufus, no matter how hard I try. And if a statement has justification that convinces me, I can't help but believe it. There may be forms of psychological self-deception where someone refuses to believe something, or holds a belief out of some delusional hope. But these are not examples of someone exercising their freedom, they are cases where one's rational faculties are hampered. The ideal scenario of a free choice is one that allows someone full control over their critical thinking apparatus. So, in the sense that freedom implies choice, we are not free to believe whatever we want.

The other sense of freedom I want to dispute is harder to define. I will approach it by an example: even if there is no moral duty to eat healthy food, most people would still say it is better to eat healthy than not. That is, people attach a normative value to eating healthy that, while not morally obligatory, is nonetheless a kind of imperative. I find that people do not attach the same imperative to belief, at least in my experience (the appropriate analogy would be "it is better to have justified beliefs than not"). There seems to be a general sense that beliefs are completely without restriction, to the point where it would be rude to recommend somebody alter their beliefs--although it is not usually considered rude to tell someone to alter their diet, if phrased politely. So, to the extent that having wrong or unsupported beliefs is like eating junky food, I don't think people are free to do so without social reprobation.

So, I think "everybody is free to believe whatever they want" is true in only a very limited sense. It basically means "I won't force you to change your mind." But it doesn't mean you can exert direct control over your worldview on a whim, nor does it mean I won't try to persuade you otherwise. The phrase applies, then, to a state of affairs that would never actually occur in a modern society. I think people should stop saying it, but I can't force them. :cool:
 

Keith&Co.

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So, I think "everybody is free to believe whatever they want" is true in only a very limited sense. It basically means "I won't force you to change your mind." But it doesn't mean you can exert direct control over your worldview on a whim,
No, but people CAN choose to accept different authority figures. Like creationism, you can believe 99.99% of the professionals in biology or you can believe the guy with the internet degree in religious studies.

You can believe the CDC or a former Playmate about innoculations.

You can believe the gossip of peers or you can believe the subject's protests.

You can believe the Wall Street Journal or National Enquirer.

I think this particular state of affairs happens a LOT in our society.
 

PyramidHead

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No, but people CAN choose to accept different authority figures. Like creationism, you can believe 99.99% of the professionals in biology or you can believe the guy with the internet degree in religious studies.

You can believe the CDC or a former Playmate about innoculations.

You can believe the gossip of peers or you can believe the subject's protests.

You can believe the Wall Street Journal or National Enquirer.

I think this particular state of affairs happens a LOT in our society.

True, but are those examples of people consciously choosing to believe something, or are they already pre-disposed to accept information from those sources as accurate? Either way, that's not the kind of freedom of belief that I would encourage.
 

Togo

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People can not easily choose what they believe based on evidence. They can choose what they believe in subjects they don't understand, where the evidence they have is sketchy, or subject to multiple interpretations. And they can choose to trust an authority's word for it rather than examine the problem ourselves, much as many of us do at the Doctor or when calling a Plumber, or even when getting into a taxi. In the first two we the subject is difficult to understand and we may not know much about it, or choose to find out. In the latter the subject is easy (where exactly is my destination) but many will still simply trust that they are being taken to the right destination rather than bother to work it out themselves using a map.
 

PyramidHead

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People can not easily choose what they believe based on evidence. They can choose what they believe in subjects they don't understand, where the evidence they have is sketchy, or subject to multiple interpretations. And they can choose to trust an authority's word for it rather than examine the problem ourselves, much as many of us do at the Doctor or when calling a Plumber, or even when getting into a taxi. In the first two we the subject is difficult to understand and we may not know much about it, or choose to find out. In the latter the subject is easy (where exactly is my destination) but many will still simply trust that they are being taken to the right destination rather than bother to work it out themselves using a map.

That's a good point. The less actual information we have to make an informed decision, the more likely we are to just pick a position. As more information comes in and is processed, the freedom to choose whether or not to believe it approaches zero. After a certain threshold, I think someone who has evenhandedly examined the evidence is bound to belief or disbelief based on the output of their critical faculties; a truly justified belief leaves one with no choice in the matter.

EDIT: This topic may be better suited for the new Epistemology forum.
 

arkirk

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The freedom to choose what you believe is something that cannot be denied you. Just because that is true does not make it necessarily a good thing in your life. You could believe everyone around you was possessed of the devil and make your own life hell. Empirical sciences should be allowed to influence what you believe. The absolute freedom our culture and indeed most human cultures proudly proclaims for itself with errors caused by omission of empirical data. Analyzing the information that comes to a person is perhaps the most difficult of all his functions, especially in the kind of stressful situations that rise to the level of moral judgement. So, absolute freedom in the area of belief can penalize the believer and those around him.
 

doubtingt

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I don't think it's actually possible to CHOOSE what to believe. I cannot make myself believe that my name is Rufus, no matter how hard I try. And if a statement has justification that convinces me, I can't help but believe it.

Except there is plenty of experimental data showing that people what arguments "convince" a person depends upon what they want to believe is true. All people need is something that vaguely sounds like a justification. It doesn't need to be in any way rational even by their own general standards. People will judge the exact same evidence and arguments are more or less "convincing" depending on nothing other than if the conclusion reached favors what they prefer. That can and often does mean that a person's only justification for belief is that it "feels good" to believe it. They just con themselves into thinking that something "feeling good" is their "spirit" telling them that it is true. On any issue they don't emotionally care about that same person would laugh at such a justification as invalid, but they arbitrarily buy into it if it allows them to believe what they prefer. That is pretty damn close to "choosing" what to believe. In fact, if the preferred conclusion determine the kind of justification accepted or the source we rely upon (and we know it often does), then the conclusion came first based upon preferences and the justification is just a post-hoc excuse that people muster to whatever minimal degree they need to in order to feel the belief is justified.
 

Coleman Smith

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arkirk

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I am really Napoleon and don't you are dispute it'
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You better be glad the laws of physics apply to you or you could have problems on the toilet.;)
 

DBT

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Regarding the OP question... why not experiment? Try to consciously form a disbelief in something that you currently believe to be true and factual in order to see if you can achieve that goal? Or perhaps the opposite, take something that you currently do not believe is true and factual and consciously choose to believe that the article of your current disbelief is in fact true and factual?
 

doubtingt

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Regarding the OP question... why not experiment? Try to consciously form a disbelief in something that you currently believe to be true and factual in order to see if you can achieve that goal? Or perhaps the opposite, take something that you currently do not believe is true and factual and consciously choose to believe that the article of your current disbelief is in fact true and factual?


That would not test the hypothesis. The question is believing something that you "want" to believe. IOW something that you desire and prefer to be true. You cannot create real desire and preference by flipping a coin. Wanting to see if you could believe something is not the same as actually wanting to believe it. Much of what people currently believe or disbelieve is already based in their desires to believe or disbelieve. So, changing one's position would actually require going against your true desires rather than with them as your experiment presumes. The test of the effect of desires on belief is shown when people are presented with clear evidence that goes against or supports a claim. When the claim is something they have an emotional bias to believe then they believe the evidence is valid and accept the claim. If the claim is something they have an emotional bias to disbelieve then they believe the evidence is invalid and reject the claim. This shows that the person's own understanding of the evidence is irrelevant to their belief and that belief is driven by emotional desire to believe or disbelieve. We can observe this everyday, including on these boards, and it has been observed in randomized experiements, usually under the label of "belief bias" in reasoning or argument evaluation.
 

fromderinside

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Regarding the OP question... why not experiment? Try to consciously form a disbelief in something that you currently believe to be true and factual in order to see if you can achieve that goal? Or perhaps the opposite, take something that you currently do not believe is true and factual and consciously choose to believe that the article of your current disbelief is in fact true and factual?


That would not test the hypothesis. The question is believing something that you "want" to believe. IOW something that you desire and prefer to be true. You cannot create real desire and preference by flipping a coin. Wanting to see if you could believe something is not the same as actually wanting to believe it. Much of what people currently believe or disbelieve is already based in their desires to believe or disbelieve. So, changing one's position would actually require going against your true desires rather than with them as your experiment presumes. The test of the effect of desires on belief is shown when people are presented with clear evidence that goes against or supports a claim. When the claim is something they have an emotional bias to believe then they believe the evidence is valid and accept the claim. If the claim is something they have an emotional bias to disbelieve then they believe the evidence is invalid and reject the claim. This shows that the person's own understanding of the evidence is irrelevant to their belief and that belief is driven by emotional desire to believe or disbelieve. We can observe this everyday, including on these boards, and it has been observed in randomized experiements, usually under the label of "belief bias" in reasoning or argument evaluation.

Hi Popes.

Pope FDI here. We need to understand first principles before we can analyze belief. By first principles I mean acknowledge we are evolved, social, recently rational, beings, who got to this place by being successful enough to survive among others.

So now a bit of questioning?

First thing that pops up is desire. I believe that is a derived construct based on demands of being a human with human motive and reasoning equipment. We don't know what it is, yet we use it as capable of creating impulse, a thrust in a given direction, in this case a reasoning direction. We know it isn't id or energy force since we dismantled the toilet theories by the thirties. We know it isn't need since we traveled that route in the 40-50s. We know it isn't drive because we paddled that little guy to submission at the same time we kicked blank slates into the circular file in the seventies. We know it isn't testosterone, estrogen, noradrenaline, or those drugs we associate with pathies since we move them about among sexual, aggressive/submissive, metabolic and maintenece, and reasoning attributes. So I guess we just have to let desire die a natural death due to insupportability beyond a neat construct to use as a motivator reservoir which we really can't justify either.

I'm with those who admit we can't have free will so we can't be free to believe. Further I'm with those who say we can't believe because what is in our brains is there, for the most part, to use what we think others think about us as we continuously adjust ourselves based on whatever we can derive with our mechanisms for deriving. Our believing is externally driven for most everything. To the extent we can reason effectively we need to have evidence and we need to be shielded from most motive equipment and consequences.

The ones who spoke of experiment and being independent from social and otherwise biased, say social I guess, matters are going to the nub of whatever belief one can freely, relative to all those limitations, reason a belief. An almost microscopic, yet, important place.
 

DBT

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That would not test the hypothesis. The question is believing something that you "want" to believe.

Why would it not test the hypothesis. The latter is precisely what I was talking about.

Keep in mind that in order to believe something you want to believe involves choice. In other words, the ability to consciously choose to believe something you want to believe. That is the aim of the experiment.

HOW something that you desire and prefer to be true. You cannot create real desire and preference by flipping a coin. Wanting to see if you could believe something is not the same as actually wanting to believe it.

What I said was not about flipping a coin or 'wanting' to see if you can choose to believe what you want to believe, but actually testing yourself.

In other words, testing yourself to see whether you actually have the freedom to believe whatever you want to believe...according to the OP question

Much of what people currently believe or disbelieve is already based in their desires to believe or disbelieve. So, changing one's position would actually require going against your true desires rather than with them as your experiment presumes.

That is the point, isn't it? To see if you can go against, not only your inherit desires and drives, but overcome what you already believe to be true.
 
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