Belief

Course Description: 

The concept of belief is central to our self-conception as human beings. A person’s beliefs are how they take the world to be: what someone believes is how they think things are. Our beliefs can be about matters of great significance — such as politics, or religion, or science, or morality — but they can also be about everyday matters, such as what you had for breakfast or where you will go shopping tomorrow. Beliefs can be more or less correct, or true, but our beliefs about the world determine our actions regardless of whether they are actually true.

But the phenomenon of belief raises many questions. How should beliefs be distinguished from one another? How should we think of the distinction between the mental state of believing something and what it is that is believed (the ‘content’ of belief)? What is the relationship between belief and truth? And between belief and knowledge? How can beliefs be states of the brain? Does belief come in degrees? What does it mean for a belief to be rational? What is religious belief and how can it be studied?

This course will investigate the phenomenon of belief from a number of different perspectives. It will outline the main philosophical issues about belief and the relationship between these issues and issues in economics, cognitive neuroscience and  anthropology. Guest lectures on these disciplines will be given by professors from those CEU departments.

It will be suitable for students from many departments: philosophy, economics & business, sociology & anthropology, gender studies, history, as well as cognitive science. It will be also be of interest to students on the religious studies programme.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students who have completed the reading and the assignments will have:

— understood the central questions in the philosophical investigation of belief
— understood some applications of these ideas in economics, cognitive neuroscience
and anthropology

Assessment: 

This is a 2 credit course. There are two 1000 word (max.) assignments; the first to be submitted in the middle of term, on the philosophy of belief; and the second after the end of term, on the application of this concept to a problem in philosophy or in some other discipline(s). For the first task, a series of short questions must be answered; for the second, students can choose their own topic or select one from a list given by the instructor. Grading guidelines will be provided with the assignments.

Prerequisites: 

None. No background in philosophy is presupposed; all that is required is hard work, a willingness to engage with difficult texts, and an open mind.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT PRIMARILY A COURSE ABOUT RELIGIOUS BELIEF; RELIGIOUS BELIEF IS ONE OF THE TOPICS DISCUSSED, BUT MOST OF THE COURSE IS ABOUT BELIEF IN GENERAL.