Instinctive Belief

I just read this and absolutely loved it:

The argument which has led us to this conclusion is doubtless less strong than we could wish, but it is typical of many philosophical arguments, and it is therefore worth while to consider briefly its general character and validity. All knowledge, we find, must be built up upon our instinctive beliefs, and if these are rejected, nothing is left. But among our instinctive beliefs some are much stronger than others, while many have, by habit and association, become entangled with other beliefs, not really instinctive, but falsely supposed to be part of what is believed instinctively.

Philosophy should show us the hierarchy of our instinctive beliefs, beginning with those we hold most strongly, and presenting each as much isolated and as free from irrelevant additions as possible. It should take care to show that, in the form in which they are finally set forth, our instinctive beliefs do not clash, but form a harmonious system. There can never be any reason for rejecting one instinctive belief except that it clashes with others; thus, if they are found to harmonize, the whole system becomes worthy of acceptance.

-Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

I once wrote a post that said no argument to prove a point is ever definitive–and had a response from someone who thought I was basically absurd in saying that (and believing it too).

But there are always, always assumptions to the things we know. We can’t ever prove anything at all without using some sort of assumption.

Not to say those assumptions are bad–they are instinctual and quite right.

But so many people think they are right without ever reflecting on all those assumptions and instinctive beliefs they are relying upon.

Our beliefs are more about being coherent with each other than about proof. They are more about choosing which instinctive beliefs are most important.

So some people may claim that “God is dead”–but since my knowledge is based on my instinctive beliefs anyway, I don’t need proof of a God. Because when I make a hierarchy of those instinctive beliefs, the existence of God is at the top. That belief is what helps the rest of my existence make sense.


One thought on “Instinctive Belief

  1. so all disagreements or conflicts of ideas boil down to either inconsistency or to conflicting instinctual beliefs. yes, this makes a lot of sense.


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