Paying attention to the Structure of our Beliefs and Desires

February 22, 2012
Posted by Administrator

In my previous posts, I have been exploring the notion of Core Identity. I have been arguing that what is most efficacious in how people adopt or change world-views is a deep set of desires about what sorts of persons they think they are or want to be. For those who aim to bear witness to Christ faithfully through their work as scholars, the role of these desires is worth investigating.

Do you remember Quine’s web of belief? In his classic paper, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, he challenged the notion that some truths are true necessarily and some only contingently. Rather than this distinction, he argued that we are more willing to revise some claims than we are others. A claim such as 1+1=2 is not necessarily true; it is just more deeply embedded in our web of beliefs. A claim such as Most philosophers are Dylan fans is less deeply embedded, although it is undoubtedly true. Each of these claims could be given up and, as a result, our web of belief can be restructured. To give up belief in simple mathematical truths requires a major overhaul of our web. To give up another belief, requires very little.

When we confront new evidence against a belief or theory that we hold, Quine thinks that we try to weave that new evidence into our web. There is no correct way to accomplish this weaving. We aim for coherence, but there are many (perhaps innumerably many) different ways to achieve coherence. We tend to be conservatives in that we tend to weave new evidence into our webs by revising as few of our deeper beliefs as possible. We could give up simple truths of arithmetic or of logic. Rarely will we do so.

Quine’s web of belief represents a kind of epistemology that we want to reject. It does serve, however, as an instructive picture or illustration of the structure of our beliefs and desires. Certain desires make up our core identity. We tend to keep these, even as we revise and restructure everything around them. It takes quite a shakeup to pry our deeper loves and beliefs out of the center of our souls.

So, I shall end this post with the same question I ended with in November. How do we bring Jesus into our core identities? I will make some suggestions in a future blog post. Then I shall apply these insights to evangelism and apologetics. Then, I will listen to “Blood on the Tracks”!