What came first:Belief or understanding?

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Mutian
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 01:55 am
Recently, I've been attracted as well as confused by the possible contradiction between belief and understanding. Do we believe before understand? Or the converse?

For me, to say that we believe something without understanding is somehow illogical, if not totally ridiculous. But, whenever I reflected upon my previous education, it appeared to me that I was taught by my teacher that 1+1=2 without really understanding it. It was my teacher who gave me a firm belief, if not a dogma that 1+1 never equals 3; and only on this base could I approach to more complex arithmetics. I resent people talking to me with ignorance like this: well~ it is just intuitively right that 1+1=2, and then puts his two fingers together showing me how that works. My maxim is that, if you believe it, then prove it to me with reason. Your argument is allowed to be imperfect, but there is zero-tolerance for irresponsible reductionism.

Many people may ridicule me for bringing forth such a worthless doubt upon what has been steadfastly believed by mankind for centuries; but, please, I beseech you learned people to shed some light upon me regarding this topic.

Your intellectual input will be highly respected and appreciated.
 
raidon04
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 04:35 am
@Mutian,
This question that you are baffled by has been one of the most prurient topics discussed in Philosophy and has been confronted and tackled by some of the most notorious Intellectuals throughout History. There are many different Philosophical theories of which could offer enlightenment to your predicament, all of which has its strengths and weaknesses. I believe though that One should really clarify what we are trying to answer. To some, Belief and Understanding are synonymous with one another, both requiring experience for both to be pertinent. If I were to attempt to clarify with more precision by assigning these terms to another designation, it may help both board readers and yourself to become acquainted with a suitable philosophical suffice. If I denoted Belief to Notion, and left Understanding resolute, it maybe easy for the question to be more intelligible and comprehensible. I proposed this change as both Belief and Understanding requires clarification, whilst other phenomenons of which are debated within Philosophy are present without such a perception.
If one takes a belief within the Philosophical concept of Rationalism, One would come to the belief that knowledge precedes Experience to a large degree. For the ability to understand, It would seem to most that the requirement is experience of the Objective World firstly, but the views held by rationalists differ. Rationalism is the philosophical view that regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge which asserts that reality itself has an inherently logical structure, and a class of truths exists that the intellect can grasp directly. There are, according to the Rationalist concept, certain rational principles-especially in logic, Mathematics and even in ethics and Metaphysics-that are so fundamental that to deny them is to fall into contradiction. This being so, if One were to take a Rationalist approach to the issue it would seem that within the Options of Notion or Understanding being the priori, the former would be the answer.
If One asserted to comply with the Empiricist approach to the issue, they would be agreeable to a totally opposite approach to the notion held by rationalists. In an Empiricist theory, knowledge is a posteriori to Experience of which requires a verification like any other Science. Empiricists argue that the statement "2=2=4" is only a truth after verification and thus is not a priori notion in itself. As long as the statement can be perceived and verified by deductible truths, it will be accepted. One example in particular was John Stuart Mill, who asserted that all knowledge comes to us from observation through the senses. This applied not only to matters of fact, but also to "relations of ideas" in themselves, as Hume called them: the structures of logic which organize, interpret and abstract observations. The logical theory which seems to be somewhat intuitive, is only indubitable after observation.

The next argument one could be lead to after perplexing over the Mind's tangibility of Mathematics, is to whether Mathematics exists independently of the human mind as that of which is asserted by realism, or whether it is a part of the Mind's rationalism (whether posteriori or priori of experience) as held by Logicism.

There is no palpable answer to the question, but many propositions exist. I personally am inclined to the theory that the Mind has the ability to form many concrete manifestations of rational truth of which experience is required for verification. I also am swayed to the believe that for which we are presented to and become acquainted with; is potentially minimal. And our limited physical apparatus which subjects the Body to stimuli to form Understanding and sculpt the logical axioms has the capacity and faculty to form other concrete concepts of a different denomination. If alternative realities existed which incorporated different forms of laws and stimuli, would the Mind have the ability to perceive and conceive and thus form completely contrary logical constituents? I am inclined to agree. I believe the mind has the potential to receive many alternative forms of objective stimuli to construe logic and understanding-but we are currently only able to compile a particular amount of sensual stimuli to subsequently form ideas of which maybe only partial to the completeness of reality
 
NoOne phil
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 04:52 am
@Mutian,
Mutian;93832 wrote:
Recently, I've been attracted as well as confused by the possible contradiction between belief and understanding. Do we believe before understand? Or the converse?

For me, to say that we believe something without understanding is somehow illogical, if not totally ridiculous. But, whenever I reflected upon my previous education, it appeared to me that I was taught by my teacher that 1+1=2 without really understanding it. It was my teacher who gave me a firm belief, if not a dogma that 1+1 never equals 3; and only on this base could I approach to more complex arithmetics. I resent people talking to me with ignorance like this: well~ it is just intuitively right that 1+1=2, and then puts his two fingers together showing me how that works. My maxim is that, if you believe it, then prove it to me with reason. Your argument is allowed to be imperfect, but there is zero-tolerance for irresponsible reductionism.

Many people may ridicule me for bringing forth such a worthless doubt upon what has been steadfastly believed by mankind for centuries; but, please, I beseech you learned people to shed some light upon me regarding this topic.

Your intellectual input will be highly respected and appreciated.


Arithmetic is a grammar system. Like all grammar systems one plays with the blocks befor they learn that there is a correct way to order them.

A number is no more than a name constructed by an ordered naming convention.

There is in every grammar system today a great deal of block playing, myth if you would have it, and very little real understanding of the ordering process.

A wise man once wrote, we testify to what we have seen and speak of what we have known.

What this means is that language is, in the simple, "saying what one sees." The ordering of words are dependent upon physical fact, not the reason that one can lay them out horizontally.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 05:40 am
@NoOne phil,
NoOne;93840 wrote:
The ordering of words are dependent upon physical fact, not the reason that one can lay them out horizontally.


While the words might be dependent on a physical fact, I am not clear how their order is so. Does this mean that every time I want to use a sentence about my computer keyboard that I always HAVE to order the sentence, "My keyboard is dirty" the same way, and that I cannot say, e.g., "Dirty is my keyboard." Isn't the ordering of words more determined by convention? Normally in English the verb is between the subject and object, but in German, the verb is usually found at the end of the sentence. Now if Hans and I look at my keyboard, and Hans says "Your keyboard dirty is" and it is the very same keyboard, how can the order of his words be dependent on the keyboard, and the order of my words be dependent on it?

And what happens if I elect to make a sentence that includes non-physical facts, or both physical and non-physical facts. What happens to the word order there?
 
NoOne phil
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 05:52 am
@jgweed,
I suppose, that when one speaks of the ordering of words, and then someone comes up with

Does 5 = 2 + 3, 5 = 3 + 2, 2 + 3 = 5, 3 + 2 = 5, 5, 3 + 2 =,

and then asks, how, if all these orders are true, how can physical fact have anything to do with the order, I would suggest that one waits till the child is a bit older to continue the conversation with, as, on the face of it, he has yet to make a very elementary abstraction.
 
richrf
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 08:10 am
@NoOne phil,
Hi,

I would break it down as such:

1) The teacher is teaching a new habit: 1+1=2. Habits are necessary to get along in the culture one lives in.

2) The understanding comes the first time you put the habit to practical use: e.g. when your parents ask you how much is 1+1 and you answer 2.

3) The reward to continue learning this habit (for some anyway) is the big smile you get from your parents, and maybe a new game or something.

4) The belief is that if you keep learning the habits that they teacher is teaching you then you will get more rewards from your parents. Sometimes it works and sometimes not.

5) The belief is shattered the first time you learn the teacher is teaching habits that can be challenged! Now, what should one do with the darn habit?

Rich
 
NoOne phil
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 08:29 am
@richrf,
As soon as my hair is dry from being microwaved, I will get back with you.

damn.

I do suspect, however, that there are those who believe that the human mind has a job to do, and in the quest to do that job, language was developed. Of course, there are those who prefer the life of a slug, and do pretty well fashioning themselves after one. This in of itself may be impressive, however, doggedly there are those who seek to be some kind of craftsmen in the performace of their job. Language is a craft, but, yes, there are those who will only be able to stack bricks as a matter of habbit--or even just to leave a slime trail.
 
Mutian
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 11:35 am
@raidon04,
raidon04;93838 wrote:
This question that you are baffled by has been one of the most prurient topics discussed in Philosophy and has been confronted and tackled by some of the most notorious Intellectuals throughout History. There are many different Philosophical theories of which could offer enlightenment to your predicament, all of which has its strengths and weaknesses. I believe though that One should really clarify what we are trying to answer. To some, Belief and Understanding are synonymous with one another, both requiring experience for both to be pertinent. If I were to attempt to clarify with more precision by assigning these terms to another designation, it may help both board readers and yourself to become acquainted with a suitable philosophical suffice. If I denoted Belief to Notion, and left Understanding resolute, it maybe easy for the question to be more intelligible and comprehensible. I proposed this change as both Belief and Understanding requires clarification, whilst other phenomenons of which are debated within Philosophy are present without such a perception.
If one takes a belief within the Philosophical concept of Rationalism, One would come to the belief that knowledge precedes Experience to a large degree. For the ability to understand, It would seem to most that the requirement is experience of the Objective World firstly, but the views held by rationalists differ. Rationalism is the philosophical view that regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge which asserts that reality itself has an inherently logical structure, and a class of truths exists that the intellect can grasp directly. There are, according to the Rationalist concept, certain rational principles-especially in logic, Mathematics and even in ethics and Metaphysics-that are so fundamental that to deny them is to fall into contradiction. This being so, if One were to take a Rationalist approach to the issue it would seem that within the Options of Notion or Understanding being the priori, the former would be the answer.
If One asserted to comply with the Empiricist approach to the issue, they would be agreeable to a totally opposite approach to the notion held by rationalists. In an Empiricist theory, knowledge is a posteriori to Experience of which requires a verification like any other Science. Empiricists argue that the statement "2=2=4" is only a truth after verification and thus is not a priori notion in itself. As long as the statement can be perceived and verified by deductible truths, it will be accepted. One example in particular was John Stuart Mill, who asserted that all knowledge comes to us from observation through the senses. This applied not only to matters of fact, but also to "relations of ideas" in themselves, as Hume called them: the structures of logic which organize, interpret and abstract observations. The logical theory which seems to be somewhat intuitive, is only indubitable after observation.

The next argument one could be lead to after perplexing over the Mind's tangibility of Mathematics, is to whether Mathematics exists independently of the human mind as that of which is asserted by realism, or whether it is a part of the Mind's rationalism (whether posteriori or priori of experience) as held by Logicism.

There is no palpable answer to the question, but many propositions exist. I personally am inclined to the theory that the Mind has the ability to form many concrete manifestations of rational truth of which experience is required for verification. I also am swayed to the believe that for which we are presented to and become acquainted with; is potentially minimal. And our limited physical apparatus which subjects the Body to stimuli to form Understanding and sculpt the logical axioms has the capacity and faculty to form other concrete concepts of a different denomination. If alternative realities existed which incorporated different forms of laws and stimuli, would the Mind have the ability to perceive and conceive and thus form completely contrary logical constituents? I am inclined to agree. I believe the mind has the potential to receive many alternative forms of objective stimuli to construe logic and understanding-but we are currently only able to compile a particular amount of sensual stimuli to subsequently form ideas of which maybe only partial to the completeness of reality


Thanks for this detailed as well as exquisite answer. I agree with your opinion that many propositions exist; and it might be irrational of us to lean to any of them without sufficient reasons.

But, as I have also pessimistically observed that, in this world, most people, if not all, have the pyschological tendencies to find a definite answer to what they will to learn, no matter whether the final answer found is correct by nature or not. In order to justify what they believe, they claim with solemnity: truth is out there; truth is revealed because it exists prior to our revelation of it. Well, in many cases, I totally consent to this notion; but in some others, especially for those arithmetical problems, I find the "truth-is-out-there" theory not so appealing compared to its validity in the proof of such as, the existence of elephants; for the existence of a species seems to be independent of our knowledge.

It appears to me that our recognition of the validity of 1+1=2 is based on a circular journey. By circular journey I mean, when we were young, we were tought that 1+1=2 as something axiomatically right. As the firmness of the validity of this formula rooted deeply in our minds could we tackle more complex arithmetical problems. Then we know 1+2=3, 2+2=4..etc. By encountering with these more complex formulas could we say that, "ah! 1+1 indeed equals 2," for if 1+1 does not equal 2, then 1+2 cannot equal 3.

The education in morals simulates very much the way we were taught in mathematics, for we were taught that honesty was a virtue before we knew the actual reasons why honesty was appreciated for both its own sakes and some utilitarian merits it could bring upon mankind. Only after we finally step into the real society, could we taste the joy and bitterness brought by honesty and dishonest respectivelly.

Axiom, as something evidently true, has a two-sided impact upon the growth of our knowledge. In a positive sense, it makes scientifc discovery more convenient, for we can further our experiments on what has been already proved as axiomatically trustworthy; the negative side of it is that, it prevents many people from re-inspecting the validity and reliability of an "indubitable truth". This is exactly the same reason why so many metaphysicians have been cold-shouldered for their astoundingly absurd questions such as whether we exist or not, given the too obvious fact that we exist. But, as I have been unswervingly believed that, there must be some valuable knowledge behind absurdity performed by those metaphysicians, given the excellent logic staged in their philosophical propositions such as "I think, therefore I am."

Of course, I also understand that it is impossible for everyone to know how a rocket is designed, since this is only the expertise belonging to certain scientists who may have been spending a dozen years studying in this field. Nonetheless, this confession still does not refrain me from generalizing in a sad manner that, we human beings are indeed imperfect, for most of us only have the audacity to learn what is already learned, proved, examined and acertained without putting our own intellectual endeavor into the request of truth, given that we either do not have enough time to do so (after all, one's vigor and stamina are finite), or we simply do not care compared to the glamore of making money and enjoying luxury, or our timidity towards authority.

There are two things that I fear and refuse when philosophizing: first, being too extreme and cynical; second, over-simplifying and being irresponsible. I hope, so far, I haven't committed to either category with you, my dear friend, as the judge.

---------- Post added 09-27-2009 at 12:56 PM ----------

richrf;93858 wrote:
Hi,

I would break it down as such:

1) The teacher is teaching a new habit: 1+1=2. Habits are necessary to get along in the culture one lives in.

2) The understanding comes the first time you put the habit to practical use: e.g. when your parents ask you how much is 1+1 and you answer 2.

3) The reward to continue learning this habit (for some anyway) is the big smile you get from your parents, and maybe a new game or something.

4) The belief is that if you keep learning the habits that they teacher is teaching you then you will get more rewards from your parents. Sometimes it works and sometimes not.

5) The belief is shattered the first time you learn the teacher is teaching habits that can be challenged! Now, what should one do with the darn habit?

Rich


Ha! I like the way you show your arguments! It simply reminds me of Spinoza's work in his "ethics." Simplicity is always yearned and preferred! Thank you for contributing!
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Tue 29 Sep, 2009 11:22 am
@Mutian,
Should linguistic tools be proportionately adaptable to the trajectory at hand, whether it be short, mid, or long term? Should any and all value objects be treated thusly, whether more of a thought exercise, or pragmatic application?

Mayhap the greater sign of wisdom is the more flexible value range.
 
Shlomo
 
Reply Tue 29 Sep, 2009 05:29 pm
@Mutian,
1+1 is the definition of 2. Every next whole number is defined as the previous one plus one. So no mystery in that. You can neither believe in it nor understand it, all you can do is accept/decline the definition. If the definition is accepted, then you can demand a proof that according to the definition, 5+2=7.

When I tell you that 1354515 + 2158485421 = 2159839936 you can either believe me or take a calculator and check it. Then you should also decide whether you trust the calculator.

Now direct answer to your question: in order to believe in what I am saying to you, you must first understand what I am saying.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 05:59 pm
@Mutian,
I think we should remember that "belief" and "understanding" are words, and words lack the clarity of integers. I consider the linguistic turn to be essential to epistemology, just as psychology is also essential.

For what is "truth" made of? Words. And what is "truth" good for? (And that is another discussion...)

I think a person can go a long way just by elaborating on what they mean by an abstract word -- words like "belief" and "understanding."

Note: I consider Certainty to be not only impossible but also unnecessary.

IMHO
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 06:17 pm
@Mutian,
Since we cannot believe something without understanding it, it follows that understanding precedes belief.Suppose that my biology teacher tells me that, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. I cannot believe that is true unless I understand what it means.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 06:28 pm
@kennethamy,
I see your point, but it depends on what one means by understanding. Does it require understanding to believe that one has hands? Only if understanding is defined as the most basic grasp of concept. And this is fine, of course. But it all leads back to the careful definition of otherwise quite vague terms.

And it's also fair to question the value of the question.

Regards
S.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 06:30 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;106180 wrote:
I see your point, but it depends on what one means by understanding. Does it require understanding to believe that one has hands? Only if understanding is defined as the most basic grasp of concept. And this is fine, of course. But it all leads back to the careful definition of otherwise quite vague terms.

And it's also fair to question the value of the question.

Regards
S.


I mean by "understanding" understanding. What else would you think I meant by, "understanding"?
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 06:35 pm
@kennethamy,
No offense intended, but do you really think it's as simple as that?

"Understanding" is an abstraction. If you really want to discuss this point, indulge me. Define it.

It's harder than you think, for the words you use to define it are defined by other words. It's a chain of signifiers, and no abstraction has an exact meaning but must be interpreted in relation to its context.

I promise you I am not trying to be anti-social, obtuse, or difficult. I'm being completely sincere in this emphasis upon careful definition of terms.

It goes back at least to Socrates.

Regards,
S
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 10:20 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;106185 wrote:
No offense intended, but do you really think it's as simple as that?

"Understanding" is an abstraction. If you really want to discuss this point, indulge me. Define it.

It's harder than you think, for the words you use to define it are defined by other words. It's a chain of signifiers, and no abstraction has an exact meaning but must be interpreted in relation to its context.

I promise you I am not trying to be anti-social, obtuse, or difficult. I'm being completely sincere in this emphasis upon careful definition of terms.

It goes back at least to Socrates.

Regards,
S


It is not necessary to be able to define a term in order to know its meaning. By the age of 5, normal children know how to speak their language quite well, but are unable to define the terms they use. Understanding the meaning of a term like "understand" is a skill. A understands the meaning of W, if he can use W to communicate with others who speak the same language as A does. Being able to define a term is a rather specialized skill which is not particularly indicative of whether a person understands the meaning of that term. To think that the ability to define a term is a necessary condition of knowing the meaning of that term could be called, "the Socratic fallacy".
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 10:44 pm
@kennethamy,
Understanding can be described as a specialized skill. It can also be described in other ways. But if I grant your point, I must follow with the reminder that this is a philosophy forum, and I strongly associate understanding with philosophy.

Terms like reason, intuition, and understanding have played key roles in epistemology.

I still think in regards to this thread's basic question, a definition of "understanding" is crucial. We are looking at the relationship between two abstractions.

But if the question is meant in a light way, one that invites wit rather than a more serious analysis, you are right. No careful definition is required.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 11:01 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;106244 wrote:
Understanding can be described as a specialized skill. It can also be described in other ways. But if I grant your point, I must follow with the reminder that this is a philosophy forum, and I strongly associate understanding with philosophy.

Terms like reason, intuition, and understanding have played key roles in epistemology.

I still think in regards to this thread's basic question, a definition of "understanding" is crucial. We are looking at the relationship between two abstractions.

But if the question is meant in a light way, one that invites wit rather than a more serious analysis, you are right. No careful definition is required.


I have no objection to a "careful definition" of "understanding". Generally speaking (as I indicated) understanding is a skill, and an ability to do things. As in the case of understanding the meaning of a term, which is an ability to use the term appropriately and correctly. I think it is important to consider actual context in which we use the verb, "to understand", rather than try to define it in the abstract. What contexts did you have in mind? My serious analysis is the understanding is the name of a skill, but what skill it is will depend on what it is that is understood.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 11:14 pm
@kennethamy,
Well, the context I originally had in mind is precisely the title of this thread. And I agree that context is of vital importance. But is the game worth the candle at this point? Do we really care whether belief or understanding came first, and do we really trust our ability to know the answer?

I think rhetoric (persuasion) is the work-horse of philosophy. We live and die in a certain amount of ignorance, incapable (in my opinion) of certain knowledge. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

I think our dialectic is good. Happy thanksgiving!
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 11:26 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;106258 wrote:
Well, the context I originally had in mind is precisely the title of this thread. And I agree that context is of vital importance. But is the game worth the candle at this point? Do we really care whether belief or understanding came first, and do we really trust our ability to know the answer?

I think rhetoric (persuasion) is the work-horse of philosophy. We live and die in a certain amount of ignorance, incapable (in my opinion) of certain knowledge. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

I think our dialectic is good. Happy thanksgiving!


I really don't know what "came first" in this context, means except, perhaps, "implies". And in that context, belief implies understanding, but understanding does not imply belief. If I believe that p, then I understand that p, but I may understand that p, but not believe that p. I think that is quite obvious.

Naturally, I want to persuade others of my views, but persuasion has nothing much to do with truth, and, unfortunately, people are often persuaded of what is not true. You may be confusing philosophy with rhetoric (the study of persuasion). They are different. I agree that certainty is generally not achievable. But I think that we know many things, and that we know more today than we did a century ago, and that we will know more a century from now, than we know now. I would not understand why anyone would not agree with this.

Yes, HT to you, too.
 
 

 
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