The Problem of Belief
can we believe anything?


At the start of the 21st century the question of belief has become a central issue for us all. On the one hand, history shows the dangers of belief when expressed in terms of teleological dogmas of religious faiths or political ideologies – particularly when connected to concepts of ethnicity, race and/or nation state. On the other hand, our philosophers seem to insist that we can believe anything.

The American philosopher Willard V.O. Quine says:

‘Any statement can be true if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system [of our beliefs].’
Word and Object

For many of us, belief, viewed in terms of an objective truth, has become discredited and, for some, it has been discarded.

Accompanying this threat to belief, perhaps as a direct consequence, there has been a resurgence of religious fundamentalism (Christian and Islamic); an outbreak of political extremism (racism and nationalism); and a renewed challenge to science and reason which it would be dangerous to ignore.

We can see that our everyday behaviour is driven by many factors; a range of physical and emotional needs and drives which develop and change as we go through life. The way we express these needs is conditioned by our physical and cultural environment and, beginning in early childhood, we begin to form concepts which develop into beliefs and associated values. By adulthood we have generally acquired a hierarchy of concepts, beliefs and values from the mundane (which govern our everyday behaviour) to the profound (which govern our life choices).