The Fundamental Laws Of Belief -- By: Charles F. Thwing

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 038:150 (Apr 1881)
Article: The Fundamental Laws Of Belief
Author: Charles F. Thwing


The Fundamental Laws Of Belief

Rev. Charles F. Thwing

The term “belief” is used in philosophy with wide latitude. By most metaphysicians it is employed to denote that conviction of the truth of a proposition which is consistent with the falseness of the proposition. By them belief is made to represent that mental state which is the result of a certain degree of knowledge, but of knowledge that is necessarily limited and imperfect. If the knowledge becomes complete, the mental state ceases to be a state of belief, and the resulting state is known as knowledge. I know, for example, that I exist; but I believe that the sun will rise to-morrow morning. By other philosophers the term is employed to denote those predispositions and convictions which are rather the condition than the result of knowledge. They are those original data which reason is obliged to accept “on the authority,” says Hamilton, “of what is beyond itself.” These data Sir William calls beliefs, or trusts. In this sense, therefore, according to rigid propriety it would be more correct to say I believe I exist, than I know I exist. This belief is a primary condition of my consciousness.

In the second of these meanings the term will be employed in this paper; because, first, of its recognized use in this sense, and secondly and chiefly, because of its connection with the terms “necessary beliefs” or 'primary beliefs,’ which are the names usually given to those principles, of the philosophy of common sense whose laws will be examined.

The first purpose of our inquiry is to discover and to name these laws, and the second, to apply them as touchstones to several of these so-called primary beliefs, in order to learn

whether their primary character bears the tests which these laws impose.

The first fundamental law of belief which we shall investigate, and perhaps the most important, is self-evidence. Every primary belief proves itself. Conviction of its truth follows the statement of its terms. Why the human mind acknowledges its truth is unknown except that its truth is self-evident. The proposition that the earth is a sphere or that it moves in an ellipse is not evident upon its statement. It is proved only by certain mathematical and astronomical investigations. But that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other, that space cannot be annihilated, are propositions whose truth is recognized as soon as stated. All reasoning in its final stage is based upon self-evident principles. All reasoning in the mathematics is thus conducted. The axioms that form the foundation of the science are incapable of proof. If you do not see their truth, no reasoning can co...

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