Bertrand Russell: The Analysis of Mind

12. LECTURE XII. BELIEF (continued)

It is not enough that the content and the belief-feeling should coexist: it is necessary that there should be a specific relation between them, of the sort expressed by saying that the content is what is believed. If this were not obvious, it could be made plain by an argument. If the mere co-existence of the content and the belief-feeling sufficed, whenever we were having (say) a memory-feeling we should be remembering any proposition which came into our minds at the same time. But this is not the case, since we may simultaneously remember one proposition and merely consider another.

We may sum up our analysis, in the case of bare assent to a proposition not expressed in words, as follows: (a) We have a proposition, consisting of interrelated images, and possibly partly of sensations; (b) we have the feeling of assent, which is presumably a complex sensation demanding analysis; (c) we have a relation, actually subsisting, between the assent and the proposition, such as is expressed by saying that the proposition in question is what is assented to. For other forms of belief-feeling or of content, we have only to make the necessary substitutions in this analysis.

If we are right in our analysis of belief, the use of words in expressing beliefs is apt to be misleading. There is no way of distinguishing, in words, between a memory and an assent to a proposition about the past: "I ate my breakfast" and "Caesar conquered Gaul" have the same verbal form, though (assuming that I remember my breakfast) they express occurrences which are psychologically very different. In the one case, what happens is that I remember the content "eating my breakfast"; in the other case, I assent to the content "Caesar's conquest of Gaul occurred." In the latter case, but not in the former, the pastness is part of the content believed. Exactly similar remarks apply to the difference between expectation, such as we have when waiting for the thunder after a flash of lightning, and assent to a proposition about the future, such as we have in all the usual cases of inferential knowledge as to what will occur. I think this difficulty in the verbal expression of the temporal aspects of beliefs is one among the causes which have hampered philosophy in the consideration of time.

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