Re: M & I

Douglass St.Christian (stchri@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Wed, 10 Apr 1996 08:32:28 -0400

>But finally, let me reply to something in a post by Douglass St.Christian.
>He writes:
>> that students come to us in the haze that says "I have truth" and "Others
>> have beleifs [ie: misunderstandings]" is something the teaching of
>> anthropology should work to address....
>> my own spin is to purge the concept of beleif from the discussion by arguing
>> its too often ethnocentric application makes it too pernicious a concept to
>> retain much analytic value....
>I would have to disagree with this. I don't think anything is solved by
>purging the concept of belief from the discussion. I wonder if a more
>effective way wouldn't perhaps be to agree on a definition for it--
>something that will give it analytical utility-- after which we can proceed
>to apply it to that class of phenomena which does, roughly speaking,
>exhibit the properties we associate with 'belief.'

i suppose purging sounds cavalier and arbitrary, but my problem with
attempting a definition on which can agree is that i do not see how any
definition which distinguishes betwen some category of things we know and
things we believe [ things we think we know??? ] can avoid reproducing and
universalizing our own epistemological and philosophical peculiarities....

because the concept belief is tied so closely to issues of religious
knowledge, i wonder if it is possible, or even fair, to retrofit the concept
as an analytic category.....

as it is, i wonder just what criteria and limits, and especially what
assumptions, would attach to a working definition of belief as an analytic
utility....consider this.... can a single concept be outfited to encompass
and in some way describe both

the opening of the apostle's creed [ i beleive in one god, the maker of
heaven and earth etc...]


In the time before there were people, Tagaloa created these islands by
tossing several stones over his shoulder into the sea....

what definition of belief would include both of these, and in what way can
these assertions justifiably be distinguished from other assertions of knowledge

the concept of belief is so en-baggaged [ precisely because it is a
particular and culturally limited spin on classifying sorts of knowledge]
that i can't think my way around an altered definition that would make it
work in any generalized way...which is not to say that beliefs don't happen
outside the tradition from which we draw the concept...only that any
definition needs to be based on demonstrating their presence, rather than
assuming their universality....and i just can't see what that definition
would look like....

any takers...anyone out there have a definition which for belief which would
resolve this for me....


ps: one definition, which i attribute in a memory fog to a talk renato
rosaldo gave at the aaa some years ago, is that "beliefs are the lies we
agree on", which i have always thought to be a witty take on the problem of
knowledge and truth....
douglass st.christian