On belief


The question of belief is a core one for many modern folks.  The thing that seems to exemplify the modern or post-modern struggle is this search for meaning, this quest for purpose.  Most people find it in labels.  “I’m this,” or “I’m that,” but “I’m never this one,” etc.  We take labels like American, European, Brazilian, White, Black, Brown, Male, Female, Trans, Christian, Muslim, Atheist… Stoic?

A lot of folks these days are finding some meaning in the label Stoic.  This resulted in many folks taking a box, cramming all the things they like into it, and writing “STOICISM” on the side.  Which means that many others say, “Hey, you can’t put that in a box called Stoicism, it belongs in some other box!”  And oh, are the arguments heated!

They are heated, because at the core when we’re attacking the label we’re attacking the identity of the person who searched for meaning and found it in that label.  Is finding meaning in a label the best way to do it?  Probably not.  I’ve found some meaning in that label myself, and of course I think the things I’ve stuck in my box should be there.

They’re my beliefs.

What are the nature of beliefs, since this seems tied intrinsically to meaning?  I don’t think that I know.

The strict, or Orthodox Stoic position would be that there are types of impressions called kataleptic impressions, which come with a degree of surety. Such as, if standing outside, under the sun, feeling its warmth, you are presented with the impression “it is day.”  You kind of know that to be true, it carries some ineffable quality of truth with it.  If you were standing outside, under a dark sky, with thousands of stars overhead, the impression “it is day” would not carry the same weight.

I’m not sure I find this argument too convincing (don’t tell Zeno, please), it feels too subjective, or wishy-washy. But, if we take a truly skeptic position, it’s kind of a non-starter for living well.  And we care about living well or else we wouldn’t be here.

The Pyrrhonian Skeptics refused judgement, “maybe we can know, maybe we can’t.” Even this they would not say they could know, but they were/are open to the possibility, where as hardline skeptics generally are not.

But one still has to act as if one can know. Anything else is some weirdly intellectual conceit.

I don’t know that I know how we come to believe, but I do know that I can’t fake it for myself for very long. I can for a little while, but ultimately I believe some things and I disbelieve others.  I can dress it up, ignore the nagging feeling inside that I’m believing something untrue… but not for long.

Eventually, I drift from that thing.  I (unproudly) have even been able to fake it sometimes for a number of years… but not forever.

That’s all I know about beliefs… which isn’t very much.

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