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But what is really believed is that God exists, which is very far from being simple.
For example, "Plato preceded Aristotle" and "Aristotle preceded Plato" are both contents which may be believed, but, although they consist of exactly the same constituents, they are different, and even incompatible.
Often images of various kinds accompany them, but they are apt to be irrelevant, and to form no part of what is actually believed. For example, in thinking of the Solar System, you are likely to have vague images of pictures you have seen of the earth surrounded by clouds, Saturn and his rings, the sun during an eclipse, and so on; but none of these form part of your belief that the planets revolve round the sun in elliptical orbits.
I come now to the question what constitutes believing, as opposed to the content believed.
Moreover, the purpose of the theory we are examining is to be, as far as possible, physiological and behaviourist, and this purpose is not achieved if we introduce such a conception as "consciousness" or "will." Nevertheless, it is necessary for our purpose to find some way of distinguishing between voluntary and reflex movements, since the results would be too paradoxical, if we were to say that reflex movements also involve beliefs.) According to this definition, a content is said to be "believed" when it causes us to move.
We speak as if we always believed that Charles I was executed, but that only means that we are always ready to believe it when the subject comes up.
But there remains the belief which merely occurs in "thinking." One may set to work to recall some piece of history one has been reading, and what one recalls is believed, although it probably does not cause any bodily movement whatever.
It is clear that a proposition can be either believed or merely considered, and that the content is the same in both cases.
Each of these I regard as constituted by a certain feeling or complex of sensations, attached to the content believed. We may illustrate by an example.
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.
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 don't see why the things we believe absolutely now shouldn't be just as wrong as what they believed in the past."
From old habit, unconsciously he thanked God that he no longer believed in Him.
I told him, moreover, that I believed myself mistaken in supposing, as I had done, that your sister was indifferent to him; and as I could easily perceive that his attachment to her was unabated, I felt no doubt of their happiness together."