Social Causes and the Pursuit of Social Beliefs

  • Abstract:

    How do we form beliefs? This is obviously an epistemological, thus philosophical, question. This paper explores the formation of social beliefs in particular, and the social causes that bring them about. I argue that in the modern world, one main social cause, namely the media, presents information and evidence, or ‘evidence’, in such a way, so that given certain assumptions of human psychology (which I will prove with certain experiments done in the field of psychology), people using media make people have certain social beliefs that would be unjustified if the belief formation process had been performed in a more neutral and personal environment. I finally suggest that art could be a way with which people can communicate in a safer environment so that individuals can allow themselves to reason better about their beliefs, and reach justified (and hopefully true) beliefs. I use Aronson’s model of the analogy of pyramid to explain the belief formation process in modern societies. This model shows how it is often the case that the factor that may determine whether an individual becomes more and more confident about a belief he starts to form may even depend on luck, and how it is that while going down at the same side of the pyramid, the conviction of the individual becomes stronger and stronger. I will use extreme examples, like how individuals came to strongly believe that the end of the world would come about on the 21st October 2011 after listening to Harold Camping on the radio. I will explain why art could help individuals form social beliefs in a safer environment and open the floor for discussion. My project has been inspired by the event ‘Truths, beliefs, convictions’ which took place at King’s College London, by Dr Kris de Meyer.