A distinction I have come across in some of Zizek's informal lectures, as well as in my own ponderings, is that which describes those beliefs which, although we know formally to be true, we do not experience the world as if they were true.

As an example, I believe the threat posed by man-made climate change to be both immanent and catastrophic in nature, yet my day to day existence fails to be coloured by this belief, in the way that, say, it is coloured by the dangerousness of main roads. It floats in my consciousness, grounded in evidence, G conditions a-go-go, but uncoupled to my instincts. I know it is true, but I do not, as it were, 'realise' it.

In this sense it is a symbolic or purely formal belief, operating at the level of some generalisation of a language game (including such things as pictures).

Is there a correct term for such 'formal beliefs'? Is there a canonical term for their inverse (those coupled in some sense to our experience of the world)? My first approximation here is not as tidy or as crisp as a philosophical concept should require- has it, and can it, be crystallised into analytic terms? Where might I hope to read about such beliefs?

  • Is there a correct term for such 'formal beliefs'? "Scientific beliefs" (beliefs based on scientific finding as opposed to folk beliefs)?
    – DBK
    Nov 21, 2012 at 2:21
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    I can't answer most of your question vis à vis defining your terms "Formal" vs "Realizable" beliefs, but I was immediately struck by the example you gave and it's resemblance to Moore's paradox (e.g., It is raining, but I don't believe it's raining). You may want to check the description for relevance. (See: plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemic-paradoxes/#MooPro)
    – Ryder
    Nov 21, 2012 at 15:23
  • @DBK While there's a not inconsiderable overlap, I'm not sure that's the distinction I mean- for example, there are scientific beliefs that I 'realise' as described above, which are not themselves scientised folk beliefs. I have never flown around the world, never seen it from a far enough vantage point to see its curvature, but I still think of my American friends as along a diagonal through the earth and my Australian pals as through my floor. More audaciously, I might even claim to 'realise' what I know about classical electronics... Nov 21, 2012 at 19:21
  • @RyderDain +1 Moore's Paradox is a great shout! While I'm quite familiar with it, I'd not connected it with the matter under inquiry. I would certainly say that the above would (if it proved reasonable) count as a resolution of Moore's paradox. The SEP article, as with everything I've read on MP, though, seems to consist in attempts to either cast Moore's speaker as epistemically impaired, or the assertion he disbelieves as being in some sense 'not-quite-true' (all to salvage the primacy and metaphysical indivisibility of belief, presumably). Nov 21, 2012 at 19:46
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    for a great intro to this area i would suggest egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/articles/the-interpassive-subject
    – Dr Sister
    Dec 31, 2012 at 8:42

2 Answers 2


That's a good question. Evidence is not necessary to "mentally" note down a set of values and formulate a belief out of them. It's the tendency of humans to adopt any idea if the conduct or belief is popular among people. Maybe it's the bandwagon effect.

The bandwagon effect is a well documented form of groupthink in behavioral science and has many applications. The general rule is that conduct or beliefs spread among people, as fads and trends clearly do, with "the probability of any individual adopting it increasing with the proportion who have already done so". As more people come to believe in something, others also "hop on the bandwagon" regardless of the underlying evidence.


You may be interested in Near/Far thinking and System 1/System 2 behaviours.

Basically, you can know something without acting upon it, if it is difficult to translate into everyday behaviour.

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    Is this not more of a comment than a answer? Care to elaborate further. It is not much of an answer currently.
    – Neil Meyer
    Apr 18, 2013 at 10:49

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