What do you call the following philosophy?

On its own God doesn't exist. Imagination is essential for humans to thrive to their fullest potential. At specific times, imagination is so useful that it warrants deliberately suspending disbelief to the point of believing in God despite its non-existence.

It's not atheism and it's not theism either. Agnosticism doesn't fit either because it's known that God doesn't exist. Diatheism comes close by focusing on the definition of God. However, I'm not concerned with the contradictory definition. I'm talking about contradictory truth depending on context. Relativism also comes close, but what I'm talking about here is that a particular belief can hold two absolute and yet contradictory truths - and yet it's desirable to be that way. Also important to note that imagination isn't relegated to a secondary role. It's not merely a sidekick to reality. For some contexts imagination may trump reality. In some contexts it's an essential illusion - so deeply essential that it must become more than reality in that context.

Now, on the opposite side of the spectrum - here is lighter example: Programmers often use the rubber ducky debugging technique to help them debug programs. The programmer knows very well that the ducky is not real. The ducky can't hear them, it doesn't care what it's being told. The ducky doesn't have a mind. And yet the programmer suspends their disbelief and imagines the ducky having consciousness. Some programmers go as far as skipping the talisman and imagining the whole thing in their heads from start to finish.

They persist because of the practical utility, not because of reality. The reason they do this is because they derive a real benefit from a non-existent entity. That sentient ducky does not exist anywhere other than their imagination.

Or more generally what's the following philosophy?: The belief that it's desirable to have two opposing beliefs at the same time. It is the context that determines the truth of each. (Ex: To the programmer, the ducky is as real as you and me during a debugging session, but outside of that specific context, it's just a piece of plastic.) God is as real as real gets during an extreme survival situation, but it's fake when used to justify a Holy War. A truly free will is critical for a human mind to thrive, but for the purposes of AI research and neurology, it's a purely emergent illusion.

In some contexts it's important to disbelieve the objective truth. In some contexts suspending disbelief is absolutely critical for survival and mental health.

What do you call the philosophy of believing that in a specific context pure imagination outweighs objective truth?

  • I'm not sure on what meta level your question is: is the philosophy you are asking about built around: A) religion as a concept can be explained by it being helpful to suspend disbelief. B) Suspension of disbelief could replace current religions
    – bukwyrm
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 5:31
  • It's A) what I'm asking. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 5:34
  • The term ‘Fictionalism’ comes to mind. Some people take this stance towards mathematics: since there are no numbers, it’s not literally true that 2 + 3 = 5; but it’s a useful fiction. Your proposal sounds a bit like that, but note that Fictionalism about mathematics is a kind of ‘atheism’ about mathematical objects: the Fictionalist firmly believes that numbers don’t exist – but acts like they do in some circumstances. I don’t get what you mean by ‘context’: is truth (and not just belief) relativized to context? So, is it objectively true at some contexts that God exists?
    – MarkOxford
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 9:35
  • 2
    I find the question thoughtful but too chaotic to answer. Is the suggestion that we should not use our brains in philosophy and religion and just believe what suits us? It looks like the road to madness.
    – user20253
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 11:10
  • 1
    Sorry, I meant "how is it not atheism". Regarding your last question in comment, hadn't some similar question appeared recently here, on Phi.SE?
    – rus9384
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 18:55

3 Answers 3


Are you thinking of a case where :

S that not-p but intends to bring it about that s/he acquires the assumed [or known] to be] false belief that p           ?

In your example, S believes [or knows] that God does not exist but intends to bring it about that s/he acquires the assumed [or known] to be false belief that God exists.

And this intention rests on the assumption that acquiring the false belief that God exists will be beneficial, open up imaginative possibilities and generally enrich life ? S might in that case be a rational self-deceiver.

Is this roughly the right kind of picture ? The assumption could be true of course at least under certain conditions. I'm not sure by what process the intention could be fulfilled.

There are at least two possible routes. I believe [or know] that God does not exist but (a) whenever this belief [or item of knowledge] comes to mind, I divert it and consider evidence for the existence of God and suspend my usual critical standards in considering pro-God arguments. This practice could become so ingrained that eventually only pro-God considerations occupy my mind.

Or (b) I focus my attention away from any evidence or argument I encounter to the effect that God does not exist. I dismiss it from my mind.

A combination of these routes, loosely described, could enable you to acquire the false belief that God exists. But this isn't a case in which one holds contradictory beliefs at the same time. It's one in which a belief taken to be false is deliberately cultivated and replaces a belief taken to be true.

Personal note

None of the above reflects any of my views about the existence or otherwise of God. I am simply working with the questioner to see what kind of case could be made for the position espoused.



Alfred R. Mele, 'Self-Deception', The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-), Vol. 33, No. 133 (Oct., 1983), pp. 365-377.

José Luis Bermúdez, 'Self-Deception, Intentions, and Contradictory Beliefs', Analysis, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Oct., 2000), pp. 309-319.

D. S. Neil Van Leeuwen, 'Finite Rational Self-Deceivers', Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 139, No. 2 (May, 2008), pp. 191-208.

  • This sounds like compatibilism
    – Cannabijoy
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 1:36
  • 2
    Interesting comment, thank you. But compatibilism is a position about free will and determinism in which the two are reconciled. I don't recognise that position here. Where does determinism fit in ? Friendly comment, I'm just curious. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 8:49
  • A compatibilist knows that free will doesn’t exist, but they believe such an idea is beneficial and “opens up imaginative possibilities”. Calvinist are also prone to this because they need free will to explain why a god with perfect foreknowledge is compatible with an eternal hell, and especially “the fall of man”.
    – Cannabijoy
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 13:50
  • @GeoffreyThomas I am an atheist, I thought about constructing a deontological argument that states the conclusion : (You ought to believe in God even if you do not, if you want to get married to a religious person). But as intellectual integrity is among the premises (I ought to maintain my intellectual integrity), I failed to find any argument that makes this position (belief in God as an active and deliberate act) impossible.
    – SmootQ
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 16:41

What's missing is a notion of subjective truth, as opposed to objective truth.

A nice example of this is winking. Usually, when done effectively, only one person is aware when another person winks at them. If the observer were to say, "Did you just wink at me?" in the presence of others, the winker could simply deny doing so. Others would not know that the winker winked: even though it was ontologically true that the person winked, for others it is epistemologically less-than-true since they must receive the knowledge through conflicting testimony.

In the example, the others who did not see the wink cannot hold the truth objectively. If they believe the truth, they do so subjectively.


I believe that if one is giving imagination more weight than reality, that means one is in a position wherein he cannot anticipate any favorable change in reality. I would like to elaborate a bit.

There is a famous quote by the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who said:

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.

Here, thoughts eventually give rise to actions and actions eventually determine one's future. This means, that action is the stepping stone towards determining one's future. If one skips this step, how can he determine his future keeping only his thoughts as a base? I think that the state of mere thinking activity can only impair the potential of being able to determine future.

In your case, you are talking about creating a new belief out of inexistence. If you create a belief, you will follow this belief so that you can be motivated to anticipate a favorable outcome. While creating a belief, you also would be adding a new thought into your mind which would further mean that you would have sacrificed action in favor of thought. You would have replaced action by thought and thereby losing the time you could have utilized for action, and consequently, the chances of determining a favorable outcome.

If someone centuries ago, wrote fiction and wrote a historical account, what would you choose to believe? The fiction, or fact? The fiction is imagination, whereas the fact is the objective truth. Why would you believe historical fact? Because, it has the potential of determining the present. When in distress, one ought to seek help through objective reality, the accessible one, as it leads to the necessary result of a better future.

As far as the name of the philosophy of suspending disbelief is concerned, I call it a make-belief.


The need is understandable because as an atheist, I, was in the past, inevitably driven to suspend my disbelief, but to an unyielding extent.

  • Would you have a reference for the quote? If you have any other reference to those taking similar views this would support your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to Philosophy! Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 15:27

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