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Is there any difference between faith and belief philosophically speaking?

I am trying to think of these two concepts as separate, but I am unable to unlink them.

Is there any answer or any texts that you would suggest to help clarify my thoughts about them?

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  • Related: Is theism necessarily 'faith-based'? Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 3:52
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    "Faith" is a type of belief that mostly comes up in religious contexts, and relies on non-ordinary types of evidence (if any), "belief" has much more broad uses. See SEP Faith as belief for a detailed discussion.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 8:23
  • See "The Retreat to Commitment" by Bartley for discussion of this issue.
    – alanf
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 9:18
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    i always think of faith as a belief that isn't yet justified but you believe will be... (this is just how i see it, opinion)
    – user38026
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:27

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Here I offer a scientist's view. If you are a philosopher, your mileage may vary:

"Belief" represents the acceptance of validity based on evidence, as in for example "I accept the validity of both special and general relativity. Even though I personally have not experimentally verified their validity, I believe them." This is what it means for a scientist to "believe in" things like the laws of statistical thermodynamics, Maxwell's equations, Kirchhoff's relations, and so on.

In contrast, "faith" means acceptance of validity without scientific evidence, with the prime example being faith in religion, the validity of which cannot be determined experimentally.

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    You should edit this to say that "faith" means acceptance of validity without scientific evidence, as that is what I assume you mean. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 7:05
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    This also assumes that "faith" in religion is striving to be "acceptance of validity" of claims in the first place which is far from clear.
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:20
  • Another important factor is the opening to revision. As a layman in physics, I do believe general relativity is correct for basically the same reason some christians believe in the Flood, namely someone who was presented to us as knowing better told us it was so and we found this convincing. The difference is if I were presented compelling evidence against GR, I would revise my belief whereas flood believers won't budge when faced with massive evidence there never was such an event. Persistence in spite of evidence is the determining quality of the person of faith, and lauded by their peers.
    – armand
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 6:03
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Eric Schwitzgebel describes belief as a propositional attitude:

Contemporary Anglophone philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true. To believe something, in this sense, needn’t involve actively reflecting on it: Of the vast number of things ordinary adults believe, only a few can be at the fore of the mind at any single time. Nor does the term “belief”, in standard philosophical usage, imply any uncertainty or any extended reflection about the matter in question (as it sometimes does in ordinary English usage). Many of the things we believe, in the relevant sense, are quite mundane: that we have heads, that it’s the 21st century, that a coffee mug is on the desk.

Faith in a religious context likely implies both something more specific than whatever pops into our minds that we agree with and also more significant than the mundane beliefs Schwitzgebel refers to such as that we have heads.

Schwitzgebel continues:

Forming beliefs is thus one of the most basic and important features of the mind, and the concept of belief plays a crucial role in both philosophy of mind and epistemology.

Here one might get another distinction between faith and belief. Belief plays a role in the philosophy of mind and epistemology. Faith plays a role in theology and religious practice.


Schwitzgebel, Eric, "Belief", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019/entries/belief/.

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    in philosophy of religion, there's a distinction between faith-that (propositional faith) and faith-in (trust) that has been used relatively recently.
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 2:48
  • @virmaior Though faith-in-X can be seen as faith-that-X-will-Y. Even in religion I think that's important. If people say they have "faith in God" but can't articulate what they believe God will be faithful for, then it's fair to question what exactly their faith is. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 3:46
  • Perhaps that's prescriptively important, but that's not a common discussion in the philosophy of religion literature. If anything, what I found in the paper I wrote on the topic is that trust / faith-in is specifically not supposed to reduced to a proposition. At best, its on the order of "I trust that what God tells me is what I should do" or even more generally "I trust that God has my best in mind".
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:18
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    @virmaior I don't think either faith or belief should be reduced to propositions. However, their relationship to propositions is important to note and distinguish. In particular Polanyi's tacit knowledge would not be based on propositions, but would be a kind of belief. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 12:49
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Belief is usually seen as an intellectual position: something we think is true, good, etc. Faith is what we trust and depend on.

There are many things which could be believed, but which it would be hard to meaningfully trust. For example:

  • that all people have inherent worth
  • that killing animals for our benefit is wrong
  • that EDM is a very aesthetically pleasing musical genre

There are some beliefs which we can trust:

  • that my chair is strong and won't break if I sit on it now
  • that universal health care is good, and that it will end up cheaper for me and my nation
  • that my family love me and will support me in difficult times

In religion it is easy to see how they work together. Most religions both assert truths and promote some spiritual reality as a reliable foundation on which to build our lives. Many have scriptures which tell a history of their god or gods being trustworthy. Many teach an ethical system which they believe is shown repeatedly to lead to human flourishing. Many encourage their people to share with their communities how their god or gods have supported them through difficult times. Religious people have faith when what they believe, including their past experiences of the divine, leads them to trust that same divine for the future.

But it's also easy to see that many people with religious beliefs do not live faith-based lives. There are "Sunday" Christians, "Saturday" Jews, and "Friday" Muslims who attend their religious community's meeting but who live the rest of their week without their beliefs making much of a difference. And of course there are many people who might say they believe in God without ever attending a religious service. Many religious people do not trust their god or gods to help them in difficult times, and some may be convinced by certain apologetic arguments for the existence of the divine without having any personal experience of it. Some forms of Deism could be said to be purely a spiritual belief with no faith component.

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    I'm not your downvote but think this answer could be better with some sources or demonstration that it is reacting to the philosophical literature on the topic.
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:19
  • That's fair. TBH I don't know philosophy literature on this topic, just theology. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:40
  • +1 because I don't think this should be downvoted, but I agree with virmaior about references. I would be especially interested in the theological references on the difference between these two terms. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 12:45
  • Okay, I was being lazy, I'll try to dig up some tomorrow. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 13:00
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Faith is the infant child that knows Mummy is the source of all good before it knows what is mother(hood) or even how to say Momma!

IOW faith is pre-emotional, pre-intellectual; vivid vivacious vivifying, close to the source of life itself.

Belief is the ossification of faith; a half live half dead thing which has its own peculiar not-so-pleasant smell.

At the deepest level, faith is inevitably faith towards the source of life itself. Theists may choose to represent this source as The Source – God – but it can be seen in non-theistic, non-religious contexts such as when someone puts up a heroic fight against a terrible disease or adversary. While it often is based on a theistic orientation or the adversity generates so called religious feeling this is not necessary; it could be something more elemental – Schopenhauer called it Will to Life. Where does that Will originate? The faith that life is good to live however seemingly locally bad

Children naturally have few beliefs and strong faith. That's the source of their vivacity

But any strong and successful person – say a rags-to-riches story – will invariably be seen to have a faith in their idea their wish, ultimately faith in themselves.

And as that faith hardens into fixed patterns - ossified beliefs - it loses its power.

Heck the very engagement of questioners and answerers here requires the faith that there are reasonable decent humans on the other side, – we are not failing some Turing-test with a bot! – asking/answering "in good faith".

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belief:

the feeling of being certain that something exists or is true;

a strong feeling that something is true or real;

Belief is a feeling of certainty that something exists, is true, or is good.

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faith:

great trust or confidence in something or someone;

strong belief in God or a particular religion;

If you have faith in someone or something, you feel confident about their ability or goodness.

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Since I have faith in dictionaries (not belief), from the definitions I got, my belief (not faith) is that when we consider certainty of IDEAS we use belief and when something is mainly related to CONFIDENCE in SOMETHING or SOMEONE we use faith.

The idea transacted by 'belief in God' must be the certainty in its existence + faith. And the idea transacted by 'faith in God' must be the confidence in God. 'Belief in Buddhism' implies the certainty in its truth or goodness + faith.

"My family still believes in God; but after this pandemic I lost faith in Him." Without any explanation if this statement conveys the same idea as intended, the second part of the sentence is to filter out faith (confidence) from belief. That means, in some occasions belief can contain faith (confidence in something) also [without any scientific evidence].

Often neither of these words can be replaced by the other. So we can say, one is not a subdivision of the other.

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