In the literature about what sorts of things have a truth-value, the idea that acts of belief bear truth-value seems present, yet uncommon. On the other hand, objects of belief like propositions or sentence-tokens seem more popular as candidates of being the bearers of truth-value.

However, when the main topic at hand isn't what the bearers of truth-value are, I see beliefs be described as true or false all the time. For example, the vast majority of epistemologists regard knowledge has being some kind of true belief. Also, a justified belief in a non-deontological sense normally just means the belief is sufficiently likely to be true.

According to the SEP:

Sufficient Likelihood Justification (SLJ)

S is justified in believing that p if and only if S believes that p in a way that makes it sufficiently likely that her belief is true.

This suggests that most accounts of justification require a belief to have a truth-value.

Personally, I don't see how a belief can be true or false, but that's not the main point of the question, although if someone could provide an argument for it, I'd be interested.

What I don't understand and want to know is why it seems to me that most philosophers don't take beliefs to bear truth-value in the literature specific to the topic, yet on other topics seem to presuppose that they do? Perhaps I'm missing something.

  • 3
    Sometimes I talk about a belief being true as shorthand for saying the proposition that a belief is about is true. This seems pretty common. Feb 19, 2020 at 3:16
  • I think SEP, Truth-bearers summarizes the current attitude pretty well:"We thus find the usual candidate truth-bearers linked in a tight circle: interpreted sentences, the propositions they express, the belief speakers might hold towards them, and the acts of assertion they might perform with them are all connected by providing something meaningful... For this reason, it seems, contemporary debates on truth have been much less concerned with the issue of truth-bearers." Nothing hangs on it and reference by association is routinely employed.
    – Conifold
    Feb 19, 2020 at 4:25
  • The issue is partly, I think, that the word belief is ambiguous. It can mean a mental state. It can also mean the content of a mental state. So when we say "this belief is true" we may mean that someone's mental state is true. But we may also mean that the content of someone's mental state, a content that may be e.g. a proposition, is true. Feb 20, 2020 at 19:03
  • no, i would rather go with lao-tsu: (>True words are like confused.<) "True/False values are bearers of believe."
    – xerx593
    Jan 16 at 11:22
  • the "existence" of (the distinction but similarity of) true/false values is the only secure knowledge about our reality (nor time, nor space, nor matter "is there (in eternity) for sure" ...nor "make them sense now"))
    – xerx593
    Jan 16 at 11:32

2 Answers 2


(This is kind of an old-fashioned way of looking at modes in logic, but it works for me.)

A belief may be about facts, in which case the thing believed then has a truth value. I believe that Boris Johnson lives at 10 Downing Street. He either does, or he doesn't. I am right or I am wrong. The overall statement also has a truth value if my own mental state is clear. Maybe I literally can't believe it, (since I wish it were not true) and so I don't, (I think this is all a grand charade.) Then I end up mildly psychotic.

But most beliefs are in another modality: obligation, wishes or taste, conceivability, as a counterfactual supposition, as an unknown state...

Modal statements do not have truth values unless the modality is grounded in a context. "I should not kill" is a modal statement. If the context is "Perfect Kantian arguments" or "Everyday rules of thumb in morality" it is true. If my spouse is about to be shot by a gunman, or if I am a soldier on a mission to save many lives, it is less true.

We use modalities specifically when we expect the people around us to have the same context in mind. If they don't, we can give some more detail to the context. But at some level, perhaps unconscious, for a given modal statement, we have a context in mind that makes the statement meaningful and true. Ideally, we can make that context clear enough to our listener that we are effectively communicating.

In the case of belief, we are using the modality non-specifically. There is a single modal statement that has meaning across all relevant contexts, perhaps true in some of them, false in others. This range of contexts, which ones are relevant, which ones are likely, etc. is complex enough that the believer cannot truly elaborate it. And it is internal to their mind, so the listener can never explore it.

Even though the statement seems simply modal, it is not a single deployment of a given modality, it is a general position with several dimensions. It is a sort of trans-modal map that we unconsciously integrate over to establish a degree. It does not have a truth value, because it is isolated from the necessary grounding. Instead, it has some degree of fractional truth for the individual that might shift according to the situation.

We often state a belief with a simple modal statement, omitting the fact that we believe. You can tell the simple modal judgments apart from beliefs because this underlying multidimensional complexity usually becomes immediately obvious.


Belief can be true or false in a sense that the experience can validate or disprove it. For instance, you believed that your wife is loyal to you but after an observation you found that she is not. Belief was invalidated by the direct experience.

Belief does have a true value but in a different sense: it has some foundations, or preconditions that do exist. The true value of a belief that the wife is loyal is the emotions, the desire and need for such a thing to be true for the world to be stable in a psychological sense. Preconditions do exist and sort of cause the belief, thus the truth value. The belief itself turns out to be false but as a part of a larger picture it is just there existing and thus in a sense ‘true’.

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