Theory on framework issues

Monday, April 15, 2013

11.5. Why do we confuse belief and opinion?: A construal-level-theory analysis. THE CONFUSION BETWEEN BELIEF AND OPINION AND THE NATURES OF FANATICISM AND PHILISTINISM. PART 6.

Why do we confuse the epistemic attitudes opinion and belief, which—to serve the distinct functions of deliberation and action—should be based, respectively, on our own thinking or on that of our epistemic superiors and peers? We confuse them because we’re prone to see our own beliefs as being more like original opinions than they are, so we forgo the distinction, treating these epistemic attitudes identically whether as opinion or belief. Construal-level theory provides the explanatory concepts. We use a distinctively global way of thinking—abstract construal or far-mode—when we contemplate the future and the psychologically distant; and we use a distinctively narrow way of thinking—concrete construal or near-mode—when we act for the present and on the psychologically near. Appraisals of belief, unlike opinion, result from abstract construal, but when we think of our own (hence psychologically near) beliefs, we construe concretely, eliminating construal level as a cue to distinguish belief and opinion to assess each on its proper grounds.

Belief is more psychologically distant than opinion because one’s own person is near, others’ distant, and belief incorporates (averages) others’ opinions, which are disregarded in rational opinion formation. Construal-level theory would indicate that we perceive others as acting for their beliefs and ourselves as acting for our opinions, that is, we see ourselves as engaged in deliberation when we see our counterparts engaged in action. The spiral ensues in which parties to deliberation misperceive the other as advancing an agenda rather than engaging in good-faith deliberation, forcing each to reciprocate because the party engaging in action controls through benefiting from the distraction.

Beliefs and opinions are different entities, not just different functions that entities serve. We typically ascribe beliefs to others to describe and predict their conduct. Beliefs are far-mode constructions that must be grounded in an inbuilt template—since belief ascription is humanly universal—an idealization, which reality only approximates. If you believe that “She’s telling the truth,” your actions will comport with the absence of suspected untruthfulness but only to a point. Belief is a matter of degree, based on how close the template and reality match.

Belief is a primitive intuition regarding others, but applying the concept of belief to oneself doesn’t come naturally. Ferreting out the contours of unarticulated belief is what gives insight-based psychotherapy its power. Although the thinking comes easily that another agent is deceiving himself about what he really believes—others’ beliefs proven by behavior more than words—the agent himself often rejects belief ascriptions contradicting the words he tells himself. Those words are usually his opinions: our ordinary unwillingness to attribute an opinion to someone who can’t express it shows that opinions are closely tied to particular words. Opinion is the construct more suitable for possible neurobiological reduction, whereas belief is a family-relations concept, not a sharply delineated entity.

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SUPPLIER OF LEGAL THEORIES. Attorneys' ghostwriter of legal briefs and motion papers, serving all U.S. jurisdictions. Former Appellate/Law & Motion Attorney at large Los Angeles law firm; J.D. (University of Denver); American Jurisprudence Award in Contract Law; Ph.D. (Psychology); B.A. (The Johns Hopkins University). E-MAIL: Phone: 760.974.9279 Some other legal-brief writers research thoroughly and analyze penetratingly, but I bring another two merits. The first is succinctness. I spurn the unreadable verbosity and stupefying impertinence of ordinary briefs to perform feats of concision and uphold strict relevance to the issues. The second is high polish, achieved by allotting more time to each project than competitors afford. Succinct style and polished language — manifested in my legal-writing blog, Disputed Issues — reverse the common limitations besetting brief writers: lack of skill for concision and lack of time for perfection.