concept pages: copyright Robert Ellis 2010 

Integration of belief

Integration of belief is one of three levels of integration, together with integration of desire and integration of meaning, discussed in Middle Way philosophy. Please see integration page for the concept of integration in general.

A belief involves an attempt to represent an assumed world around us, together with an assumption that this is the world we take to be true for the time being. To the extent that these representations of an assumed world are both coherent and avoid obvious sources of delusion, they are integrated beliefs. Such beliefs are less likely to conflict with each other and provide a stable basis for action. Because they are less subject to delusion, integrated beliefs are also more likely to address conditions.

We can test our beliefs for integration both philosophically and psychologically. Philosophically, a better integrated belief is a more justified belief. Justification cannot be understood only as coherence, because experience tells us that it is possible to maintain a coherent world-view that is also deluded. The coherence of our beliefs is thus necessary but not sufficient for their justification. In addition we also need negative foundationalism, the recognition that our beliefs may be false. With a suitably provisional understanding of the status of our coherent beliefs, we can count them justified, and thus the basis of action for the moment. Because a belief is justified, however, does not mean that it is necessarily true, nor that we need to claim that it is. We can find the idea of its truth meaningful without actually claiming that it is true. We can also check that a belief is not metaphysical: since metaphysical beliefs are incompatible with negative foundationalism, metaphysical beliefs tend to produce dogmatism (a state of stubborn attachment to an unjustified belief) rather than integration, and to constantly conflict with conditions.

We can test the integration of our beliefs psychologically in terms of the mental processes and behaviour that arise from it. A relatively unintegrated belief is relatively insecure and thus we are relatively defensive about it: this is the state of doubt. Doubt creates conflict and resists integration, so that we are constantly having to suppress contrary beliefs and have to build up a defensive position to keep them suppressed. It is oddly those who profess most certainty, such as religious or political fanatics, who are most likely to be subject to doubt in this sense. The contrasting state to doubt is that of confidence, in which justified provisional beliefs are allied with optimistic assumptions that lead us a slightly (but not too far) ahead of the evidence. We can judge the integration of our beliefs (or to some extent those of others) from our experience of the extent of psychological conflict surrounding those beliefs.

The integration of belief is dependent on the integration of desire, without which the development of confidence would be impossible, and the integration of meaning, without which our increasingly integrated beliefs cease to make sense. There are thus limits to how far they can develop without one another, but our development can still be asymmetrical to some extent. For the integration of belief to be lopsidedly in advance of the integration of desire, for example, leads to a degree of disjunction between 'reason' and 'emotion', with our philosophy solid but some aspects of our emotional experience sometimes not in step with that philosophical development.


Links to related discussion

The psychological basis of belief (thesis)

Integration and belief (thesis - scroll down to section d)

Truth on the Edge


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