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Judgment and belief, in early modern philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-DA090-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

What is the difference between simply thinking about something and judging or believing that something is the case?

One finds a remarkable range of answers to this question in the early modern period. A traditional approach to judgment has its origins in Aristotle and treats judgment as closely related to predication. Judging, on this view, is a matter of affirming or denying something of something else. Affirming and denying, in turn, are different forms of predication: affirming whiteness of snow results in the judgment that snow is white; denying whiteness of snow results in the judgment that snow is not white.

Descartes rejects this approach and instead treats judgment as an act of will. He holds that the intellect or understanding presents us with a complete content for judgment, and then the will, in a separate act, assents or dissents to this content.

Spinoza rejects both the Aristotelian and Cartesian views by holding, against the Aristotelian view, that every idea has propositional content and also, against the Cartesian view, that every idea is an affirmation. Spinoza claims that judgment or affirmation just consists in the causal influence that an idea has on us, and he holds that all ideas have some influence. Thus, Spinoza holds the radical view that all ideas are judgments.

Finally, Hume also rejects both the Aristotelian and Cartesian views. Against the Aristotelians, he denies that what is judged or believed must always be a proposition with a subject–predicate structure. Against the Cartesians, he denies that belief is in any way subject to the will. Finally, against Spinoza he insists that there are some ideas that are merely conceived and not believed or judged. Hume holds that beliefs differ from ideas that are not believed in a way that makes beliefs more like perceptual experiences.

Citing this article:
Marušić, Jennifer. Judgment and belief, in early modern philosophy, 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-DA090-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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