In “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Charles Peirce argues that belief just is whatever it does.
Peirce’s pragmatic position is that:
The essence of belief is the establishment of a habit, and different beliefs are distinguished by the different modes of action to which they give rise. If beliefs do not differ in this respect, if they appease the same doubt by producing the same rule of action, then no mere differences in the manner of consciousness of them can make them different beliefs, any more than playing a tune in different keys is playing different tunes. (33)
Beliefs are rules of action. A belief is a habit.
If Peirce is right, do we waste a lot of time in religion fretting over “differences in the manner of consciousness” that make no actionable difference? If we do waste a lot of time this way, why?
A fictional case study: Betty is convinced that the probability of God’s existence is vanishingly small. But Betty fulfills her callings, does her visiting teaching, attends the temple, goes to all her Sunday meetings, prays morning and night, is gripped by her persistent study of the scriptures, pays her tithing, and gives a generous fast offering.
Does Betty, despite her best assessment of the facts, actually believe in God or not?
Charles Peirce, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” in Pragmatism: A Reader, ed. Louis Menand (New York: Vintage, 1997).