The Historical Origins of Beliefs and Values

In ethics, value denotes the degree of importance of some thing or action, with the aim of determining what actions are best to do or what way is best to live (normative ethics), or to describe the significance of different actions. Value systems are proscriptive and prescriptive beliefs; they affect ethical behavior of a person or are the basis of their intentional activities. Often primary values are strong and secondary values are suitable for changes. What makes an action valuable may in turn depend on the ethical values of the objects it increases, decreases or alters. An object with “ethic value” may be termed an “ethic or philosophic good”.

Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of actions or outcomes. As such, values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be. “Equal rights for all”, “Excellence deserves admiration”, and “People should be treated with respect and dignity” are representatives of values. Values tend to influence attitudes and behavior and these types include ethical/moral values, doctrinal/ideological (religious, political) values, social values, and aesthetic values. It is debated whether some values that are not clearly physiologically determined, such as altruism, are intrinsic, and whether some, such as acquisitiveness, should be classified as vices or virtues

Personal values exist in relation to cultural values, either in agreement with or divergence from prevailing norms. A culture is a social system that shares a set of common values, in which such values permit social expectations and collective understandings of the good, beautiful and constructive. Without normative personal values, there would be no cultural reference against which to measure the virtue of individual values and so cultural identity would disintegrate.

Personal Values

Personal values provide an internal reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable and constructive. Values are one of the factors that generate behaviour and influence the choices made by an individual.

Values may help common human problems for survival by comparative rankings of value, the results of which provide answers to questions of why people do what they do and in what order they choose to do them. Moral, religious, and personal values, when held rigidly, may also give rise to conflicts that result from a clash between differing world views.

Over time the public expression of personal values that groups of people find important in their day-to-day lives, lay the foundations of law, custom and tradition. Recent research has thereby stressed the implicit nature of value communication. Consumer behavior research proposes there are six internal values and three external values. They are known as List of Values (LOV) in management studies. They are self respect, warm relationships, sense of accomplishment, self-fulfillment, fun and enjoyment, excitement, sense of belonging, being well respected, and security. From a functional aspect these values are categorized into three and they are interpersonal relationship area, personal factors, and non-personal factors. From an ethnocentric perspective, it could be assumed that a same set of values will not reflect equally between two groups of people from two countries. Though the core values are related, the processing of values can differ based on the cultural identity of an individual.[5]

Cultural Values

Individual cultures emphasize values which their members broadly share. Values of a society can often be identified by examining the level of honor and respect received by various groups and ideas. In the United States of America, for example, top-level professional athletes receive more respect (measured in terms of monetary payment) than university professors. Another example is that certain voters (taken from surveys) in the United States would not willingly elect an atheist as president, suggesting that believing in a God is a generally shared value.


Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case regardless of empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty. Another way of defining belief sees it as a mental representation of an attitude positively oriented towards the likelihood of something being true. In the context of Ancient Greek thought, two related concepts were identified with regards to the concept of belief: pistis and doxa. Simplified, we may say that pistis refers to “trust” and “confidence”, while doxa refers to “opinion” and “acceptance”. The English word “orthodoxy” derives from doxa. Jonathan Leicester suggests that belief has the purpose of guiding action rather than indicating truth.

In epistemology, philosophers use the term “belief” to refer to personal attitudes associated with true or false ideas and concepts. However, “belief” does not require active introspection and circumspection. For example, we never ponder whether or not the sun will rise.

People sometimes criticize others’ beliefs by insisting that they would have believed otherwise if they’d had a different upbringing. They say things like, ‘you only believe in God because you were raised in a Christian household’, or ‘you wouldn’t support the Labour Party if you hadn’t been raised by trade unionists’. These criticisms are sometimes called ‘etiological challenges’. Everyone’s beliefs have a particular etiology, that is, a particular causal origin. You had some experiences, received educational instruction and testimony from others, spent some time—or maybe not much—thinking about the wider issues, and ultimately arrived at your beliefs. An etiological challenge to your beliefs suggests that certain facts about the causal origins of those beliefs make them problematic.

Etiological challenges can serve various purposes in culturally diverse societies. One thing they’re useful for is cultivating intellectual humility. The fervent young religious or political zealot is often inclined to think that those who reject his views are merely being pig-headed. John Stuart Mill complained of this character: ‘it never troubles him that mere accident has decided’ which belief system is his, ‘and that the same causes which make him a Churchman in London, would have made him a Buddhist or a Confucian in Pekin’. An etiological challenge may constitute an attempt to complicate matters in this person’s mind and to produce in him a certain anxiety, by reminding him that he would hold different views if he’d been raised in different conditions. Even if he continues thinking his reasons for believing are good ones, an etiological challenge tells the single-minded fanatic to be humble about judging others for the mistakes he thinks they’re making.

Intellectual humility is a widely shared ideal, so this is fine as far as it goes. Still, it seems like etiological challenges are meant to do more than just elicit humility or anxiety. These challenges often look like demands that others revise their beliefs. When someone says to a theist, ‘you only believe in God because you were raised in a Christian household’, this isn’t just a call for intellectual humility. It’s offered as a reason against maintaining belief in God.

The question, then, is whether considering facts about the causal origins of your belief ever does rationally require belief revision. The crux of the issue can’t just be the mere possibility that you may be mistaken in your beliefs. You don’t have to grapple with etiological challenges to recognize the fact that you’re rarely able to indemnify yourself against the possibility of error. So, if etiological challenges are just a way of reemphasizing that point, they don’t have any distinctive bearing on the rationality of belief.

It could be that etiological challenges are simply meant to remind you that some people who appear to be just as sincere, intelligent, and well informed as you end up with different beliefs thanks to their different upbringings. On this interpretation, an etiological challenge forces you to recognize the apparent reasonableness of other people’s contrary beliefs, which, in turn, rationally requires you to reduce confidence in your own beliefs. Indeed, this is what a number of philosophers writing about this issue concluded recently. But if that’s the right interpretation of things, then, again, etiological challenges end up being more or less redundant. Etiological challenges can give you an indirect reason to revise your beliefs, but only by drawing your attention to generic considerations that you could have and should have been factoring into your judgements all along.

On both of these interpretations of an etiological challenge’s rational force, etiology ultimately drops out of the picture. We favour a different analysis that makes etiology central. We think etiological challenges are linked to an issue in applied epistemology, namely, the problem of indoctrination. It’s difficult to say exactly what indoctrination is and what differentiates it from education as such. Rather than advancing a decisive definition, we propose a rough characterization of indoctrination. We think it’s clear that there are educational methods that aim at imparting something like absolute or inflexible commitment to a belief system. Under these kinds of methods, students are discouraged from entertaining reasons to doubt these commitments. They’re encouraged to prejudicially give high credibility to those who share these commitments, and low credibility to those who deny them. They’re led to associate rejection of these commitments with certain vices (for example, disloyalty) and negative affective states (for example, fear), and to associate acceptance of these commitments with corresponding virtues and positive feelings. Indoctrination needn’t be thought of as an all-or-nothing affair. Our view is that within an educational practice, the more prevalent methods like these are, the more fitting it is to see that practice as a system of indoctrination. Thus characterized, indoctrination naturally contrasts with good education. Where good education cultivates students’ capacities for rational thought, indoctrination tries to bypass those capacities or impair their development.

Our view is that, in many cases, when a person receives an etiological challenge, it’s being put to her that her beliefs are a product of indoctrination, and that she should, therefore, reduce confidence in them. Now, suppose for the sake of argument that the recipient of the challenge grants that she’s been indoctrinated. Why does this require her to change her mind? Generally speaking, it’s irrational to think that you’ve lucked into getting true beliefs via a method of belief-acquisition that usually delivers falsehoods. And everyone agrees that in our world—not as a matter of logical necessity, but as a matter of contingent fact—indoctrination usually delivers false beliefs. Even those who belong to religious or political groups that consciously employ indoctrination to transmit their views agree with this. When Catholics think children are being indoctrinated into Catholicism, they think these children are being indoctrinated into truth. But they think all the other indoctrinated children in the world—being indoctrinated into Islam, or atheism, and so on—are getting falsehoods. Whatever creed you subscribe to, you’ll think the vast majority of the beliefs that get instilled via indoctrination false. And so if you come to see your own beliefs as a product of indoctrination, this recognition generates a reason for you to reduce your confidence in their truth.

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