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Topher's definitional construction of “belief”, draft 1.

( ...more to come later )

Topher Hunt
Part 1, Draft 1: 2010-12-08

Hi! Glad to see your interest in reading my work. This is the first draft of what will develop into
an ongoing revision of my definitions of beliefs and other constructs which are relevant to deepening
my specialization in the Reflective Judgment domain as an intern at DTS. I have already gotten some
very valuable critique from my mentor Theo. For instance, when giving my personal definition of
beliefs I fail to diffentiate what I would consider incontrovertible observations, from my proposed
theoretical model of beliefs. My critique of Schommer's belief framework is harsher than intended.
Many one-sentence comments I make need to be expanded into multiple-paragraph sections. My
definition of “knowledge” is probably too specific. And of course I forgot the reference list – the
classic college student mistake, but easy to fix.
Any and all feedback, reflections, and comments are greatly appreciated and will help me make
this into a more robust, more thorough, more useful, more accessible, and more accurate description of
beliefs. In particular I want to know if any parts are particularly difficult to understand, need to be
better argued or better referenced, or if you see an obvious element that you think I don't acknowledge.
Thank you in advance and enjoy reading!
This partial essay is my first step in constructing a set of construct definitions relevant to a
thorough understanding of Reflective Judgment, epistemology, and our LRJA assessment. I intend for
my definition of each construct (ie, my answer to each question) to include the following as relevant:
1. A definition of the construct as viewed by each main theoretical perspective / prominent
research school in the field
2. A definition of the construct from the viewpoint of DTS
3. My own definition of the construct, which:
a) is theoretically thorough and sound, yet considers application and operationalization
b) addresses the origin, effects, form, and development of the construct
c) differentiates the construct from related ones, defining those as needed

How do we think about beliefs? How do we define beliefs? I'll interpret this question to ask
mainly about the form, origin, and effects of beliefs relevant to Reflective Judgment and epistemology
– ie in Hofer's words, mainly beliefs about knowledge and knowing. I'll define beliefs as I see them
treated in Perry's, Kitchener and King's, Kuhn's, and Schommer's literature, then define them as I see
DTS as treating them. Finally I'll give my definition of beliefs and contrast them with assumptions,
knowledge, judgments, and attitudes.
William Perry (1970) distinguishes between belief and faith. Belief is untested, naïve, uncritical,
and implicit adherence to a truth, whereas faith is a conscious, willful, explicit, grounded affirmation /
assertion of a truth in the face of doubt. While I'll later lump both of these concepts under the word
“belief” in my own definition below, the distinction is a crucial theme in Perry's work as the gap
between belief and faith underlies the texture of his developmental sequence, which he repeatedly
analogizes to the Pilgrim's Progress faith journey. Faith is the more grounded, more mature, and more
desirable of the two.
For Perry, the nature of development is to suggest to us the horrifying notion that our beliefs
might be wrong. Development thus involves a continual assimilation and accommodation of beliefs,
making them more explicit and more grounded in the process. At Perry's final “position”, Commitment,
one consciously commits to faith in a truth, despite inevitable uncertainty, out of the need to escape
inaction in relativistic paralysis. (Perry 1970:209) Thus in Perry's scheme, the construction of
conscious, mature beliefs (aka “faiths”) is driven by philosophical conflict and developmental tensions.

Kitchener & King

Karen Kitchener (1983:CMEC) mentions certain “epistemic assumptions” as underlying
epistemic cognition. Here, epistemological beliefs are seen to guide cognition at the highest order by
shaping our perception of, for example, what problems are and aren't solvable, or what a solution
entails. However, beyond this nod to assumptions, Kitchener quickly drops discussion of beliefs and
focuses on epistemic cognition as a skill unit which needs proper real-world practice (with exposure to
ill-structured problems) rather than as a set of conceptions which can be changed.
Beliefs, which Kitchener and King seem to define as unquestioned views of the nature of
reality, aren't central to the development of real Reflective Judgment which interests K&K, so much as
they're central to determining what knowledge content Reflective Judgment thinking operates on (and
can challenge, change, revise). As such, K&K spend little time talking about beliefs, for example in
their King & Kitchener (2002) article which re-introduces and reflects on their Reflective Judgment

Deanna Kuhn seems to adopt a slightly trojan-horse strategy in that she refers to
“epistemological beliefs” in her introductions, perhaps as a nod to the standard view in the field (eg
Kuhn et al 2000), and uses belief content as the grounding for her simple stage model of
epistemological development, but then weaves these elements together in a discourse which focuses
rather exclusively on reasoning ability and “thinking” rather than belief. For example, in Kuhn's (1989)
article on “children as intuitive scientists”, beliefs are only substantially discussed in the context of
impediments to learning – such as the difficulty children have bracketing observation from prior
beliefs, or their inability to “disregard their own beliefs and consider only the evidence” (Kuhn
Sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, Kuhn seems to just plain care more about
reasoning than about beliefs, and does a good job of arguing that epistemology is bound to reasoning
processes and reasoning ability. In Kuhn 1993, Kuhn clarifies her view that beliefs are always
reasoning-based, suggesting that reasoning and argumentation skills are the more fundamental to
thought: she refers to “when we probe the thinking underlying people's beliefs and opinions” (p 323)
and comments “Thinking as argument is implicated in all of the beliefs people hold” (322). This casts
beliefs as a superficial summary 'shell' which bundles a person's reasoning into a provisionally held
concluding statement about the world – and which is always amenable to later, wholer reasoning.
I infer in this a view that “the right” beliefs aren't a cover for inadequate reasoning, and
effective reasoning skills will make even problematic beliefs unproblematic, because they can be
revised as needed. It's thinking which is required to form as well as to change beliefs, and thus it's
reasoning ability which is more central to understanding cognition. Arguably, this treatment of
explicitly reasoned beliefs ignores the more implicit beliefs which in turn underlie our reasoning
processes – whose formation is not necessarily influenced by one's reasoning or argument skills.
Moreover, Kuhn's more recently used super-simplistic measurement instrument (Kuhn et al 2000)
relies wholly on observing change in beliefs, in order to measure stages of epistemological
development, to then make conclusions about “the coordination of the subjective and objective
dimensions of knowing” (Kuhn et al 2000:311). If beliefs and reasoning are not so tightly tied as Kuhn
assumes in this work, then, these conclusions become suspect of circular reasoning.

For Marlene Schommer(-Aikins), beliefs are epistemology / Reflective Judgment, the total
content and form of the construct. Beliefs influence way of thinking, learning, and can be measured in
comprehension outcomes. Schommer 1994 comments that epistemological beliefs unconsciously and
implicitly guide outcomes of “comprehension, metacomprehension, interpretation, and persistence” (p
38) in problem solving performance and, we suppose, in everyday life. Epistemological beliefs affect
these comprehension outcomes both directly and indirectly (eg through the selection of learning
strategies), though Schommer acknowledges that this division is somewhat artificial.
In that we can judge some thinking outcomes as better / more desirable than others, Schommer
1990 claims that we can therefore also evaluate those epistemological beliefs which cause desirable
outcomes, as more “sophisticated”. In Schommer 1994 she caveats her evaluations of beliefs: “The
assertion as to what constitutes naive and sophisticated epistemological beliefs is somewhat vague and
perhaps presumptuous” (p 37), and tries to redefine “sophistication” in terms of having the capacity to
engage a broader range of belief possibilities – eg, to consider that situations might call for views of
knowledge as simple or complex, depending on circumstance. However she seems inconsistent in
maintaining this redefinition, and does seem to define some beliefs as more advanced than others,
based on the outcomes they cause.
I don't think that Schommer is justified in concluding from her research that there is a causal
relationship between beliefs and comprehension outcomes. Moreover, this assertion of causality, while
clearly implicit, does not seem explicity stated or explained. The logical leap from belief correlation to
belief causation, and thus from adequacy of outcomes to adequacy of beliefs, reveals the inadequately
narrow framework of epistemology in which Schommer is working: epistemology is a person's beliefs
about knowledge; reasoning skills and so forth are not relevant, because they're another construct
somewhere else. If the construct is defined solely as a collection of beliefs, it makes more sense to
conclude that beliefs are the causal factor because they're the only factor present.
Schommer is clearer about the form of epistemological beliefs. Dimensions of epistemological
beliefs exist – meaning that some beliefs can change independently of others. The main theme of
Schommer 1990 is the observation that variation in different dimensions of belief, affect thought and
perception in different ways. Moreover, she speculates that beliefs are diffuse in consistency: they are
“best characterized as frequency distributions” rather than as a singular fixed point or status.
(Schommer 1994:30) The probability that a belief will be applied to a situation varies depending on
how far that belief is from a center of gravity, and depending on context. She has no data to support this
frequency view, although it intuitively makes sense, and I have trouble imagining how one would
provide data which isn't reinterpretable as instrument noise.
Beliefs are not rote-learnable nor changeable through direct memorization, because the
important ones are subconscious and require firsthand experiences and internalization time in order to
take hold. Exposure to certain experiences as well as to the attitudes of others (which after all express
implicit beliefs) may be the origin of beliefs as well as a mechanism for their change. Thus, Schommer
(1990) blames schools for solidifying simplistic epistemologies in students, both through the structure
of learning and through corresponding teacher attitudes. She calls for change in teachers' attitudes
towards knowledge and learning, and also for reflective and open-ended exercises that give students the
experience needed to develop sophisticated beliefs.

Beliefs are one element of “content” of reasoning which DTS matches against our LAS scale in
order to identify developmental patterns. However beliefs are indicators, rather than the mechanics, of
that development, differring from the views of Perry and particularly Schommer. The nature of the
LAS metric's coding system allows us to observe beliefs on an individual basis, rather than imposing a
unidimensional or multidimensional structure on them, in contrast to the instruments of Schommer,
Kuhn, Kitchener & King, and Perry. This has the advantage that our belief data retains all of its
messiness and un-amenability to easy models, meaning it is more open to later reinterpretation.
In my sense of DTS' view of beliefs, they may be either implicit or explicit, subconscious or
consciously acknowledged. They may vary in source (authority, experience, reasoning) and degree of
absolutism. They are defined as claims or assertions about the nature of the world, either directly
expressed or very clearly enacted in a person's writing / speaking.

Topher's definition of beliefs

What follows is my conception of beliefs, blissfully devoid of evidence or supporting research.
It is my vision of the origin, role, effects, nature, form, and development of beliefs based on the above
perspectives and on my personal reflection and experiences.
Here I'll give a definition of belief which contrasts it with assumption, knowledge, judgment,
and attitude. To do so I draw from Ken Wilber's (1995:SES) distinction between validity claims and
judgments. Claims are assertions, affirmations, or “attunements” about the nature of some aspect of the
world, which attempt to describe and reflect the ontological nature of the object. I'm defining
knowledge, assumptions, and beliefs as claims. In contrast, judgments are evaluations of something;
they reflect the speaker's perspectival “take” on that object, constructed by and through the judgment
itself, rather than directly reflecting a truth about the object itself. I place judgments and attitudes in
this category.
Beliefs are assertions about the world which are held to be true, “held” in that they guide
perception or action in some way. (Beliefs that don't influence behavior or thought are effectively
substanceless, measureless, and meaningless.) Moreover, a belief is not relevant or meaningful unless it
is possible to contradict or contrast it by some other conceivable opposing belief. Beliefs may be
grounded in reasoning, but their nature and purpose is to summarize and bundle that reasoning into a
provisionally semi-autonomous unit of knowledge which is treated as solid ground for the purposes of
further inquiry.
Beliefs (whether implicit or explicit) are formed in dialogue between the subject's internal
conditions (state, developmental readiness, reflection / metabolism, etc.) and the messages exposed by
the environment (experiences, others' expressed beliefs, arguments and dialogue) ala Piagetian
assimilation-accomodation interactionism. Beliefs interact with each other in a logical web of
cascading tensions where a change in one belief may provoke a wave of adjustments (ie, internal
acommodations) to other beliefs according to their logical proximity and interdependence. While this
metabolism of belief change (aka the process of reflection) could probably proceed indefinitely without
ever reaching a fully stable end-point of internally consistent beliefs, it also receives continual fuel
from environmental feedback which challenges outdated beliefs, such that we are constantly (though
subconsciously) busy revising some belief or another and identifying the implications of change.
Beliefs should be defined and characterized primarily by the nature which they ascribe to the
world, rather than by judgments about their development or complexity. In a strict sense, I'd argue that
a belief itself cannot be simple or complex, sophisticated or unsophisticated, mature or immature,
developed or undeveloped; it is the reasoning underlying beliefs as well as their application to
circumstances which can be described / evaluated with these terms. However beliefs themselves, as
well as assumptions and knowledge, can be evaluated in terms of accuracy / validity, functionality /
adequacy, and prosociality.
Beliefs may vary in explicitness, origin, and rigidity. Accounting for these variations, my
definition of “belief” also includes the concepts assumption, claim, hypothesis, and assertion. In
specific, I see at least three, somewhat overlapping but qualitatively distinct ways in which beliefs may
1. Was the belief consciously or unconsciously formed? Is it currently consciously acknowledged?
(ie implicit or explicit)
2. Was the belief selected through deliberate reflection and reasoning, or was it assumed
uncritically? (ie critical or uncritical origin)
3. Is the belief treated as absolute and unviolable, or is it “held lightly” as a provisionally useful
tool for inquiry? ie, how willing (and capable) is the person to conceive of alternative /
conflicting beliefs? (ie rigid or flexible)

Assumptions are a specific subset of belief which are implicit, unquestioned, and uncritical. In
addition, the word “assumption” is often used metaphorically to indicate that a set of beliefs which
were consciously and deliberately selected, are being backgrounded as unquestioned assumptions in
order to clarify and simplify a further discussion context.
Knowledge is belief content which is consistently reaffirmed by a person's collective context to
the point where it can be considered factual information for practical purposes. It consists of reliable
beliefs about the world which are in alignment with those of others. Wilber's term “attunement” is
appropriate here, in that intersubjective belief alignment results in generally adequate accuracy of
information as well as a coordinated understandings which enable shared meaning and effective
communication about the world. In short, I see knowledge as beliefs reaffirmed by a colletive ala
Judgments are personal evaluations on some object. They don't assert or describe the nature of
things; rather, they construct some new statement through reasoning and synthesizing current
knowledge. They are constructions of one's perspective on a topic, rather than asserted reflections
about reality. I am defining “judgment” in a narrow sense here: a judgment is not a consciously
reasoned and selected belief nor a proxy for one. A belief purports to be a description of some part of
the ontological world, whereas a judgment is a creative act as much as an assertive one and as such
does not directly describe or characterize, instead opines. Judgments may in turn be judged on their
adequacy or functionality, but only the speaker may evaluate their validity or truthfulness – since they
are a perspectival act to which only the speaker has primary access.
Attitudes are implicit revealings of one's disposition towards or perspectival perception of an
object. They may be based on and betray assumptions (ie implicit beliefs), but attitudes themselves are
more like unconscious, generalized judgments. Like judgments, attitudes may be judged on their
adequacy and health, but not on their validity or truthfulness.
King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (2002). The reflective judgment model: Twenty years of research on epistemic
cognition. In B. K. Hofer & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Personal epistemology: The psychology of beliefs about
knowledge and knowing (pp. 37-61). Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.
Kitchener, K. S. (1983). Cognition, metacognition, and epistemic cognition. Human Development, 26, 222-232.
Kuhn, D. (1989). Children and adults as intuitive scientists. Psychological review, 96(4), 674-89. Retrieved from
Kuhn, D. (1993). Science as argument: Implications for teaching and learning scientific thinking. Science
Education, 77(3), 319-337. Retrieved from
Kuhn, D., Cheney, R., & Weinstock, M. (2000). The development of epistemological understanding. Cognitive
Development, 15(3), 309-328. doi: 10.1016/S0885-2014(00)00030-7.
Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years. New York: Rinehart &
Winston. Retrieved from
Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 82(3), 498-504. Retrieved from
Schommer, M. (1994). An emerging conceptualization of epistemological beliefs and their role in learning. In R.
Garner & P. A. Alexander (Eds.), Beliefs about text and instruction with text (pp. 25-40). Psychology Press.
Retrieved from
Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology, spirituality: The spirit of evolution. Boston: Shambhala.
** I'm not 100% certain that this is the source for Wilber's distinction between judgments and validity
claims (for which I'm citing it), but it's the most likely source. It's buried deep in some part of whatever text
it's in and isn't particularly findable, but the Core Integral course brought the distinction to my attention.