Suppose a five-year-old kid says, “Daddy is a doctor.”  What’s your daddy do?  Daddy is a doctor.  Does she really believe it?  What do you have to know and understand to believe that your father is a doctor – that daddy is a doctor?  

Do you have to know the difference between a doctor and a quack, an unlicensed practitioner?  Do you have to know what doctors do?  Do you have to know whether they have degrees and have passed boards and are licensed?  For that matter, does she know what a daddy is?  As a child grows up, a child’s concepts mature and become more sophisticated.   

Does she known what her daddy is?  Probably not.  This shows that belief comes in degrees because comprehension comes in degrees.  This isn’t a question of conviction.  That comes in degrees, too, but it’s not that she is not sure her daddy’s a doctor.  It’s that she doesn’t know enough about what doctors are to believe full bore daddy’s a doctor.  And, in fact, it’s not clear that anybody ever does believe anything full bore.  What we have to recognize is that our folk concepts - in fact, most of our concepts, have rather fuzzy edges and you can sort of believe something.  And I think that philosophers are deeply resistant to acknowledging that most of the interesting categories they deal with have fuzzy boundaries.  But, in fact, they do.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock