I Don’t Believe in Beliefs or Knowledge…

For a contextual analysis, all uses of language are about doing things to people, no matter the form in which something is stated.  You simply analyse the form in which something is stated also as another way of doing things to people.  Not as a ‘reflection’ of some internal state.

For example: I believe X. I have a positive attitude towards X. I feel strongly about X. I am of the opinion that X. Some friends of mine believe X.

These are socially strategic differences, shaped to affect listeners in different ways; not differences in the structural properties of cognition… The analysis question for observation is: what do they do differently to listeners?

To help you observe the social permutations of this, here are four gradual changes you can make to your analyses:

Step 1. Normal cognitive analysis

  • I believe X
  • I believe X because of these reasons…

Step 2. Observing the easy social contexts of ‘knowledge’

  • I believe X = I am convinced that X
  • I have been convinced that X

Step 3. Observing the simple strategic social uses of ‘knowledge’

  • When I need to, I state that I believe X
  • When I need to, I state that I sort of believe X
  • When I need to, I state that I have a strong feeling that X is the case

Step 4. Observing the more complex strategic uses or discursive contexts of ‘knowledge’

  • It is important that you believe that I believe X
  • It is important that you know that I believe X
  • It is important that you think that I believe X

As always, the analysis is not about the words per se but about the social and other contexts shaping the things being said.  So the real questions for analyzing “I believe X” then become:

  • Who are (and were) the people shaping this?
  • Who are (and were) the audiences for this?
  • How does it fit into the other social strategies for this person or group, their life patterns, relationships, etc.? (not simple)
  • What does it do to the listeners? (what do they do, or what do they stop doing?)
  • How do you handle multiple and conflicting audiences for this? (conversational repairs, hedging)

And the real point for most of us is then:

  • given the normal analysis, we would change beliefs by presenting evidence to alter the internal processes of reasoning

but… instead…

  • given these analyses from behavioral, contextual and discursive analyses, we must change beliefs by observing the whole social and resource context of the person that maintains these statements, and then change these external events
  • and when sometimes reasoning does work to change people’s stated beliefs, that works only because it changes how they can deal with their audiences, not because they have been internally convinced
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