The book retains its lecture format despite being extensively revised after its delivery in Aberdeen. It contains both sets of lectures (series 1 and 2), each composed of ten lectures. Lecture 1 raises issues relating to the performatory aspect of first-person belief sentences, highlights the primacy of believing a proposition over believing persons and considers some important issues surrounding degrees of belief. Price analyses complete conviction as the highest degree of belief, nothing short of which he considers worthy of the title. Lecture 2 is the first of two lectures on the relation between belief and knowledge. Price discusses the varieties of knowledge in Lecture 2. Among the topics raised are ‘acts and dispositions’, ‘knowledge of facts and knowledge by acquaintance’, ‘knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description’, ‘a priori and empirical truths’, ‘sense data’ and ‘introspective knowledge by acquaintance’. Price also considers ‘circularity’ in relation to knowledge by description and knowing ‘how’ (to do something). The relationship between belief and knowledge is taken up more particularly in Lecture 3, where Price examines the contrast between belief and knowledge, the relation between belief and knowing ‘how to’ and the notion of belief ‘in’. He goes on to clarify the notion of knowledge in relation to belief. Price considers that ‘[w]hen we enquire into the relation between belief and knowledge, we are mainly concerned with the relation between belief and knowledge that’ (p. 79). Lecture 3 continues by drawing a distinction between belief ‘that’ and knowledge ‘that’, then raises the question as to whether knowledge can be defined in terms of belief and addresses some difficulties with the definition of knowledge he proposes. Price hopes to demonstrate a kind of knowledge (direct, rather than indirect) that cannot be defined in terms of belief at all. Lectures 4 and 5 discuss the relation between belief and evidence, looking at the evidence of perception, memory and self-consciousness, and drawing distinctions between the evidence ‘there is’ and ‘the evidence a person has’. Price also asks whether evidence must consist of known facts and discusses the relation between belief and inference and the idea that beliefs are based on further beliefs. Lecture 5 looks at the evidence of testimony, the ethics of belief and ‘first’ and ‘second’ hand knowledge, before reconsidering the evidence ‘there is’ and the evidence a ‘person has’ and advancing a policy of placing a collection of corrected beliefs in favour of a ‘safety first’ type approach. In chapter 6, Price discusses the notion of assent in relation to Newman’s criticisms of Locke; in particular, whether assent admits of degrees. Lecture 7 addresses Hume’s analysis of belief, relating his account and examining some beliefs to which Hume’s theory does not apply before relating his (Hume’s) theory to the dispositional analysis of belief. Some interesting aspects of Hume’s account cannot even be discussed in a purely traditional, occurrence-based analysis. Lectures 8 and 9 turn to traditional occurrence analysis in more depth. Lecture 8 considers issues concerning the entertaining and introspection of beliefs, and Lecture 9 more specifically looks at the notion of assent in relation to ‘being under the impression that’. The first series of lectures closes (10) with a discussion of the freedom of assent in the theories of Descartes and Hume. The main question Price addresses here concerns the relation between belief and will.
Lecture 1 of second series begins with an introduction to dispositional analysis in contrast to traditional (occurrence) analysis. Price raises some important logical and epistemological considerations before discussing the notions of acting ‘as-if’, theoretical beliefs and practical reason. ‘One of the functions of belief is to provide us with guidance in our actions and our practical decisions…. Another is to give a partial and second-best satisfaction to our desire to know how things are’ (p. 266). Lecture 2 looks at another strain of dispositional analysis, considering belief and hope, fear, surprise, doubt and confidence before expounding Kneale’s criticisms of this analysis. In Lecture 3, Price considers dispositional analysis in relation to inference and assent, looking at the multiform nature of belief and unconscious beliefs before, in Lecture 4, turning to the topic of half-belief. Price finds that ‘if we were unable to hold half-beliefs, it would be […] difficult for us to change our convictions’. Lecture 5 examines Newman’s distinction between real and notional assent and moves toward a phenomenology of religious belief. Lecture 6 looks at self-verifying beliefs and the cases in which ‘thinking it so’ ‘makes it so’, before turning to the topic of moral beliefs in Lectures 7 and 8. Price considers whether there are moral beliefs in the ‘belief that’ sense of the expression, and looks at the role of approvals and disapprovals and moral feelings. A rational being without feeling could not have a code of conduct that would be for it a moral code. Price is finally able to turn to the distinction between belief ‘in’ and belief ‘that’ in Lecture 9, outlining the varieties of belief ‘in’ and distinguishing it from confidence ‘in’ before finally addressing the application of his analysis to belief in God. Lecture 10 concludes the series with a treatise on religious belief and empiricist philosophy, discussing worldviews, immortality assertions about God and the reduction of theism to recommendations about conduct. Price also pays some attention to the work of J. H. Hick and to that of R. B Braithwaite, and hopes to have sketched an empiricist view of religion considerably different from Braithwaite’s, based upon a ‘try it and see for yourself’ principle.