Belief is a cognitive state; believing something is a matter of having a certain kind of positive mental attitude towards it, of thinking that it is true. There are, however, numerous propositions that we believe to be true even though we have never entertained them. Paradoxically, it seems that belief is independent of thought.

Take, for example, the proposition “I have more nostrils than noses.” You know this proposition, and have known it for a long time (and, as the tripartite theory of knowledge explains, belief is necessary for knowledge). However, until you read this page you had never entertained it.

This shows that belief is independent of thought, that you do not need to think a thing in order to know it. You have never engaged in any mental activity that could be described as assenting to the idea that you have more nostrils than noses, and yet you have long known that proposition to be true.

The same can be said of many other propositions: “flamingos have fewer feet than elephants”; “42 has two fewer digits in it than 1966”; etc.

If you are tempted to suggest that before reading this page you did not know these propositions, then consider the following:

You now know that you have more nostrils than noses, that flamingos have fewer feet than elephants, and that 42 has two fewer digits in it than 1966. This page did not teach you any of these things. Therefore, you must already have known them.

It seems that you can know things without ever having entertained them; belief is possible without thought.