My six-year-old son Davy, after a long, exhausting day, and stuck in traffic for hours, was a bit drunk with sleepiness, I think, and began a disquisition on the nature of the universe. Among the various ideas he endorsed, and discussed at length, with all the metaphysical coherence available to a six-year-old, were that the universe has thousands of dimensions, not just three (or four, including time). Some of them are like ordinary spatial dimensions, perpendicular to our three (I had been talking to him about Flatland and spatial dimensionality a few days previously), while others, which he called "realms" (to distinguish them from the others) were like whole separate universes. Some of these "realms" had aliens with multiple heads. He concluded by saying, "That's what I believe".
Now in what sense does Davy "believe" this? I guess I've come to think that there is a genuine sense in which Davy believes this, and that his psychological state regarding the "dimensions" is not all that different from adult metaphysical stances. He can discourse semi-coherently on it at length. He'll probably endorse the views again in a few days if I remind him of our conversation. He'll draw obvious consequences from it, and argue against conflicting views.
But of course this "belief" has very little connection to his behavior. There's I think quite a different sense of belief in which I believe that this post will appear on the blog when I'm done with it -- a fact I've been taking for granted and which informs and drives my behavior. To give these different types of "belief" names, let's call the latter sort of belief "implicit" and the former "explicit".
Philosophy and ordinary folk psychology tends not to fully appreciate the vastness of the gulf between these two sorts of belief, perhaps. Often the two types of belief do co-occur: I both implicitly act as though my house is on Wilding Place and I verbally endorse the claim that it is. But the disconnection between them is often vast -- as in the cases, I think, of the implicit racist, the person who says she believes in Heaven and Hell but whose actions betray a surprising indifference to her eternal reward and punishment, and the immoral ethics professor. It's one thing to say "X" seriously and quite another to live it.
In a way, I suppose, this is old news and not surprising. But I think we too often overlook the gulf here, in philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, everyday life. Maybe we need two different words for these two different types of state, so as not to confuse things by applying the term "belief" to both. (Indeed, maybe the English "belief" does pretty much just capture the explicit, not-especially-well-connected-with-action type of state. "These are our beliefs....")
To the extent we have special "first-person privilege", near-infallible authority about what we "believe", it's really, I think (believe?), only regarding what we endorse in the explicit sense -- which is really the much less psychologically and morally important form of belief....