Descartes Versus Spinoza: Truth, Uncertainty, and Bias

Chris N. H. Street, Daniel C. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


To comprehend a statement, do people first have to believe it is true? Spinoza argued yes, that people initially assume the truth of a statement and later revise if necessary. Descartes thought otherwise, that understanding comes prior to accepting or denying truth, and there can be initial periods of indecision. Spinoza's view has received empirical support from studies showing that when forced into a quick judgment, participants tend to accept the information as truthful. The “truth bias” evidence is compromised, however, by the fact that participants are only given the choice to say true or false. When participants are forced into making a binary judgment, they do indeed display the Spinozan truth bias, replicating earlier studies. But when allowed to indicate their indecision, raters appear distinctly Cartesian. We conclude beliefs are not automatically accepted, but that they can appear this way when participants are forced into passing judgment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-239
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


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