“Faith” can be invested either in conscious beliefs or in implicit grounding principles (presuppositions); what they have in common is an element of implicit trust which motivates application of the principles.

Let’s say I ask you to define the meaning of the word ‘experience.’ Whatever definition you offer will use at least several other words, but it’s the word ‘experience’ which is in focus because it’s the word being defined. The other words are all in the background, which implies that their meanings must remain both implicit and stable: both of us have to trust those words to have definite meanings, otherwise the definition is not going to be of any use to us. We must also have faith in each other, as with all acts of communication between people: we have to assume a certain level of honesty and good will, for instance.

We might call this ‘implicit faith.’ But observe what happens when we shift the focus of the dialog, for instance by trying to define one of the words that played a supporting role in the definition of ‘experience.’ Once a word is raised into focus, then its meaning can be called into question. We can (and often do) decide that the usual or assumed meaning is no longer good enough, and we have to override it to come up with a better one; and in the new process of defining the term, we have to rely on a host of implicit supports just as we did before. So implicit faith is inescapable in acts of meaning generally, yet our faith in any specific meaning is ad hoc and ceases to operate implicitly as soon as we make it explicit.

One can of course refuse to override one’s default assumptions, so that the defaults become permanent fixed settings unalterable by circumstance. The result is dogmatism or “blind faith.” But making this move in conversation entails breaking faith with one’s partners. If you have explicit faith that your usage of a word is ‘correct’ from some absolute point of view, and your partner’s usage differs from that one in some way, then you have already lost faith that your partner may have some insight to offer you.

Explicit expression of belief is the visible tip of an iceberg floating deep in the sea of implicit faith.

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