Since this blog is based on heterodoxy, i thought it was important to analyze dogma, which forms the core of orthodoxy.
Dogma is generally a belief that is held unquestioningly, and with undefended certainty. Dogma, for the Christian church, is a belief communicated by divine revelation and defined by the Church. The dogmatist ascribes to himself a type of ex cathedra authority. Dogma is used pejoratively because it sanctions unjustified beliefs as well as intolerance.* The original Greek word stands for “opinion, belief,” literally translated as “that which one thinks is true.” I am arguing against the stronger version: dogmatism which is used in two senses: the unmerited positiveness in asserting the truth of a doctrine, and the rejection of any examination of any idea and the assertion that the idea is true by authority and is beyond questioning.
Socrates was one of the first to expose dogma, that the wisdom of the genius or the sage or the moralist were open to question, that rational argument was necessary, he gave birth to philosophy. No longer could anyone authorize opinions without being challenged.
The Pyrrhonians presented skepticism as a “cure” for the disease of dogmatism. Dogmatists take non-self-evident assertions for granted and became disturbed once the truth of these assertions were found wanting. Hence, this disturbance was perceived as a mental disorder. Pyrrhonians offered relief by demonstrating the patient how and why he ought to suspend judgments rather than dogmatizing. The disease will disappear, and the rehabbing dogmatist will find peace of mind.
Dogma, (including its close cousin ideology) in its uncritical clinging of beliefs, is musty and anesthetized, a frozen block of ice incapable of adapting to changing conditions. For instance, instead of a living organism, Christianity has been petrified, congealed and concretized as a doctrine with unchallengeable dogma, where truths are taken literally, instead of metaphorically. Since the Buddha said all things (the world of objects, realm of appearances) are impermanent, and Heraclitus said the only constant is the flux, then the truths of knowledge, art, and morality, of life, all should be alive and capable of adapting to changing conditions. A fixed truth is little more than a frozen idea, and a dead idols that are “concept-mummies.” In order to be fluid one must be prepared for change, while keeping one’s feet planted on the facts of the present, and never look back for past formulas or ready-made interpretations predigested for the public.
Some philosophers have been portrayed as dogmatists, often in polemical writings. Plato is a popular victim of this tactic. However, this is typical of a narrow-minded scholar who lacks the imagination or the depth of understanding and is in a hurry to freeze the metaphor of the Dialogues in order to distill an architecture, a doctrine, and in Plato’s case, the “Form of the Good” is the anchor of Plato’s system. To believe in the Form of the Good is to understand that all things flow from it. The belief in the absoluteness of the Good enables us to infer beliefs about human nature, society, ethics, etc. The scholar blunders in his failure to grasp that the Dialogues are not non-fiction treatises of philosophy where Plato articulates a doctrine. There is no “official” mouthpiece of Plato’s philosophy in the Dialogues, for none of them speak for Plato. Therefore, these Dialogues are non-dogmatic, for they are instructive in order to show how philosophy is done.
Advocacy of dogma
Kierkegaard compares philosophizing without dogma to sewing without a knot at the end of one’s thread. Apparently, the reasoning process must be anchored in premises whose truth is beyond question; otherwise, one will never arrive at a fixed conclusion. However, this is open to the rebuttal that to philosophize with dogma is not to philosophize at all.
Thesis of philosophy
Philosophy is radical reflection: it cannot take anything for granted, or immune from examination. This “questioning of answers” is the very idea of philosophy.
The Logician may exclaim: “Surely you jest! Logic must be based on axioms!” The logician claims that if one started from the middle ground of ordinary experience, then philosophizing is not only just radical reflection, but can also move in two directions: downward and inward, the “radical” direction, or upward and outward, bringing more of the world within our grasp, into abstraction, until he reaches the “View from Nowhere.” But if one process never terminates, how can we move in the opposite direction? According to the logician, Kierkegaard is pointing out the need to find some bedrock before we can begin to build.
Sad to say, this poor logician is incapable of grasping just how truly radical philosophy is, for even logical principles may be questioned. Non-Contradiction, Excluded Middle, and Identity have all been interestingly and fruitfully questioned. The usual suspects are Hegel, Nagarjuna, Graham Priest, and etcetera.
The logician, is however, partially correct. In order to proceed, I must start from something that is ‘bedrock,’ something I don’t question but take as a given, a starting point. For example, some things in a normal conversation are reasonably taken as self-evident givens. But that doesn’t stop the philosopher from asking questions about how theory-laden these so-called self-evident givens really are.
Basically, nothing is immune from eventual examination. This portrait of philosophy is antagonistic with common sense and all dogmatic systems, whether political or religious. A philosophy that insists on the provisional nature of all our suppositions, and is open-ended in character, and utilize experimental models and methods from different disciplines is consistently anti-dogmatic.
Conclusion: dogmatism is wholly inappropriate in philosophy.
* However, there is a positive sense of dogma rehabilitated by McTaggart.